My Go-To Soba Noodle Salad

IMG_0987

IMG_0990

Everyone has a go-to dish. That dish you run to when nothing else seems to work. That dish that never fails you. It’s always there for you when your brain can’t think of anything else. It’s like a secret support recipe that magically solves the never ending question of “what should we eat today?” For me that dish is a soba noodle salad. For some reason I haven’t grown tired of this dish and I don’t think I will. The fact that it involves zero measurements and a sort of “throw everything into the bowl” method means I will never stop making it. There is hardly any method or strict ingredients, so feel free to add anything in your vegetable drawer that looks suitable. It’s great for using up vegetables that may be laying around your fridge. You can switch up the soba noodles to udon or any other pasta that you have in your pantry. You could also add in shrimp or beef as well for something more hearty. This dish is also great for entertaining and perfect for a large group. Just quadruple up the ingredients and it will work lovely for a party.

Recipe

250 grams soba noodes (or noodle of choice)

1/2 head shredded red cabbage

1-2 yellow bell peppers sliced thinly

3 whole scallions chopped

1 carrot sliced thinly on a mandolin or with a peeler

1 jalapeno chopped (de-seeded for a less spicy version)

1 bunch fresh cilantro chopped (keep some aside for garnish)

3 tbs toasted black sesame seeds to garnish

4 tbs toasted sliced almonds to garnish

Optional add-ins: green beans, snap peas, bean sprouts, broccoli, etc

Dressing:

2 tablespoons fresh chopped ginger

2 cloves of fresh chopped garlic

2/3 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup sunflower oil (or any neutral oil you prefer)

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon dark brown sugar

2 limes zested and juiced

pinch of salt

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl until combined. Add the vegetables to the dressing and let sit. Meanwhile bring water to a boil in a large pot and add the soba noodles. Cook for about 3 minutes and remove immediately from the heat (they can overcook quite quickly). Strain the water and rinse the noodles throughly under cold water. Add noodles to the bowl with vegetables and dressing. Mix thoroughly until combined using tongs. Garnish with a generous helping of cilantro, sesame seeds and almonds.

IMG_0984

 IMG_0983 IMG_0993

 

The Jewel of Testaccio Market

IMG_3928

beautiful Rome

Rome is always a good idea. My husband and I embarked on a mini vacation last week to the eternal city. Having visited once as a teenager I was extremely excited about exploring the city as an adult with a far more sophisticated palate and hunger for life. Back then my only guide was a torn up Lonely Planet book I had checked out from the public library. Times have changed. Now I spend at least an entire month before my trips researching food blogs and trying to find out specifically “where the locals go.” It can be exhausting as there are so many options and always a limited number of days. Combined with a love of markets and tiny winding streets I was full up to my ears with hidden gems and secret spots in Rome. The best margherita pizzas, the best cappuccinos, the best Cacio e Pepe, the best artichokes, the best artisanal olive oils… the list goes on.

IMG_4206

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

IMG_4055

tiny & charming little streets

One of my favorite past times while traveling is checking out local markets. Historical sites and museums are great, but the infiltration of tourists can be a bit harrowing. What really gets me going are escaping the tourists and seeing where the locals go about their everyday lives. Where they shop, eat, drink, and pick up the best tomatoes for their family’s secret recipes. My senses are awakened with the sights of fresh local produce displayed in abundant bushels as if they were jewels in a glass case. Vendor owners shout out to the passersby with eager smiles as you taste their juicy tomatoes and sweet Sicilian oranges with nothing but pure joy in expression.

IMG_4167

IMG_3910

IMG_4208 IMG_4209

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Testaccio Market fruits, flowers & vegetables

While in Rome I kept hearing about Testaccio Market, which is most frequently visited by local Romans and true gourmet enthusiasts. It is located far and away from the hustle and bustle of tourists visiting historical sights and situated in a small neighborhood outside the center of Rome. The market is much more modern with stark clean alleyways, very different from the rustic wooden crate displays you see on the street markets. It’s quite an interesting juxtapose between the old and new Rome. I’m sure that is a deep battle being drawn out far beyond the local markets. There are various stalls from butchers, to fish mongers, to fruit & vegetable purveyors, to homeware and even the most random displays of Nike sneakers. The produce was beautiful and vibrant as it was all over Rome, but I was particularly drawn to one shop called Lo Spaccio di Testaccio. This is a food blogger and kitchen accessory lover heaven, the jewel of Testaccio! Shelves full of artisan, design specific and hand-picked kitchen goods. Everything from tea towels to vintage knives to rustic kitchen twine to pasta cutters to enamel cookware to everything else you could dream of and more. It’s wonderfully aesthetically inclined and design oriented. Each item seems to have some sort of origin story or use you would have never thought of. I literally spent one hour in this tiny stall imagining how each piece could fit into my kitchen and the delicious meals I would make using these gorgeous tools. But I knew I had to restrain as the amount of accessories piling up in my kitchen has been causing a storage problem, but I tend to ignore these realities in the moment. With much restraint I picked up a few gorgeous enamel plates as well as some lovely wooden whisks and mini bowls. Testaccio Market and in particular Lo Spaccio di Testaccio are truly magical finds for anyone looking for an authentic Roman market experience off the beaten path.

