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Archive for November, 2011

Cherry season

As I get used to the weather  here and try to understand which fruits and vegetables are actually in season right now, I realize how tuned in my body is to the cycles of a Minnesota year. Right now, I would  be readying myself for months of sweaters, wool socks, root vegetables and hearty soups.  I would be anticipating breakfast and dinner in the darkness and slippers around the house.  Instead, I am barefoot all day (although this is considered quite unusual to Argentinians, who always wear shoes) and weary from the heat, and I am craving crisp salads and cold drinks.

Because the fruit and vegetables markets carry produce from throughout Argentina which is an enormous country, I am still unclear exactly what constitutes local or regional food in Mendoza, or where it all comes from (not to mention what chemicals are on it). That said, I did find some tart spring cherries in the organic market last week.  As I watched a toddler chew on them and bright red juice dripped down his face, I realized that this was a treat not to be missed.  Of course, what better way to enjoy them than in a fresh fruit crisp.

This was a simple mixture of apples (granny smith), pears and cherries, cooked with a little sugar and a orange juice.  The topping combined oats, whole wheat flour, sugar and the liquid created from cooking down the fruit  A last minute added touch was shredded coconut and coconut milk.  It was simple, delicate and delicious, and disappeared before I got a second piece!

Fruit Crisp

1 cup apple juice or cider or 1/2 cup juice and 1/4 cup sugar

10 cups mixed fruit such as apples, peaches, pears and even berries

1 tablespoon vanilla

In a separate bowl combine:

3 ½ cups regular rolled oats

½ cup butter or oil

½ cup apple juice

1/2 cup sugar, honey or syrup

3 to 4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a saucepan over low heat, cook the juice/sugar, fruit and vanilla. Start with the chopped apples or other stone fruits and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’re using berries, add these now and continue to simmer on very low heat for another 10 minutes until very thick and sweet smelling.

While the filling cooks, in a separate bowl combine the oats, butter or oil, juice, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. The dough should be moist, but still slightly crumbly. If it is too wet, add more oats and if it is too dry add more liquid. Pour fruit into a 9 by 9 baking pan and sprinkle and dab the dough on top of fruit. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes until browned.

Serves 8 to 10

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Cooking with Kids

I have long been an advocate of cooking with kids.  The cookbook I recently published (see the link to the right) strongly emphasizes getting kids into the kitchen, even if only to sprinkle a spice or stir the pot.  I believe that the simple act of being a part of the process of preparing food gives children an appreciation of the energy, the time and the ingredients that go into a good meal, and also an appreciation of the person who prepares the food.  There is no guarantee that this will improve kids’ diets-my kids still prefer pizza, pasta and pancakes, but at least they are content with the whole grain, home made varieties.  Possibly the most common question that I am asked is “how can I get my kids to eat _____ (fill in the blank)”.   I am not sure how satisfying my answer is because I basically tell people that I don’t know.  What I DO know however, is that engaging children in planning, preparing and sharing a meal is a sure way to build awareness and appreciation, not to mention basic skills that will serve them (and their family and friends) throughout their lives.  And perhaps, they will end up loving (fill in the blank) too!

Recently Solana had a friend over who was thrilled at the opportunity to make a pizza from scratch.  They made the dough and rolled it into stars, cut the onions, sprinkled the oregano, grated the cheese and assembled their pizzas…..and they ate every drop!

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Pizza Crust:

2 1/2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons dry yeast

1/8 cup honey

1 tablespoon dry basil

2 teaspoons salt

5 to 6 cups unbleached or whole wheat bread flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

 

Place water in bowl and add yeast, honey and salt. Let mixture begin to bubble (approximately 5 to 8 minutes), then add basil. Add flour one cup at a time and mix until doughy. Dough should be firm and pliable and not sticky. Knead for about 10 minutes, cover bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl. Cover with moist towel and set in warm place to rise. After approximately 40 minutes, punch down and rise again. After the second rise, cut into pieces about the size of a tangerine for individual pizzas or triple for large pizzas. Roll out on floured surface with rolling pin. Prick with fork or knife and bake 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees on a cookie sheet.

 

PIzza Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/8 cup sherry vinegar

3 cups canned diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried (See Growing Green Flavor, page X)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup tomato puree

 

In a saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil, add the diced tomatoes and seasonings, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato puree and simmer another 10 minutes.

Makes 5 cups of sauce–plenty for the lasagna recipe, with a little left over to keep in the refrigerator (up to 1 week) or freezer.

