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Monday, February 28, 2011

Brussels sprouts side dish with lemon, garlic, nutmeg and chives

A light and vegetarian side-dish using shredded Brussels sprouts shallowly braised in olive oil and lemon juice, with garlic and nutmeg, and topped at the end with fresh chives. Can also be used as a main and it's a nice way to catch up on your greens. 
Best served warm. Enjoy :)

Note: make sure you only use fresh sprouts to avoid the bitterness of aged ones. The little "rose cabbages" as the Germans call them are often bitter, which is usually a turn-off for the Western palates, but there are ways to avoid that. For instance, taste a little of the fresh sprouts and if they seem bitter de-core them thoroughly and boil them in water for 5 minutes, then drain them before cooking the main recipe you planned. More tips on that here

Pina colada cupcakes (muffins)

These blondie cupcakes are to die for if you're a fan of pina colada. Lots of tropical love, with coconut flakes, butter, candied lime peels and a good pour of pina colada liquor. The taste speaks for itself, so give them a try and enjoy.
More boozy sweets (our favorite :D):

Risotto with caramelized onions, artichokes and bacon

We already ranted about how much we love caramelized onions and how much we love risotto. About artichokes we haven't ranted yet, but that's just about to begin. Thus, a couple of nights ago, this dinner choice was the next logical step of our adventures in Flavorland :).
Because of the caramelized onions, the process of cooking differs slightly from a classic risotto making, but all is for the best. The bacon gives the overall flavor even more smoky depth, the extra Parmesan makes it yummy and fluid, while the artichokes give a tangy sour and fresh contrast to the rest. Enjoy :)
Note: If you want to keep it vegetarian, the bacon can be removed and the chicken broth replaced with a vegetable one. A spicy version of vegetable stock here.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Diet cupcakes (muffins) with cranberries, spices and dark chocolate

This is an ideal low-fat breakfast or a snack to indulge cupcake cravings when your daily saturated fat intakes are already exceeding. I confess, however, that they're not quite as good as regular cupcakes, although Bogdan seems to like these in particular above whole fat cupcakes. So, as you can see, the opinions are divergent here so the best way to get an answer on that comparison is to try them out yourself. 
So, this is dedicated to all of you fine people out there who seek low-fat versions of sweets because you haven't been blessed with our nice metabolism :P (yes, we're total jerks for rubbing it in your faces, I know, but let's skip the part where we have to pretend we're sorry and focus on the recipe :D).
The batter is very fine, slightly stickier than other muffin batters, flavored with just a little cocoa and lots of spices (resembling gingerbread taste), and spread throughout it are little dark chocolate chunks and dried cranberries. Quite a fall-winter taste style. 
Recipe slightly adapted from here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Concentrated orange caramel (vegan)

We love caramel. Sometimes, we even love it more than chocolate. So when we saw this nice little twist, we had to try it right away. Of course, this isn't really caramel (which is made with milk) but it bloody resembles it in all respects. Except the bonus orange tangy sour-ish fresh flavor. Its honest name is orange confit, some jam by-product or variation I remember my mother doing a couple of times too (especially out of quinces). But this is just techno-theoretical detail. Orange caramel is what happens in the magic pot, as you'll see for yourself.
Just arm yourself with a little pot and some patience (this doesn't need much baby sitting, you can go read a book while the sugar and juices thicken and simmer into the delicious caramel) and voila. Orange bliss. 
This has numerous usages: as tea sweetener (our favorite) or as topping for other deserts (like profiterole, ice-cream, puddings, panna cota, pastry windmills etc). 
Recipe adapted from the link above.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Black olive dip (Tapenade) (French)