IMG_4211 IMG_4213

IMG_4210IMG_4212

the many kitchen goodies at Lo Spaccio di Testaccio

Testaccio Market

Between Via Galvani and Via Alessandro Volta
 00153 Rome, Italy


Open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 2pm, until 7:30pm on Fridays.

 

Polenta Fries

IMG_0904

I have the fondest memories of polenta fries at Loie Fuller’s in Providence, Rhode Island (home). I often used to go to Loie Fuller’s for dinner with my parents. It was non pretentious yet elegant and hearty cuisine at its best. The polenta fries were crispy and perfect, served with a delicious aioli. In hopes of recreating that experience I decided to make polenta fries at home. I’ll admit they weren’t the most fun to make. Who would have thought these simple looking concoctions would be so temperamental. I had to handle them ever so delicately, more like macarons rather than fries. In the end it worked out and the taste was almost as good as I remembered from Loie Fuller’s.

IMG_0910

Recipe

2 cups corn grits or cornmeal

4 cups milk (I used 2 cups low-fat and 2 cups whole milk)

3 tbs butter

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

1/4 cup your favorite crumbled goat cheese (I used greek)

1/2 cup of sunflower oil

sea salt for finishing

In a heavy pot bring the milk and butter to a slight boil. Once it boils lower the heat immediately and gradually add the corn grits whisking all along. Keep whisking until combined. The mixture will bubble up so be careful! Switch to a flat wooden spoon and keep stirring the polenta until it starts pulling away from the sides (about 4-5 minutes). Remove from the heat and add in the salt and cheeses and combine.

Transfer the polenta onto a greased baking sheet and spread evenly till flat. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about one hour until cool. Once cool, cut thick fries out of the polenta sheet. Mine were about 1 inch wide. Place the cut polenta fries onto a another baking sheet and drizzle generously with sea salt and oil. Bake in a preheated oven at 450F/232C for 20 minutes, turning over at the 10 minute mark. This is where you need to be very careful. Many of my fries split in half because they were still so soft. Handle each turning very delicately, a flat spatula will help.

Serve with an aioli or dipping sauce of your choice. Enjoy. 

IMG_0886

IMG_0891  IMG_0894 IMG_0896 IMG_0897 IMG_0900  IMG_0909

IMG_0903

Latest Food Ramblings

February hasn’t been the most productive month for me in terms of blogging, but I promise there will be some exciting posts coming up soon. I just wanted to share a few of the latest happenings from my kitchen this month. All photos are taken from my iPhone in this post.

IMG_3148

Entertaining at home is always my most favorite thing (minus the cleanup). This was a rustic cheese & charcuterie plate I put together using brie, bleu and comte cheeses along with beef salami and bresaola. For more tips on creating the perfect cheese plate click here.

IMG_3156

These lemon ricotta fritters were beyond delicious. Ricotta always gives a wonderful fluffy interior texture to fritters, pancakes and most baked goods.  I served the fritters with a beautiful strawberry preserves I brought back with me from Babylonstoren in South Africa. To read more about my time there click here.

IMG_3186

As a native Rhode Islander we can’t survive without our eggplant parmesan “grindaaas” (insert Boston accent). Luckily my husband has also grown very fond of them. Here is a prep shot of breaded and fried eggplant before it was stuffed into the sandwich.

IMG_3456

Freekeh! Behold the power of the ancient grain. For those who don’t know, freekeh is a roasted grain from green wheat. It’s very hearty and nutty with smokey notes. I would compare it to a cross between farro and bulgar. It’s very much used in Levantine cuisine across the Middle East and known for its’ health benefits. This was my first time having freekeh and I really loved it. It’s much more filling than quinoa and I love the bite it has. I used this recipe by Ottolenghi using tons of caramelized onions which really made it special. I topped the freekeh with a traditional Palestinian chicken with sumac, caramelized onions and pine nuts called Musakhan. It was delicious.