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I just returned from Buenos Aires on a whirlwind 3 day visit.  There are many ways to describe Buenos Aires-big, old, busy, classic, but one thing I cannot say is that the food is any more inspired or unique than what I have found in Mendoza.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, it is easy to find an empanada, a pizza or a parilla (traditional meat grill) but beyond this it remains a limited and oft repeated assortment.  As with any meal, I believe the challenge lies in doing something creative with what is available.  Such is the theme of regional, seasonal cooking.  Ironically, I still don’t know much about the flavors of where I now live.

Luckily for me, I crossed paths with someone who told me about a place in Buenos Aires called “Casa Felix”(click here for a link to their website).  It is the home of the Felix family, Diego the chef and his photographer wife Sanra.  They spend much of their time traveling throughout South and North America researching regional cuisine, culinary techniques and indiginous ingredients and flavors.  Then they take this information back to Buenos Aires where they create  extraordinary 5 course vegetarian and fish meals for guests in their lovely gardens.

Diego spoke with me at some length about his frustrations with Argentinians attitudes and understanding of food and culture.  He said it is virtually impossible to attract locals to his dinners because they don’t include meat.  He explained that people are so narrow that they won’t even take a chance at a meat free meal.  He also expressed disappointment in the culinary locals for their lack of depth and breadth in utilizing regional ingredients and methods. In general, he said, there is little understanding or attention to the concept of a  ‘food system’ at all, much less attempts to build a regional and sustainable one.

Meanwhile, Diego was full of knowledge and excitement about the rich traditions and flavors of South America like arrope de tuna– a sweet syrup from a local succulent plant, kind of like a cross between maple syrup and agave nectar, or mote-a dried hominy corn that is soaked in calcium oxide or ashes to remove the outer hull and tenderize the grain. He employed incredible creativity and talent in transforming these ingredients (and many from their own garden) into flavor and texture explosions.

These pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of the presentations or certainly not to the flavors, or the ambiance, but they give a glimpse into the possibilities when one is passionate about local food and willing to use their imagination!

Fontina wrapped in chard and quick fried in Arrobe de Tuna

Grilled artichokes and beets, almonds, greens from the garden, guava dressing

Corn arepas with "guacamole suisa" including green apple, cucumber and spices from the garden

Patagonian white fish over mote prepared wheatberries with a spring fig and cocoa mole

White carob spice cookie with fresh peaches and lemon verbena merengue

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An ode to Maple Syrup

My mom is visiting us right now.  Bless her heart, we sent her a huge list of things to bring with her, most of which she squeezed in to the two allotted 50 (!) pound suitcases. Among the various socks, fleeces and sheets was perhaps my most beloved and most missed thing of all: Maple Syrup.

When the locals here read through my cookbook, many of them comment on the predominance of this same particular and unfamiliar ingredient. I LOVE MAPLE SYRUP. The deep amber color and smooth, slightly  sticky texture mirror the dense brown forests from whence it comes.  The earthy, sweet and woody flavor works in everything from a savory stir fry, to a spicy chicken dish to perfect granola, handles both heat and coolness with finesse, and complements the entire flavor spectrum without ever losing it’s structure or depth. Thus far, I have baked cookies, made three batches of pancakes, prepared a simple salad dressing, a lovely stir fry and a wicked sauce for salmon.

It is an interesting experience to be without a familiar food that you have come to know and love.  I am sure my relationship with this particular ingredient is well beyond the normal user’s, but I find it’s versatility endless and my palate continuously pleased. There is beautiful local honey here, something I also love, and I have found it to be a reasonable substitute for most things, but my allegiance to the valuable sap will not wane….it will only grow in it’s absence. My mom brought 1 quart-barely enough to get me through a week.  At home, I buy the stuff by the gallon, really!  An expensive habit perhaps, but I’d consider swapping Syrup for Malbec on many a night-though I have yet to drink it straight out of the jar.

In any case, as a proud Minnesotan, our  liquid gold is an absolute treasure, and I am happy to been enjoying it on this side of the world.

The following recipes are all from my book, and are great for this late fall season.  Although I am currently experiencing spring-70-80 degree days and hot sun right now, believe it or not, I miss fall cooking and this time of year!

Polenta with Tomato Jam (vegan without the cheese garnish)

In my family, polenta is as loved as chips or crackers. It can be firm or soft, cut into any shape, and topped with just about anything—and it’s corn! I use corn grown and ground by Greg Reynolds of Riverbend Farm. It is unlike any other cornmeal I have had. He uses a combination of a few heirloom varieties, it is grainy and corny, while also as soft as flour. The tomato jam is sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once, and provides a perfectly balanced finish to the delectable polenta.

Polenta:

3 cups water

1 ½ cups polenta or coarse cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

Bring the salted water to a boil, then slowly add cornmeal, whisking regularly to remove lumps. Simmer mixture and continue to stir for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and spread ½ inch thick in a 9 x 12 inch oiled pan. Let cool. When cool, cut into desired shapes using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.

