Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lunch Lately

Brown Rice, Shiitake, Kimchi Pancakes with Kale, Kale Stalks

There is only so much cafeteria food you can eat before you start to feel like they want to ruin your day and I think I reached that point quite a while ago. Add to that the fact that it is finally starting to get warmer here so that I can spend lunch outside and I don't see any reason to spend my money on those always cheese-heavy lunches.
Couscous, Chickpea Tagine, Broccoli

So I have made an effort to try to bring my own lunch with me on those days of the week that I am in Zurich. Sometimes I just bring leftovers, but I really want to put a little more thought into lunch than that, without having to get up any earlier than I already have to.
Right now I don't have any recipes to share for fanastic lunches but I really hope that will change soon as I get more and more prepared. I realize I planned on doing that a while ago, and another time too, and it always last for a few weeks only. I really want to change this time.
Do you prepare a lunch to take to work/college? What do you bring? Do you have any go to recipes?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Swiss Chard Tart with Pine Nuts and Raisins

The end of February marked the 3 year anniversary of this blog. On 2/21/2011 I wrote my first post, about an eggplant dish I made from one of the first vegetarian cookbooks I bought after Michael decided to eat vegetarian.
I have been reflecting about my motivation on writing here, posting recipes, taking pictures of my food, and honestly felt a bit demotivated about it all for quite some time now. Nothing good can come from comparing your writing, your recipes, your pictures and your life in general to that of other bloggers.

I'll spare you all the self-criticizing thoughts I had in the past weeks/months, because what I mainly want to say today is: I just love to cook. Basta. That is the reason I started writing here those 3 years ago and still, this is the reason I come back to this space after being absent, again, for quite some time.
I realize it is already March, but back on New Year's Eve Michael and I talked about the highlights of 2013, and mentioned Marcella Hazan's Torta di Biete, or Chard torta as one of the best things I had made in 2013. It's been a while since New Year's Eve, so I am really sorry to have kept this recipe for myself for so long. (Although it is published in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, so it is hardly a secret) You really should have had the opportunity to make this since January 1st, with Swiss chard being in season and all.
The original torta is crustless, but there is a whole mess of toasted breadcrumbs involved. You could definitely make the recipe as Marcella Hazan wrote it (I found a closer version to the original here) and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it with this sort of breadcrumb crust. I came to prefer the version with a crust though, if only because the crust makes it easier to steal a slice here or there out of the fridge.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Buckwheat + Carrot Salad with Ginger and Sesame

This salad feels so summery to me, which suits my longing for the warmer days of spring and summer. We had a not so cold winter so far here, almost no snow the entire november/december/january - which means that those winter months were mostly just dark and dreary, without the snow that serves as a natural reflector and those wonderful blue skies that sometimes come with it.
Consequently I am longing for the warmer days of spring and summer, and I feel like this salad of buckwheat and carrots can sort of satisfy my fantasy of a picknick in a park on a warm summer night (a picknick I actually never have, not even in summer, but it just sounds so dreamy)
The buckwheat that went into this salad had been in my kitchen way too long before I used it today, me always lacking inspiration on what to do with it. Maybe you have a deserted bag of buckwheat groats in your pantry, too? Despite never cooking it, I actually really like the taste buckwheat has. Since they logically taste like Soba noodles (which are made with buckwheat flour), I decided to pair the cooked buckwheat with what I consider Japanese ingredients (ginger, soy sauce, scallions, sesame), though I don't actually know what I am talking about.
And with that, I had a summer fantasy in a bowl for dinner and feel optimistic that summer is near (Michael proclaimed February 1st the beginning of summer, and I am inclined to view it that way, too.)

Are you looking forward to summer, too? Or are you happy in the cold of winter?

Buckwheat Carrot Salad with Ginger and Sesame

1/2 cup uncooked buckwheat
3 carrots
1 scallion
1 knob of ginger, the size of half your thumb or so, grated
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp black sesame seeds

Start cooking the buckwheat in plenty of lightly salted water. Drain when tender, after about 20 minutes and set aside to cool.
Roast the scallion either in the oven (mine was already on) or in a cast iron skillet until slightly charred and tender. Cut into slices
Cut the carrots into ribbons, using a vegetable peeler.
Mix the buckwheat, carrot ribbons and the scalllion slices in a bowl (or in the pan you cooked the buckwheat in) and add the grated ginger and the soy sauce.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until the white seeds start to brown. Add to the salad and mix.

Serves 2-3.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Weekend Finds

A few things I found, and loved, this weekend: 

This talk by Neil Gaiman, also this illustration of part of his speech

Tavi interviewing Lorde - I love Tavi, she is such an inspiration!
Also: this quote, mentioned in the interview

I need to make these black beans - We had similar beans in Cuba and loved their simplicity.

You should make these pickled onions, they are sooo good.