A French spread / starter / dip originating in the Provence region
First of all, don't be deceived by this post's name. This is a mostly black olive dip, but it contains about 1/4 green olives too (for a richer, more diverse flavor). But accuracy would have rendered the title too long so... :). We had this with simple tortilla chips, but you can also use with toasted breads, grisini, crostini, crackers, unsweetened oatcakes and so on. 
Secondly, no, we still haven't made the tortilla chips at home, like we promised the last time we made delicious dips for them (salsa, guacamole, garlic dip and cheese fondue all in one session!). But we will. Eventually. :D
Anyway, back to what matters right now: this is one delicious and velvety dip. Concentrated olive taste, without much add-ons like mayo, cheese or whatever, like we've seen in other black olive dip tries around the block. Not that we're pointing fingers, but we really aimed for a strong olive flavor. Not that we were extremely innovative in obtaining it - it's just pure olives with a little touch now and there. And here it is, folks. Enjoy.

Orange and poppy seed muffins

Don't know about you but I personally love poppy seed in bread and desserts. After making the Czech kolache (and finishing them :D) I began to wonder what to do next that would have the same adorable  semi-sweet filling of poppy seed and cream. The easiest thing I could think of was adding orange juice and orange zest for a tangy flavor contrast and some flour, baking powder and milk and voila! The afore pictured cupcake muffins. Also, they're lighter than other muffins, containing reduced butter and such. 
Spring is almost here with these :)

Spaghetti and tuna balls

A twist on a Italian classic dish, the spaghetti and meatballs. If you like tuna and try to avoid meat, this is the answer. Also, you can make this very fast, using canned tuna (already cooked) and jar tomato sauce. Apologies to people who make a principle from cooking from scratch (as we most of the time do), but the easy way just appealed more to us the night we made this. If you do want to make it from scratch we recommend our perfect pomodoro sauce to start with ;).
I must mention that the lemon basil is such a nice alternative to the regular one, especially in dishes like this, both with fish and Mediterranean-style. But, of course, you can make this dish with regular basil and it will still taste wonderful.
Recipe adapted (or, dare I say, improved) from here

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Czech poppy seed cakes (kolache)

Poppy seed is largely used in sweets and breads all-throughout Eastern Europe and especially the Czech cuisine. Its flavor in combination with honey or sugar and milk can be surpassed by few other sweets. Careful though, poppy seeds in large quantities (like more than a few hundred grams ingested at one meal - which is unlikely to happen, not because they're not delicious but because we are human and our stomachs have their limits :P) can induce sleepiness. Like the poppy fields which made Dorothy and Toto and the Lion sleep on their way to the Emerald City of Oz :).

The kolache are wonderfully semi-sweet yeast-based dough pastries that the Czechs are  famous for and that was chosen to internationally represent their cuisine. They were originally served at weddings but began to be more common in everyday life. The recipe is adapted after an old family Romanian cookbook. Enjoy :)

More Czech goodies:

Garlic soup with chorizo and mustard (Czech).
Bramboraki (Czech potato pancakes).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tikka masala chicken couscous (British - Indian)

A classic chicken dish of Indian origin, with small chicken chunks in a lightly spiced masala (masala means "spice-mix" and it's very likely to find very different blends under the same name - just as it is with garam masala) tomato sauce, with a very becoming side-dish of couscous, an oriental favorite. 

The Tikka Masala chicken is nowadays so popular in the United Kingdom, that it led to controversies regarding this being Britain's true national dish. Tasting it, you'll surely understand why it is eaten so much.

Note: the addition of couscous (with mushrooms, cranberries and pickled ginger) is our own, although very likely to be found in traditional settings also (given the oriental origin of couscous).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate and stout cupcakes (beer - Guinness - and chocolate cupcakes)