Tomato Jam:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapenos, deseeded and minced

1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

¼ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil and sauté onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno for about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, syrup and salt and allow to simmer on very low heat until very thick, about 30-40 minutes. When cool, spoon onto cut polenta, and top with a small dollop of chevré and a sprig of thyme or pinch of micro greens.

Greens with Miso Dressing and Toasted Almonds  VEGAN

This is the recipe that I use in cooking classes to prove to anyone that I can get them to eat leafy greens.  People love this combination of sweet, spicy, savory and sour. The toasted sesame oil is balanced by the rice vinegar, which is complemented by the miso, and tempered by the maple syrup, which works perfectly with the mustard, all of which are topped off with the crunch and flavor of the almonds. The dressing also is delicious on just about any vegetable, and even on proteins like tofu and fish.

The Family Kitchen: Crushing almonds can be fun. You don’t need to use a knife or a tool at all. My favorite way to do it is under the bottom of a jar. So far it is the most efficient method I have found for crushing toasted nuts.  Kids can also use a rolling pin.

2 pounds assorted  greens (arugula, mustard, spinach etc), well washed and dried

2 medium onions or 2 washed leeks sliced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch ginger, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 cups sliced or crushed almonds, toasted

Miso Dressing:

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons stone ground mustard

½ cup miso paste

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons tamari

Heat oils in saucepan, add onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes until soft, then add garlic and ginger. Add the greens handful by handful, stirring constantly. Sauté until all the greens are added and they have wilted into a bright green—about 2 minutes. Remove immediately from heat and place in a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool, add the toasted almonds. In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients, then toss with vegetable mixture. This sauce is also excellent on fish or chicken.

Serves 8 to 10

Greek Squash or Pumpkin in Phyllo Casserole

This is a very unusual and delicious way to use pumpkin or squash. The pumpkin meat is sautéed with leeks and garlic until creamy and tender, then combined with feta cheese and layered with phyllo. It is at once traditional and very modern. This dish is hearty on a cold evening, and filled with color and flavor. Phyllo dough is delicate and can be very tricky to handle. It’s best to buy it frozen and allow to thaw slowly. Unroll it gently and have a moist cloth handy. Keep the sheets flat, and keep them covered with the moist (but not too wet) cloth while assembling this dish. Remove 1 to 2 sheets at a time. If the sheets get gooey, your cloth is too wet.

The Family Kitchen: Although the phyllo needs to be handled with care, it is a fun ingredient to use. The kids can unroll the large sheets, and have a try at putting a layer or two of this dish together. They certainly can be at hand ready with the oil to brush on top of the layers of dough. If you need to cut the dough, a pizza cutter can be an effective way to get a fairly straight line.

2 large squash (butternut or kabocha are nice) or 1 medium pumpkin, cut in half and seeds removed

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced into rings

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon pepper

4 eggs, beaten

1 pound feta cheese, crumbled

1 package phyllo dough

Bake squash at 375 degrees face down in 1/2 inch water in a deep baking pan until very soft. Remove from the oven and cool, and then remove the squash meat into a bowl and mash. In a large skillet, sauté the leeks and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft—about 3 minutes. Add the leeks and garlic to the mashed squash, add the eggs and feta cheese. Season with salt, pepper, add the maple syrup and combine evenly. In an oiled 8 x 10 inch baking pan, lay one or two sheets of phyllo to fit the pan, brush with olive oil, add another one or two sheets of phyllo. Then cover with half the squash mixture. Layer with one or two sheets of phyllo, brush the top sheet with olive oil, and layer with yet another one or two sheets of phyllo. Spread the rest of the squash mixture over these layers and top with a final two sheets of phyllo. Poke several holes through the top layer of phyllo (I find that a small paring knife works well for this) and brush with olive oil. Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes until the casserole is firm and nicely browned.

Serves 6 to 8

Nut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies   VEGAN

I am a cookie fanatic. I love them fresh out of the oven, so I rarely bake more than I can eat at one time (I won’t say how many that is).  I also like to keep them simple, and I find that ever since I started using these recipes, which are mostly maple syrup-sweetened, and egg free, my tastes have changed. Standard butter, white and brown sugar crunchy cookies no longer suffice. These cookies are dense and moist—the cookie qualities that I love, and hopefully you will too.

Note—If you want to be frugal, you can extend these recipes to 3 dozen

½ cup oil or butter

1 cup maple syrup ( or ½ cup maple syrup and ½ cup sugar)

1 cup nut butter-almond or cashew

½ tablespoon vanilla

3 ½ cups pastry flour

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Combine wet and dry ingredients separately. Add dry to wet Mix well and place on an oiled pan. Flatten with hand. Bake 8 to10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Makes 2 dozen

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