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Dreamy. (LAKSA TOFU)

January 4, 2016

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Soup is on and I’m psyched. Lately I just want to take care of everyone and there is no better way than a big soup. It’s also handy to fight the chills, sharpen immunity and transform refrigerator odds and ends into a delicious, shareable meal.

As it’s finally winter in my hometown, I can’t help but dream of a Gilligan’s Island, where it rains coconuts and fish sauce douses everything. I am not sure where that crew landed, but Southeast Asia, and its exceptional array of cuisine, is where my mind is going. All the fresh ingredients that grace the plate and techniques that conjure flavor and texture, make complex dishes of rather straightforward ingredients. Deeper studies reveal an endless tome of recipes, unique to each person cooking. Paradise in more ways than one.

In hopes of bridging my desire for exotic beach holidays and wintry wonderland realities, I spent some time cooking laksa, a coconut-based soup that is served over noodles, the result of a fusion between Chinese and Malay cooking. Laksa is also hearty with protein, vegetables and spices, it will ground an appetite with satisfaction and warmth, while the mind gets in a boat and sails.

In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Southern Thailand, laksa is wildly popular and comes in many varieties, sporting tofu, fish, poultry or beef  intermingled with an endless parade of vegetables. I fill my quota with a couple of contrasty colors like orange, green, red, white, thanks to things like winter squash, green beans, tomatoes, parsnip, eggplant, or whatever seems logical. A simple homemade spice paste, with a healthy dose of curry and turmeric, sets the backdrop a golden yellow. A handful of bean sprouts adds crunch on top. Like many dishes from this part of the world, garnishes are key. Bright, aromatic lime, chilis, fresh herbs and extra fish sauce complete the dish, and the daydream.

LAKSA TOFU

Spice paste:
2 stalks lemongrass
1/2 cup roughly chopped shallots
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts or almonds
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Soup:
1/4 cup oil
2 cups cubed eggplant (1 inch cubes)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)
3 cups water
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 cups cubed butternut squash (1 inch cubes)
1 cup sliced napa cabbage
1/2 pound tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 scallions, chopped
1 cup mung bean sprouts, plus extra for garnish
cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
red chili slices for garnish (optional
kosher salt
1 lime, cut into wedges

your favorite noodles, cooked

Remove the tough outside layer or two from the lemongrass stalk.Slice off the hard end (root end) and discard, along with the outer layers.

Make thin slices, starting at the root end, up the pale part of the stalk just until it starts to become deeper green. Reserve the green stalks.

Place chopped lemongrass in a small food processor (or blender) along with shallots, garlic, nuts, oil and salt. Puree the ingredients to form a paste-like consistency. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a medium sized pot. Fry the cubes of eggplant with a generous pinch of salt until golden brown.

Remove eggplant with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

In the same pot, fry the spice-paste until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the curry and turmeric, and sauté for another minute or two before adding the coconut milk and water. Scrape the bottom of the pot to release any cooked bits that are clinging.

Toss in the kaffir leaves, sugar, fish sauce, a teaspoon of salt and squash. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Add the leftover lemongrass stalks, using them to stir the soup occasionally. Simmer until squash is almost cooked, about 8 minutes.

Add in the cabbage, tofu, scallions and sprouts along with the cooked eggplant. Simmer all together for another 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Add more salt, sugar or fish sauce as needed. Remove kaffir lime leaves before serving. Place a serving of noodles in each bowl. Ladle soup on top and garnish with fresh mung bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, lime wedges and/or chili slices.

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Share. (REMEDY ISSUE 19)

December 16, 2015

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Remedy Quarterly is an extra-lovely culinary zine that assigns a single word to be the backbone of each issue. Participants are invited to widely interpret words like Risk, Triumph and the latest issue, Share, shown above, into stories and recipes. The founder of this beautifully bound collection, Kelly Caråmbula, is encouraging and enthusiastic towards her writers as she guides the work into a cohesive package. Kelly also edits, designs and tests all of the food preparations to ensure the book goes out exactly as she envisions.

This is my second contribution to Remedy (Issues 9 and 19) and the first where I have offered up not only an essay and a recipe but also accompanying artwork. I cannot take all the credit! My own little voracious offspring agreed that she would add life to the illustrations with all the color she wanted. I told her that the drawings represent our pizza recipe, which would also be in the book, and she was excited because she loves dough… (verbatim).

 

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A ‘bundle’ of issues could be a great surprise for a food lover you love. See the Remedy website for lots of ideas. Happy Holidays!