Now these I cannot begin to describe. They are the chocolate-y perfection incarnate, and the dark stout Irish beer (Guinness, which has a tradition older than the United States) only enhances the chocolate flavor, leaving behind as it cooks a deep, subtle, earthly chocolate tone. 
To give you more about Guinness, I could encourage you to look it up on wiki or I could just tell you that it's heavier and sweeter than regular beer and that it is wonderfully used in baking because of its chocolate undertone, that it's an acquired taste and, as a lovely Irish girl likes to point out, a very grave and serious beer, not one to drink with fries and meatballs or pizza, "not a teenybopper beer or a frat boy beer" :). 
Also, these are probably the lightest cupcakes possible (or close :P) and certainly the lightest we will be making - reduced amount of butter replaced by sour cream and beer. To keep it lighter, we also skipped the frosting, replacing it with a simple sprout of whipped cream and a mocha-shaped chocolate piece.
The recipe is loose-ly adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe for Chocolate Guinness Cake, although I searched the internet long before I combined different aspects of recipes into one that promised the perfect light, fluffy and chocolate results. And I believe I've found it, so here it is:

Note: more boozy sweets here:
Pina colada cupcakes (muffins);
Amaretto (almond) liquor cupcakes;
Orange jam&liquor Linzer torte.

Noodle salad with black sesame

The black sesame has a stronger flavor and is a bit crunchier than regular golden sesame. And it looks pretty too, with its darkness contrasting the rest of the stuff. Also, next to the noodles, this adds a bit of consistency to the all-green all-raw salad. 
The interesting thing about this dish, except the fact that it tastes great (mainly due to the sesame and sesame oil), is that it can be a main-course, starter or side-dish just as well, depending what you want to do with it. 
Vaguely inspired from Two peas and their pod.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Broccoli and pancetta orecchiette

A rustic and last-minute way to spruce something up. The delicious orecchiette are an artisan pasta from Italy and have a lovely foamy and light consistency, closer to marshmallows than other pasta types, really.  The broccoli and dill give the dish freshness, while the cheese and pancetta make it delicious. Enjoy.

Another dish of orecchiette: Italian orecchiette with Parmesan cream, bell pepper and olives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cardamom Lassi (Indian yogurt drink)

The Lassi is a very popular refreshment in India, quite similar to the Turkish Ayran. Originally salty, it later became mildly sweet and variously flavored, from lemon or mango to rosewater. The cardamom version is spicier - kind of sweet and sour tasting - and our favorite.
You'll enjoy the watery freshness and lightness of this drink, the delicate foamy sweetness that makes it a fat-free version of the western milkshake. Ready in no time, can be done by hand, but for best foamy results use a blender. 
The Indians used it as a folk remedy for stomach problems, as a summertime overheat refreshment and as a sleep-inducing bedtime drink. Also, it's delicious. Enjoy :)

Broccoli and ham torte

It's scrumptious and delicious, with a creamy sauce made of eggs, Parmesan and cream. We particularly enjoy this sauce with liquefied almost-cooked egg in many other savory tarts. Quite consistent with a fresh green side given by the broccoli and chives. Nice for both cold and warm days. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chinese fried rice with egg

The Chinese fried rice is the typical reverse of a risotto - first it's boiled, then fried. Adding egg while tossing it around a wok gives it a nice hearty taste and consistency. We topped it with a few bacon slices and freshly chopped chives. Basic and warming.

The perfect fluffy fried bananas

We already made the simple and light version of the fried bananas (with cinnamon) at the start of our blogging adventure. And we also promised we'd do the fluffy version eventually and this is it. The point was to recreate the fluffiness of the fried bananas made by the Wu Xing restaurant in Bucharest, and I believed we reached that stage and went over it towards perfection :). 
The bananas are vanilla-flavored, semi-sweet and topped with golden liquid honey. Quite basic, can be improved by lots of combinations of ground nuts, fruit, spices etc. 
If you seek to make your fried bananas fluffy, seek no more. I know "the perfect" seems a bit grand, especially for a basic and quite classic dish found in many kitchens, but just give it a go and you'll see. After triangulating other recipes found, comparing and over-analyzing, this is the stuff. This is it :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spinach and cheese crostini

A nice, rustic and fast way to finish up the remaining filling from the Tirolese dumplings. The spinach, salty cheese, nutmeg, fried garlic and onion, boiled potato, salt and pepper make a tasty and healthy green paste that can't wait to be smeared on a good piece of ciabatta bread and baked in the oven. Enjoy and serve while hot. 

