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The middle of the summer is always the time in which I least want to cook. Not because I don’t want to, necessarily (though when I’m really tired I don’t), but because it’s too hot to cook! So I end up craving salads and other cold meals.

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found in the Epicurious website. As usual, I’ve adapted it to make-do with what I had at home. I used tri-color quinoa, but any color will do.

(WARM) KALE AND QUINOA SALAD

Serves about 3 as a main dish

Ingredients:

  • 1 c quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
  • 2c water
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 1/4 c pistachios, shelled
  • 6 or 7 Campari tomatoes, washed and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/4 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 head of kale (about 4 cups), washed, stemmed and chopped

Prep

Add two tbsp olive oil to a large pot or casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they become translucent. Add the quinoa and stir a bit to mix it in. Add the kale and the water.

Quinoa Kale raw

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed and the quinoa has gotten fluffy. Remove from heat and toss to start cooling it.

Quinoa kale cooked

Meanwhile, mix the mustard, vinegar and remaining tablespoons of olive oil to make vinaigrette. Mix until emulsified.

Once the quinoa-kale mix has cooled, add it to the pistachios and quartered tomatoes.

Tomatoes and pistachios

Drizzle the dressing on top, add salt and pepper to taste and mix.

Quinoa kale mixed

Notes

I find that refrigerating the salad overnight enhances the flavors. You can heat it up a bit (hence the “warm” in parentheses) or you can eat it chilled.

I got distracted and neglected the onions a bit, so some of them caramelized. I think it works to the advantage of the dish.

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This morning a friend invited me and another friend for dinner. She said to bring dessert or an appetizer. I chose dessert. It was so cold outside that I decided to bake with whatever I had on hand because I was not going out. I remembered I had frozen strawberries and decided that a chocolate-strawberry cake it would be. I found this recipe and modified it to accomodate what I had in the pantry. The result was one of the fluffiest, yummiest cakes I’ve ever baked.

CHOCOLATE-STRAWBERRY CAKE SQUARES

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 lb frozen strawberries, thawed (save 1/2 c juices)
  • 1 and 2/3 c sugar, divided in 1 c and 2/3 c
  • 1 cup boiling-hot water
  • 3/4 cup extra-dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 c) butter, softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar for garnish

Prep:

  • In a bowl, toss the thawed strawberries and the 1/2 c of their juice with 2/3 cup sugar. Set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the cocoa and hot water in a bowl and mix until chocolate is fully dissolved. Set aside.
  • Sift the flour and mix it with the salt and baking soda in another bowl. Set aside.
  • Either in the bowl of a standing mixer, or another big bowl, mix the butter and 1 c remaining cup of sugar at medium speed until well-blended and fluffy, which in my case was about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternate the flour, strawberries and chocolate mixtures, starting and ending with the flour  until they mix. Do not over-beat, but make sure ingredients are incorporated.
  • Butter a rectangular 9×13 pan and pour batter into it. Bake in the middle rack for 35 minutes.
  • Allow it to cool in the pan, slice into squares and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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NOTES:

The original recipe said to bake for 35-40 minutes but mine came out exactly at 35. I used a glass pan and it worked very well. If you use a metallic one check your time as the baking time may change. It looked like this when it came out:

Strawberry chocolate cake squares

* Doña Mari’s Black Mole

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite Mexican dish is, I have a hard time giving an answer. I can, however, name my absolute favorite mole: the mole negro (black mole) de Oaxaca, a mole so complicated I’ve yet to make it. Sadly, the last few times I’ve had it, it has not been very popular with my stomach. Something about it just does not sit right with me. Because I have come to the sad realization that I may not be able to eat it again,  today’s post is not on how to make mole negro de Oaxaca (you can go here to find a recipe I trust), but about a little corner eatery in Mexico City where yesterday I ate the best mole negro I have had.

About 6 blocks off the General Anaya metro station in Mexico City (line 2, for ye curious) sits a small corner eatery called El rincón oaxaqueño (The Oaxacan corner). It sits 14 people max (three four-tops and a douce). Behind the counter, Doña Mari, the owner, her daughter and an assistant, serve all kids of Oaxacan delicacies. On one side, another lady makes quesadillas with freshly-made tortillas and Albino, the waiter, juggles the rest. The big titles in the menu are the tlayudas, the big, flat tortillas and their toppings, cecina (a salty thin steak) and, of course, mole negro.

Like any good fonda (food stand/boarding house) owner, Doña Mari treats her loyal customers like family. My cousin Lorena dines there frequently, so as soon as we sat down, Doña Mari came to greet us and to inquire who I was. Once it was established that I was the favorite cousin, forget it, I was in. Also in full care-taker mode, Doña Mari would not take “no” for an answer when told her I wasn’t planning on having soup before my main meal. How? Why don’t you want any? It’s lunch time! You should have a little! Of course I ended up saying yes. After my chicken and vegetables soup (which I accompanied with some of those freshly made tortillas) came my mole negro, in the form of enchiladas. Three tortillas, quickly dipped in oil, wrapping shredded chicken and topped with a sea of mole negro, cream and onion slivers. With a side of white rice.

I cannot begin to tell you what that mole was. A creamy consistency that came not from the heavy cream topping but from the layer upon layer of ingredients blended together. You could taste the smokiness and kick (without it being overbearing) of the roasted peppers, the hint of chocolate and the spices, the sweetness of the banana. Lorena, who had ordered a plate of chilaquiles, asked to have “a bit” of the mole. She ended up stealing much more.