IMG_3469

Something sweet to end. I made these ridiculously easy double chocolate brownies and used smoked Maldon sea salt flakes to finish. The smokey note of the sea salt really helps to cut the sweetness in a very elegant way.

 

Key Lime Bars

IMG_0877

IMG_0875

About one year ago I travelled to Miami with my sister and brother-in-law on a wonderful trip full of mouth-watering meals. I posted my food diary here . Florida is known for both its’ key limes and key lime pie. I have written many many times about my enduring love of tangy sweet citrus flavors in desserts. The iconic and all American classic key lime pie serves exactly that purpose, the mouth puckering bite cuts the sweetness creating a blissful dessert. For those unfamiliar with key limes, they are a smaller, seedier and more tart version of your normal lime. While doing the groceries the other day I was both surprised and thrilled to see key limes on sale at Waitrose. I picked them up right away in anxious excitement to prepare a key lime dessert.

IMG_0834 IMG_0838

Having overdone the tarts and pies lately, I opted to go for key lime bars. I have had this pre-molded bars baking sheet sitting in the pantry for ages and here was my opportunity to use it. I bought it on clearance at Sur La Table, and it hasn’t gotten any use till now! These bars are extremely easy to make and perfect for anyone who loves a good comforting lemon or lime tart. I will admit they aren’t as elegant as the meyer lemon sabayon tart I made last year, but that’s okay right? I opted for a shortbread cookie and almond flour crust instead of the usual graham cracker crumbs, just to spruce it up a bit. This recipe would work just as well with plain limes if you cannot find key limes. I had a lot of fun plating these key lime bars using a beautiful suzani table linen, citrus fruits, lime zest curls, and a gorgeous floral arrangement of white roses & ranunculus. The colors were just spectacular!

IMG_0882

Recipe (adapted from Joe’s Stone Crab)

Crust:

1 1/2 cup shortbread cookies

1/2 cup almond flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 tbs muscovado sugar

pinch of salt

5 tbs unsalted melted butter

Filling:

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 tsp key lime zest

2/3 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice

1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

For the crust – preheat the oven to 350F/176C. Create crumbs from your shortbread cookies using either a rolling pin or food processor. Put the crumbs in a bowl and add the almond flour, cinnamon, sugar & salt and mix together. Next add the melted butter till it is incorporated in the crumb mixture. Pour the crumb mixture into a pie dish, square pan, or tart shell (whatever you would like!) and press down firmly with your hands to form a crust. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes until lightly brown.

For the filling – using an electric mixer whisk the egg yolks with the lime zest till fluffy (about 5 minutes). Next gradually add the condensed milk and keep whisking until it thickens (about 3 minutes). Lastly add in the lime juice slowly mixing until it is just combined (don’t over mix). Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 350F/176F for about 12-15 minutes till it is just set. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or freeze for 20 minutes before serving. Garnish with lime zest and whipped topping.

IMG_0830

IMG_0836

IMG_0841  IMG_0844 IMG_0852 IMG_0854 IMG_0855 IMG_0856 IMG_0857 IMG_0859 IMG_0860 IMG_0863 IMG_0864 IMG_0865 IMG_0869  IMG_0876  IMG_0880 IMG_0885

Mosaic Apple Tart

IMG_0773

IMG_0775

IMG_0783

I think what I love most about baking is how much tedious handwork is involved. I am such a hands-on person and love creating beautiful patterns and designs. Mosaic designed apple tarts are no exception. There is something so gratifying about putting all the pieces of the puzzle or apples shall we say together. This recipe is so simple, anyone can do it. If you aren’t fussed about presentation just place the apples however you please!

Recipe

4 medium sized apples, peeled and sliced thinly & uniformly (a mandolin would be great for this)

one sheet of defrosted puff pastry

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces

tart pan

Preheat the oven to 400F/204C. Roll out the puff pastry and form into your tart pan. Use a fork to poke holes into the pastry so it doesn’t puff up too much while baking. Assemble the apples into the pan in a layered effect. Sprinkle the sugar on top and dot the butter pieces evenly across. Bake for 30 minutes till the edges are golden brown. Let cool before cutting. Enjoy. 

Edible Flower Salad

IMG_0824

IMG_0822

Hungry foodies beware! This isn’t one of those recipes that’s gonna fill you up or satisfy your comfort food craving. This is one of those recipes that’s about stunning ingredients and presentation. This is more about using your creativity and attention to detail to create a beautiful plate. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t yummy, it was. The goat cheese mousse was to die for! I just needed a big sandwich afterwards.