Tirolese spinach-cheese dumplings (Austrian)

These dumplings from the Austrian part of the Tirol region are very similar to the "canederli" dumplings from the Italian part of Tirol, yet, they are quite different. Their filling is a little more complex, their dough a tad rough from the whole rye flour, their taste a little more countryside authentic. 
Quite a balanced and healthy meal, full of fibers and vitamins. Enjoy!
P.S: I admit I first had these when I was 17 or 18 at the local McDonald's in one of their limited edition summer menus. And I was hooked. But now, this is the real yummier and healthier version :P

Note: we made too much filling for the dumplings, but I wouldn't recommend using less of each ingredient because it would actually make the whole thing more difficult, and I have a simple and yummy way to use up the remaining filling into some warming Spinach and cheese crostini. Just follow the link :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Banana bread with nuts (American)

The Banana bread is a classic American treat ever since the large-scale use of baking soda. And it's also the most common way to get rid of overripe bananas. 

Ideal for breakfast or with tea, hot cocoa and so on. Not very sweet but with a very strong banana flavor, occasionally crunchy from the nuts, chewy and fun. 
Quite a basic recipe, quick to fix and deliciously addictive if you like bananas. Also a great comfort food for when you're feeling carbs-deprived or want to make everyone else around you sniff the air greedily etc :)
We're kind'of enthusiastic about it, especially given that we found something that is easy to make and stocks well for 2-3 days, easy to wrap up and take with you as lunch box etc - so we've quite solved the "office snack" problem. 

Pork in spice crust

If you're a fan of lean meat (and pork muscle) but also of spices you'll enjoy this easy way to prepare it. Also, the method makes it keep flavor for a lot of time if you want to enjoy only two-three slices at a time. It's a basic and simple recipe of preparing the meat and from here you can take it anywhere you want by mixing the spicy-crust meat slices with any side dish or salad combination you prefer. 
We've had this with a lovely and creamy side dish of Potato puree with caramelized shallots and Parmesan. Enjoy yours as you'd like :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Potato puree with caramelized shallots and Parmesan

A very creamy and flavorful version of the classic potato puree. And yes, we're still obsessed with caramelized onions. The way the molten sugar coats the fried onions is very close to magic, and thyme definitely has a place in that magic. As for the puree itself, we made it creamier the traditional way, using a little butter and milk, but gave it a more intense flavor with the Parmesan (matching the thyme and onions perfectly). 
It can be enjoyed by itself or as side dish to something spicy. We've had it with Pork in spice crust for example :).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marliesentorte (German chocolate cake)

Our first cake, a German traditional one with strong roasted hazelnut flavor and chocolate flavor that reminds one of some sweet home-made nutella (which we will be making soon, mind you!) but with enough creaminess to smooth it out into some tender and crunchy perfection.

And yes, I labeled it as light. But you know, light for a cake. Yes, it has a lot of cream and chocolate, but, as I've said, light for a cake - no butter involved at all. Which for a cake is quite rare - most are gorged with at least 70-100 g of butter. 
It's quite easy to make if you can find ready-ground nuts or have a food processor / sturdy coffee-grinder or some other type of common kitchen utility that can grind nuts. Oh, and must also have a cake tin - our was 26 cm wide, but any smaller one will do - the cake will just be taller.

A nice little trait this cake has is that it gets better day after day as you leave it.... but personally, after tasting it, I don't think the rumors about this cake lasting days are even remotely true. :)

Pickled mustard

We like using  this as hot sauce with a very mustard-y flavor. One spoon or two are enough to spice up a more neutral- tasting dish. The inspiration for this was my dad and the way he pickles vegetables for the winter. The traditional Moldavian way does not use vinegar for pickling but boiling salted water. And my dad always adds a handful of mustard seeds to the cucumbers or tomatoes or watermelon or whatever he's pickling. And those little spheric mustard seeds were my favorite stuff to chew on from the ready jars of pickles.
Someday, I will recreate my dad's pickling recipes (or photograph him making them directly). In the meantime, enjoy this very spicy pickled hot sauce.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pissaladières (French caramelized onion tarts)