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Lasagna for Lovers. (THE AFFAIR)

October 8, 2015

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Credit: Showtime.  Found at popcultureplayground.com

While being enthralled by Season 2, I invite you to look back over the vicariously adulterous journey to the very first episode of Showtime’s TV series, The Affair. In an awkward family dinner scene at the home Cherry Lockhart, stuff was going on, people were pissed …lasagna was served! I don’t mean to mess with television magic, but I made the meal for that scene and went on to be Cherry’s ‘ghost chef’ for the rest of the season.

This was a real meal, a situation where the props actually get eaten. Sometimes nice, caring prop people decide to hire chefs to cook the food that the actors will partake in. Funny thing is, my go-to lasagna recipe, which I created for a couple of friends almost a decade ago, has the thematically appropriate title, Lasagna for Lovers.

For the show, I made some adjustments to provide separate vegetarian and meat-lover versions. Lasagna for Lovers is a delicious hybrid, for those who want it all.

Here is what we decided a family of horse ranchers would eat for an “Italian Dinner”, in Long Island, NY, late summer. Lasagna recipe follows:

Menu-  “The Affair” Pilot Episode

Antipasto:
salami, sliced
mortadella, sliced
provolone, sliced and cubed
pepperoni, sliced and whole
1 loaf sesame seed italian bread
crackers
roasted red peppers
hot peperoncini
black olives

Green Salad:
4 bags mixed greens
red cabbage, shredded
carrots, shredded
cucumbers, sliced
dressing (oil, vinegar, Italian herbs)

Roasted Broccoli;
1 full pan

Fried Zucchini:
1 tupperware, 1 foil pan (doubled)
1 container of tomato sauce

Marinated Three-Bean Salad
(green beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas)
2 containers

Bruschetta:
1 bag toasted bread
1 container fresh tomato topping

Lasagnas:
2 Meat (sweet pork sausage, spicy pork sausage, ground beef)  (fresh) — sliced
2 Veggie (roasted peppers, carrots, mushrooms, spinach)

extra parsley, parmesan and olive oil

Garlic Bread with Cheese

LASAGNA FOR LOVERS

6 hot or sweet Italian sausages, casing removed**
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cans crushed tomatoes, 28 ounces/each
3 sprigs thyme

4 carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick on the bias
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil, or more

for the filling:
2 pounds ricotta c
4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup parmesan, grated

1 pound mozzarella, grated
1/2 pound provolone cheese, grated

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a medium saucepan, saute sausage meat until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with a paper towel to drain.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan and add onion, crushed pepper, with a pinch of salt and pepper. (if sausage did not render enough fat, add cooking oil to equal 2 tablespoons)

In the warm oil, cook onions until soft, add garlic and cook 5 minutes more.
Add crushed tomato, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add sausage back into sauce with the thyme.
Reduce heat and let sauce simmer 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Toss sliced carrots with 2 tablespoons of oil, a pinch of salt and pepper.
Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 10-15 minutes until slightly caramelized.
Do the same with sliced mushroom. Toss with oil, salt and pepper, place on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown with crisp edges, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, parmesan, 1 tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until spinach is completely incorporated.

Combine grated mozzarella and provolone in another bowl.

Assemble lasagne:
On the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking pan, spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
Place (3) lasagne noodles or as many fit, break them if necessary in order to accommodate the size of the pan. Spread another 1/2 cup of sauce on top of noodles.

Spread some of ricotta mixture on top of sauce followed by 1/4 of the quantity of cheese.
Sprinkle 1/2 of the carrots with 1/2 of the basil over the cheese, add another layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta, mozzarella mix, mushrooms, fresh basil. Repeat two more times. On top of the last layer of noodles, put sauce, ricotta, and cover with grated cheeses, including parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 15 minutes more.

*to uncase the sausages, make a slice in the outer skin with a small, sharp knife and release the interior ground meat into a bowl. Discard skin.

Layers, aerial view:

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Regular programming. (VAN WINKLE’S)

June 18, 2015

 

 

 

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A brand new website was born last week. Vanwinkles.com explores sleep…and wakefulness. And the symbiotic relationship between the quality of both.

I am participating with a weekly food column highlighting midnight snacks.

Check it out every Thursday!

 

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Winners. (BELCAMPO MEAT CO.)

May 4, 2015
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On November 3 2014, The New Yorker released it’s annual food issue, thick with articles about how we react to, and with, food. An especially inspiring piece by Dana Goodyear featured California’s farm to fork Belcampo Meat Company, a series of pastures, slaughterhouses, butcher shops and restaurants with an impressively high standard. The article recently won the James Beard Foundation Journalism Award (category: Profile), and really put into perspective the way a company can choose its methods to support its ideals, if creatively run.