Doña Mari checked on us twice, and we talked about kids (we were sitting with my niece) and about the difficulty of having a shop in this economy, of the hectic days and of the slow ones, such as yesterday, where the rain kept people away.

Places like Doña Mari’s are exactly the places where I love to eat most. Yes, fancy restaurants are great and molecular gastronomy has its beauty, but mom and pop restaurants, where someone is cooking like their grandma was cooking ages ago, and where the tortilla is made fresh in front of you, are my most beloved treasures. The mole negro de Oaxaca seems to not return my deep love, so I may not be able to eat it again (or perhaps not in a full-fledged dish). Yet, if this mole negro was the last one for me, I am happy that it was the best I’ve ever had and that it was in a place that was as humble and warm as a good home.

Today a friend of mine called to tell me about a place called Culture Kitchen. It’s a cooking school in San Francisco where people go to learn not only the meal but the culture behind a dish, all taught by people who originally come from that place of the world. They are not professionals, it’s not fancy. It’s a place to share food, culture and foster relationships.

Read the NPR article about it. Go to their site.

Yesterday I found in Whole Foods that the red and green curry pastes were on sale and I also got some dry lemongrass. So today, continuing with my project of making new Thai dishes, a beef one. I modified this from a recipe that calls for chicken.

BEEF IN THAI GREEN CURRY

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped (one whole one if it’s small)
  • 3 heaping teaspoons green curry paste
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1 lb beef (I used steak so it would be soft), cut up in pieces of about one inch by 1/2 inch
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 tablespoon nam-pla (fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest, finely shredded
  • 1 level tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Prep:

  • Heat the oil  in a wok or large pan. Add the onions and green curry paste and cook for about a minute
  • Add the water and coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Add the beef and the kaffir lime leaves. Mix and lower the temperature to low. Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, or until the meat is tender.
  • Turn off.
  • Add the nam-pla, the lime juice, sugar and shredded lime zest. Mix well. Sprinkle with the cilantro leaves and serve over steamed rice.

Notes:

I didn’t have kaffir lime leaves, so I added a little more of the shredded lime zest. It did the trick. The original recipe says to also add 1/2 c green beans. I didn’t have any, so I didn’t add them, but you could.

Flan

This is the first dessert I ever made. It was ages ago, while I was in high school. My maternal grandma had a huge double boiler/steamer pot that I learned to do it in and I fell in love with how simple, yet versatile the recipe is. You can put fruit in it, and the version with shredded coconut was a favorite of my grandpa (on my mother’s side). Today’s version doesn’t have coconut, since I didn’t have any freshly shredded one, but you can always add it.

FLAN

Ingredients:

  • One can condensed milk
  • One can evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • drop of vanilla (optional)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (for caramel)
  • One peeled and sliced apple, peach or pear, or 2/3 c shredded coconut (optional)

Prep:

  • In a bowl, mix both milks, eggs and vanilla, if using.
  • If using a metal mold, melt the sugar over low heat until it caramelizes. Remove from heat before it’s completely deep in amber color (remember the sugar will keep on caramelizing, so if you wait too much, you’ll burn the caramel) and move the mold so the sugar coats it as it cools.
  • (If using a pyrex, melt the sugar in a heavy pot and transfer quickly to avoid the caramel cooling and sticking to the pot).
  • If using a steaming pot on a stove: Place the pyrex or metal mold with the caramel sugar in the shallow side of the pot. Add the custard mixture. Pour lukewarm water into the pot (careful to not spill water into the custard mixture). Bring to a slow rolling boil, reduce the flame to medium-low and cover with the deep part of the steaming pot. Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour or until a knife inserted into the flan comes out clean. Careful when opening the pot, as the steam may burn you. Also, check that the water doesn’t run out, or your flan will burn. If water is running low (check about half way through the cooking process), add some more lukewarm water to the pot.
  • If cooking in the oven: Heat oven to 350F. Place the mold with the caramel in a bigger pyrex/metal container. Add the custard mix to the mold and the lukewarm water to the bigger pyrex. Cover lightly with foil and bake in the middle rack until the custard sets (same test with the knife). 45-50 minutes. As with the steamer, check that the water doesn’t dry out.
  • Once the custard sets, remove it from the oven/stove and let it cool completely. Run a knife over the edges to release it, shake it lightly to make sure it’s free, invert a plate over the mold and carefully but quickly flip the mold onto the plate. If you have caramel stuck to the mold, add a little water and heat it lightly until it comes off and you can pour it on the flan.

Chill and enjoy.

Full disclosure: I don’t like the oven method. I haven’t done flan in years because of it. Since I now have received a steamer pot gift from grandma, I am back in the flan business. This means, then, you may have to tinker with the times and temperature of the oven cooking option. I have seen this method on cookbooks, but like I said, I did not like the results (it came out too hard, I like my flans fluffy).

Today I tried to make this lower on sugar by using less on the caramelizing part. Next up I will try to make it even lighter by using light milk mixtures.

One of the delicious cooking blogs I follow has a monthly food giveaway. This month is a cheese-making kit. And while I know that inviting you to enter lowers my odds, I think it’s a great giveaway and a great blog, so go, go, go!