We already ranted about how much we love red onions and how intensely flavored they are compared to yellow ones. If you haven't heard it from us already we'll say it again: red onions are really really yummy and great. And when they're caramelized with a little sugar and vinegar they're even more enhanced... which makes these little elegant hors d'oeuvres in a word sublime. The rich flavor of black olives and the freshness of chives balances them wonderfully. 
Adapted from here (without the anchovies, we wanted to try the vegetarian version and most of all to keep the red onions and black olives as the main flavors).
A must must must must try :D.

More French goodies:
Oeufs Cocotte;

Gougeres (French cheese puffs);
French onion soup.

Spicy chocolate truffles

We knew home-made truffles were better than store-bought ones (which also have the nerve to label themselves as "Belgian" truffles). But we didn't expect them to be this much better. Honestly, this is something you need to do as soon as possible. It's also ridiculously easy so it's fail proof even if this is your first time cooking anything
The original classic recipe contained just milk chocolate and cream for the composition and cocoa for the dusting. But if you know us by now, you'll trust that we couldn't help improving it so.... we changed the milk chocolate to a 3:1 ratio of milk and dark chocolate, added vanilla flavor and spiced up the cocoa with ground cinnamon, allspice and cardamom. The result: nirvana. Well, we mean no disrespect to the belief. Not nirvana, but something very close to pure bliss. Trust us, after making these your dessert-tasting life will be parted between the "before home-made spicy truffles" and "after".
Also, this resembles cooking risotto (I've previously talked about it when making Risotto with chicken strips and bell pepper) in terms of the magic of cooking. It gives the same feeling of fashioning something great out of mere common details in a process that involves spectacular transformations and scents. Enjoy! :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bacon wrapped baby corns

I don't think we have another dish around here that can be put together in under 5 minutes and that consists of no more than 2 ingredients. How delightfully simple, isn't it? That may be so, but this easy starter still looks and tastes great. If you make it for a party it's even better to have some time-saving ace up your sleeve. We usually have dates or figs wrapped in bacon as appetizers for the lovely sweet-salty contrast, but the freshness of the baby corn makes a lovely contrast just as well.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mexican-style scrambled eggs

We did this in a whim, attempting to recreate some Mex flavors (pepper, lime, marjoram, garlic, chives) while adding some new (sunflower kernels). The result was a very fast, healthy and fresh omelette which is flavorful enough to be eaten alone but subtle enough to serve as a side dish for something more spicy. Basic, but nice. Enjoy.

Other Mexican treats: Nachos with mixed dips (salsa, guacamole, garlic sauce and cheese fondue.
Easy chicken tacos with guacamole.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Singapore noodles with chicken

This sure is one fine way to put a wok to good use. The inspiration for this was the Good Food Romania's December issue of 2010, but we adapted and improvised quite a bit, while still keeping the Singapore style and flavors. Mainly we kicked the shrimps and bamboo out of the recipe, added bay leaves, doubled the curry paste (while choosing a milder - Tikka - flavor), added some water and oyster sauce, changed the way the veggies and chicken were prepared to marinade and sauce-coat them more etc.
The result changed the consistency of the noodles into something more soft and saucy and made the overall flavor warmer. This sure was a nice way to spice up a cold fin d'hiver. But it's also light and tangy enough to be served in hotter times. If you haven't tried Asian cuisine so far, this is also a safe and neutral dish to start with, that will only attune your palate more to the region's flavors. 
We made 4 (large) servings and ended up finishing almost all on our armchair (re)watching the Lucky Thirteen episode of House M.D. season 5. Hope you'll enjoy the noodles with your favorite movie and person(s) :).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chicken with cream and mushrooms