Last fall was my first visit to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles and, in a taco frenzy, I almost dismissed another butcher counter full of mustaches, muscles and beautiful fonts. But the meat was too gorgeous to ignore. I admired the cuts (pictured above), purchased some jerky, contemplated a tote bag and moved on to more tacos, unaware of the fascinating back story.
Upon return to NYC, I sat down with the food issue that was meant for in-flight reading and, coincidentally, read all about the meat I was gazing upon so lovingly. As it turns out, the most fascinating thing about Belcampo, the focus of Dana Goodyear‘s article, is the company’s CEO Anya Fernald. The story goes on to detail her fierce dedication to teaching consumers the value of eating well-raised animals, despite the significantly higher prices. There are no plans of compromising the pristine practices of Belcampo, which are outlined in depth on their own site. Instead, she and the company will wait for the rest of the country to catch up, hopefully rejecting factory farming for good.

 
Belcampo supports the idea of raising animals in a pre-industrial fashion. Allowing them to graze a variety of plants, and letting them live a bit longer (over two years), benefits the animal, the farmland and the taste of the product. Consumers also reap the benefits of a more nourishing meal on the plate.
Nutritional advantages of grass-fed beef include increased levels of Vitamin E, antioxidant-rich carotenoids and conjugated linolenic acid with fewer calories and less fat. And although beef can’t compare to salmon in its level of essential fatty acid Omega 3, it’s still 5 times higher in sustainably raised animals than in cows from the feedlot, as reported by Ms. Goodyear.
 
To navigate the soaring costs of beef, especially in the midst of the devastating drought California is facing, Anya Fernald suggests eating smaller portions, (another pre-industrial concept) or by trying other animals such as sheep, rabbit or “drought resistant” goat.
Better consideration for the origins of the food we eat is the way of the near future, for the health of the planet and every body that inhabits it. Sustainable butcher shops are starting to be more prominent and grocery stores are beginning to offer better choices in sustainably raised meat and poultry. But it is obvious that Belcampo is in the lead. They hold themselves responsible for the whole supply chain, consciously making every decision for the greater good. They are determined to put meat back on the table, making a hearty, well-raised steak something good for your health, as opposed to the stigma of the last decade or two when red meat was, as recalled by Anya Fernald, “like smoking a cigarette –a guilty pleasure”.
 
*Lucky for us east coasters we can have a Belcampo experience via their webstore. Gorgeous selection of frozen meats and dry goods.
** yes, my vacation photos include a meat counter. yes.
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Healthify. (COCONUT OAT FLAX MUFFINS)

April 1, 2015

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Certain foods are great vehicles for healthy ingredients, and muffins are one. It’s truly a case of a recipe just being a guide. You can switch around grains and flours and fruits and sweeteners to make a healthier snack that is customized especially for you and yours to devour. I took these muffins from Gold Medal Flour‘s website and messed with them. I find that product websites often have good, reliable recipes that are both healthy and -un. You can also find great starter recipes at Bob’s Redmill and King Arthur but, my point remains, don’t be afraid to tweak!

As an example of how and what I modified, you will find my recipe below, as well as the original, for comparison. You can see that applesauce has replaced half of the oil and I brought the sugar levels down all around. I swapped out half of the chocolate chips with raisins, and I omitted chocolate altogether from the topping. Some of the additions happened to be on hand (bran, oat flour, flax, etc.) and some, like coconut, my fam just enjoys. Gold Medal didn’t do a bad job here! Original recipe calls for whole wheat flour and oats, which is a perfectly acceptable health-supportive combo. Even the amount of fat in the original recipe is kept at a minimum, with just a bit of oil and some yogurt. But I went ahead and kept on pushing.

COCONUT OAT FLAX BRAN RAISIN CHOCOLATE CHIP YOGURT MUFFINS
(makes 12 large muffins)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup oat flour

1/4 cup wheat bran

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons apple sauce

scant 1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup raisins

Streusel Topping

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/4 cup old fashioned oats

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons flax seeds

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, bran, coconut, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and yogurt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined. Fold in (1/2 cup) chocolate chips and raisins.
  • Divide batter evenly among greased muffins cups.
  •  Streusel: In a small bowl, stir together the struesel ingredients with a fork until well coated in the oil. Place a heaping tablespoon of streusel over the batter in the muffin cups.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes or until muffins start to turn golden brown and streusel is crisp. Let muffins cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to cool completely.