I am learning Italian, do you want to join me?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Vegetarian Pho with Shiitake Broth

Tonight I decided to skip going to the cinema with Michael and stay home alone instead, putting very old pictures into my photo album (Hello 2010 me, you look sooo young!), choosing more pictures to order so the new album does not end in 2011 (eventhough that is an improvement to 2009), making myself a cocktail (more on than later) and just generally doing what I really want today.
This living together thing is sometimes a balancing act, with being too close and simultaneously not spending enough real time together (compared to sitting next together but me checking out Instagram and Michael reading the news) and to be honest I (or we) don't naturally gravitate to a balance that makes us really content.
There is this expectations towards relationships that they should be easy or else you are with the wrong person, but over the last few months I came to realize for myself that easy when it comes to relationships means safe and a bit boring first, but can turn to just mostly weigh you down and make you silently unhappy. And I am not really speaking of my relationship with Michael, though we do not just have a wonderfully easy and always peaceful perfect relationship.
I have been quiet here the last few months after returning from our trip to South America and I think it has to do with the fact that everytime I start writing I seem to only want to write about the end of the relationship of my parents last summer, but have felt like it is inappropriate to write about here. My mom moved out of our home last July while I was away in Cuba and since then most of what I think about concerns the question where my home is now and what I can learn from their relationship that did not work out in the end. (My conclusion is basically that if you follow the principles outlined in this book you'll have a lot of work in front of you but things should turn out fine).
And it is in this spirit that I decided to have a lazy evening at home (not taking a bath because that only sounds relaxing but just bores me) cooking this soup (a soup I have been thinking of since Deb posted her Chicken Pho almost two weeks ago) and choosing photos to order so as to be a happier person tomorrow, and in consequence a better partner, too.

And the soup turned out as lovely as I imagined it to be those two weeks ago. I have made vegetarian broths before, with kitchen scraps as Tamar Adler suggests in An Everlasting Meal but was never too happy about it. It did not seem worth the trouble of steaming up our whole kitchen when it came to flavour. I guess I overdid it with the vegetables, the heat and the cooking time (Oops). This broth, though? It is really really good, so good that I drank a whole bowl full of just the plain broth right before doing my dishes, leaving me overly full but so satisfied. I used to not be a huge fan of Shiitake mushrooms, but here I came to love them - they are meaty and mushroomy and strong but addicting tasting and make a broth that has a clear simple flavour, like I always wanted vegetarian broth to taste but never actually have tried before.
The spices you use in the broth give it only a subtle flavour, so I can imagine using any leftover broth in ways not related to Vietnamese cooking, with which I am trying to say you should probably make more than just what you need for the Vegetarian Pho if you go through the troubles of making broth from scratch (especially if you have more space in the freezer than we do, with our ice supply and a fondue mix that together fill up 1/2 of our tiny freezer).

When it comes to the add ins for the pho, I went without mung bean sprouts because we already have our fridge full of veggies we seem to have no time to eat this weekend, but I think they would be lovely if you can get them. The cilantro and lime are essential, in my opinion, anything else is up to you.

Vegetarian Pho with Shiitake Broth
Adapted from the chicken pho that Deb Perelman posted earlier this January, which was barely adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan.
Note: You don't need to use more shiitake for the broth, but I really loved them in the soup, which makes me think that next time I am going to cook additional shiitake with just a little water so I would not have to share 7 mushrooms between 6 people. For more ideas for garnishes and a recipe for crispy shallots to top the soup with, go to Deb's post on Chicken Pho. (I did not want to deal with frying shallots just for myself though so I just went without and was absolutely happy with my soup)

for the broth:
2 onions, peeled, halved
3 slices of fresh ginger, smashed (about 1/2 inch thick)
7 dried shiitake mushrooms (that is what I used and I found the flavour of the broth to be just right, but one more or less wont make that much of a difference I guess)
2 star anise
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp szechuan pepper
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 small pieces kombu seaweed (optional)
1/4 cup soy sauce 

for the pho:
300g dried rice noodles
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 scallion, thinly slices
2 limes, cut into wedges
hoisin sauce

Either char the halfed onions and the ginger slices over the flame of your gas range or preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C, place onion halfes and ginger slices on slightly oiled baking sheet and roast until softened and slightly blackened for about 30 minutes.

Add 4 quarts of water, the onions, ginger, shiitake, the spices, salt, sugar and the kombu in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, lower the heat and let gently simmer for at least an hour.

Before serving, strain the broth, setting aside the shiitake to add back in later. Add the soy sauce to the broth and adjust the seasoning to taste, adding more salt as you see fit.

Prepare the noodles: In a seperate pan, heat enough water to cover the noodles and prepare them according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Right before serving, reheat the broth, prepare all your garnishes, divide the noodles and scallion slices among 6 (large) bowls, ladle the broth over the noodles and top with your garnishes. (In fact, only use part of your garnishes in the beginning and add more as you eat so as to keep the herbs fragrant and any sprouts you might be using slightly crunchy)

Serves 6.