When I mustered this up (wow, this sounds an awful lot like mustard, which reminds me of the home-made mustard and the mustard seeds pickle I'm planning to do soon...) I was thinking about two things. One, is my mom's chicken and cream (a traditional dish from the region of Moldova).  The other is a delicious pasta dish that the Pizza Hut restaurants in Romania serve as "al pesto" (although it doesn't contain any traces of pesto, just cream, Parmesan, mushrooms and basil - so basil is actually the only ingredient that resembles a pesto; but I'm not complaining about the misfortune of the naming because al pesto or not, those pasta are still great!). 
Thus, I thought of a great way to combine the two dishes that I love, taking and leaving a bit of each (I left out the handful of fresh dill in my mom's chicken and cream dish and, obviously, the pasta from Pizza Hut's dish) while also adding a bit of my own doing - like the wine, coriander and sunflower kernels.
The result: a magnificent flavorful dish which you will love once you taste. Cross our hearts :D.

We had this with a side-dish / bread replacement of Bramboraki. It was a good combination. Also it would be nice to have some red fruit juice or fruity rose wine next to it. Enjoy!

Bramboraki (Czech potato pancakes)

These lovely Czech potato pancakes as a common side dish or starter in Czech cuisine. To transform them into a main course for a light brunch, one could simply top them with sour cream, vegetables, pickles, fish pieces or anything else one could think of. Just as fast, they can be turned into dessert by topping with cream and sugar or honey or any fruit sauce or jam.  Only keep in mind that if you plan to have them sweet, better skip adding any onion and garlic :P
By themselves, they are a great substitute for bread, they are fluffy and quite consistent while still remaining extremely light calorie-wise. But also eaten alone they can be quite plain, which is why they are usually served with something else (even if it's just a little tangy topping).
Also, they are remarkably similar to the Jewish Latkes which are served at Hanukkah and not only then. They say that the cooking oil used to fry them resembles the holy oil that miraculously kept the temple (of Solomon) candles burning for days more than they should when the temple was returned to Jewish custody.
The major difference between the Czech and Jewish variations is that the first uses a little milk in the dough, but to be honest every peoples in Eastern Europe seem to have a version of these golden potato pancakes, including little variations. More on that here
Bottom line is: they're nice and easy and golden and fluffy and you'll love them. :)

More Czech goodies:

Garlic soup with chorizo and mustard (Czech).
Czech poppy seed cakes (kolache).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Florentine pie (with spinach and egg)

When in Rome (in this case Florence).... :).  If you do enjoy spinach (at least a little bit) you'll like this savory pie also. The inspiration for it came from the February number of Good Food Romania. One important adaptation made was reducing the dough quantity from 375 g to 275 g, thus making the pie way lighter, but the cheese and spinach composition into a thicker layer. If you prefer the pie fluffier and the composition not so concentrated, just follow the original dough quantity instructions and use 375 g of dough. 
Very easy to make, fast ready and fast downed :). It's also good cold, so you can enjoy the rest later.
You can have it simple, with extra pepper and some lemon juice (the way Miriam prefers it), or topped with mildly hot mustard and more garlic (like Bogdan likes it). Either way, it's a great way to use spinach and there have been rumors in high-level chef circles that 2011 will see a grand return of savory pies in culinary trends so... enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

White rice pudding with rosewater and almonds (Turkish/Middle Eastern)

Once you've tasted the rosewater flavor in desserts you'll be coming back for more. We discovered it in a Lebanese restaurant in Bucharest that we love, called Mezze. It gives a floral aroma that no other spices can replace, it's delicate and sweet and light and addictive. Our friend Madalin is back from Geneva so we made three rations of pudding. He said it was "interesting"(in a good way, rest assured) and gave it a thumbs up. 
I adapted the recipe from here, and if you follow the link you'll find out a lot about the history of this wonderful dessert, which the Persian legends called "food of the angels" and about which they said “When the prophet Muhammed first ascended to the seventh floor of Heaven to meet God, he was served this dish.” Not to mention that it was present in the Middle Eastern cuisine all-throughout the ancient and medieval times. Enjoy :)

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