    Original recipe:
    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Greek Yogurt Muffins

    1 cup Gold Medal™ whole wheat flour
    1-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
    1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 cup canola oil
    1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1cup Yoplait® Greek vanilla yogurt
    1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    Streusel
    2 tablespoons canola oil
    1/3 cup dark brown sugar
    1/2 cup old fashioned oats
    1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and Greek yogurt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined. Fold in 1 cup chocolate chips.
  • Divide batter evenly among greased muffins cups, filling each one almost full.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the struesel ingredients with a fork until well coated in the oil. Place a heaping tablespoon of streusel over the batter in the muffin cups.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes or until muffins start to turn golden brown and streusel is crisp. Let muffins cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely or enjoy.
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Handed down. (EMPANADAS)

March 18, 2015

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I was introduced to empanadas as a late night drunken treat in the deepest depths of Queens. The version we ate were greasy and deep fried, stuffed with ground up meat and some questionable, grizzly bits. Perfect drinking food. I will confess that Janine and I called them “Keebleros” because, in our boozy haze, we couldn’t remember what they were really called. We thought this was hilarious.

Empanadas vary greatly from country to country and are interpreted further still, by region. Colombia and Venezula deep fry their stuffed creations while Chile and Argentina bake theirs in the oven. In general, empanadas can be cooked either way and filled with anything; meat, cheese, egg, spinach, fruit, shrimp or squash, in infinite combinations. A basic (if not totally traditional) empanada is anything that tastes good wrapped in dough, which is almost anything. The key to success is pretty simple. As long as the filling you have created tastes great, your empanadas will be voraciously devoured by anyone you offer them to. Take into consideration, the doughy exterior will tone down the filling, so it’s important that whatever you are stuffing in is seasoned well.

Years after my experience with Keebleros, I befriended the lovely Erica and became close with her family, who relocated to New York from the San Juan province of Argentina. As a result of this friendship, I am introduced to a whole new genre of amazing tastes. Chimichurri! Alfajores! Maté! Malbec! When Christmas rolls around, among the many delicious foods served, one of the family’s traditions is a heaping platter of freshly baked empanadas; stuffed with beef (picadillo), a green olive and a small chunk of hard-boiled egg. Guests are encouraged to eat as many as they possibly can …and to compete while doing it! I couldn’t quite beat out brother, but I held my own, foregoing other dishes so that more empanadas could fit.

Then the learning began. There were years that we helped punch the homemade dough* into submission, years that we browned kilo after kilo of beef, and many lessons about twisting the edges just right. Often times, Erica would arrive at my family’s holiday party with a heaping platter just for us, and it quickly became a ritual anticipated by all.

Because of these awesome memories –and sheer deliciousness– I have adapted the very same empanadas sanjuaninas as one of my favorite celebrational foods too. They are a perfect self-contained party dish. Easy to transport (I should know, I used to fill my pockets with them), and effortless to serve. Heat them if you have the means, but I have never seen empanadas refused neither cold nor at room temp. It is obvious, just by looking, that they are made with love. And so, the excitement continues to generate.

EMPANADAS DE PICADILLO

(Makes about 10 empanadas using 5-inch dough circles)

1 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cumin

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

a few dashes of hot sauce (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped

10 small pimento-stuffed green olives

10 Goya Discos para empanadas (1 package), thawed

1 egg, whisked in a small bowl with a tablespoon of water

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Start warming a skillet over medium heat, add half of the oil and the beef. Wait for some sizzling sounds and occasionally break up the beef with a spoon as it cooks. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. When the meat is thoroughly browned, lift it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and put aside in a big bowl.
  • Wipe out the skillet and warm the second tablespoon of oil. Brown the onions (about 8 minutes). Add the garlic and the next five spices until toasted and fragrant, another 5 minutes. Add a small splash of oil if dry.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the ground beef, combining well. Add hot sauce, if using. This is picadillo! Taste for seasoning. If needed add salt, pepper, etc.
  • Lay the dough circles on a work surface and brush half of each with the raw egg mixture.
  • Place a mound of picadillo (about three heaping tablespoons) on each circle. Put one olive and a piece of egg with the meat on each round.
  • Fold the dough into a half-moon shape over the meat-olive-egg pile and press to seal. Gather up small sections from the edge where the two sides meet and pinch them together in one-inch intervals, further sealing the dough. Another option is to push the two sides together by pressing down to ‘crimp’ them with a fork. Repeat with all meat/circles.
  • Place finished empanadas on a baking sheet and brush the tops with the remaining raw egg mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the exterior is golden and crisped.

* I am a busy lady, (frozen) Goya discos are my secret weapon, and puff pastry could be a last-resort substitute. But pleeease feel free to make your own dough.

Here lies post from way back, it talks about a sweet-savory experiment:

RICOTTA AND FIG EMPANADAS

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