Edible flowers are such an incredibly stunning ingredient. Purists might argue that they are too “frou frou” or flavorless, but the wow factor they add to a thoughtful plate is undeniable. Lootah Premium Foods is an food supplier which carries everything from French produce to olive oils. They have a shop in Lafayette Gourmet, but you can also order through them directly. I ordered one box of mixed colored pansies, which I used to make a beautiful salad with purple carrot, cucumbers, curly parsley (it’s made a trendy comeback) and goat cheese mousse. The goat cheese mousse is actually from Rachel Khoo’s recipe from The Little Paris Kitchen. It’s such a delicious concoction that I will be making again.

IMG_0806 IMG_0809

There isn’t really a by the book recipe for this salad. Use ingredients that are in season and a little quirky in color or shape, I found the cool purple carrots as well as the curly parsley. Invest in a good mandolin! They are great for artful presentation and uniform slices. I used one for the cucumber roll-ups and they were perfect. I love the actual presentation aspect of food, especially with salads. There are so many different textures and colors so use your creativity and your plate will be gorgeous. Take that extra time and effort, it’s worth it.

Recipe

English Cucumber (use the mandolin to create thin sheets and roll up)

Purple Carrot (I used a knife to cut thin pieces)

Curley Parsley

Edible Flowers (I used pansies)

Simple Vinaigrette (I used extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and sea salt)

Assemble vegetables and flowers on large white plate in artful manner. Drizzle vinaigrette over it. Pipe the cucumber roll ups with goat cheese mousse (recipe below).

Goat Cheese Mousse (from The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook

100g Selles-sur-Cher cheese (goats cheese coated in edible ash, but any soft goats cheese could work)

4 tbsp milk

125 ml whipping cream

Beat the cheese with the milk until you have a smooth creamy texture. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Add one quarter of the whipped cream to the cheese mixture and mix together, then carefully fold in the rest of the whipped cream. Transfer the mousse to a piping bag and leave in the fridge.

IMG_0784

IMG_0786

IMG_0791

IMG_0792

IMG_0795

IMG_0796

IMG_0798

IMG_0800

IMG_0804

IMG_0810   IMG_0812

IMG_0814

IMG_0816

IMG_0817

IMG_0819

 

Entertaining 101: Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Appetizer

IMG_0764 IMG_0760

They say good things come in small packages. I think they were referring to bite sized appetizers. I love making mini versions of food when entertaining. It’s such a stylized way of serving and always looks much more elegant than the bulkier larger version. Guests always enjoy something that is easy to eat and you as the host will be less worried about someone spilling their food on your new couch. I always face such a catch 22 when having people over. On one hand I love entertaining for my guests but on the other hand I find myself on paranoia alert just waiting for someone to make a mess. You can always find me ready with paper towels and cleaning spray, it’s pretty psycho.

I decided to make a more spruced up gourmet version of the classic and comforting grilled cheese. To make it more elegant I made two versions of grilled cheese, one with roasted grapes and brie and the other with sun dried tomatoes and emmental. I have been obsessed with roasted grapes lately. Roast them in the oven with thyme, rosemary, olive oil and sea salt and they shrivel up into sweet and tart jewels. Perfect for pairing with any cheese.

IMG_0707 IMG_0711 IMG_0714

IMG_0718 IMG_0723

These mini grilled cheeses may take you a bit more time and effort than just making the normal size, but I promise it’s worth it. They look perfect on a rustic wooden board and your guests will be beyond impressed. I hope you try this recipe for your next party.

Recipe this recipe makes 20 mini grilled cheeses, and can easily be adjusted for more guests

10 slices of good farmers white bread with crusts cut off

half block of good quality brie cheese

half block of good quality emmental

unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes (feel free to use homemade, but I bought good quality ones from a deli which were just as good)

15 roasted grapes (recipe below)

Cut the crusts off the bread to form even squares. Spread butter on both sides of the bread and assemble the sandwiches: the roasted grapes with the brie and the sun dried tomatoes with the emmental. Place sandwiches on a medium heated grill pan and let toast. Flip over when toasty brown and the cheese is oozing. Remove sandwiches from the pan and cut them diagonally into an “X” to create 4 mini triangles from each one. Place each mini grilled cheese on the longest angle on a serving plate or wooden board.

Roasted Grapes

15 purple grapes

3 sprigs of thyme

2 sprigs of rosemary

good drizzle of olive oil

sea salt

fresh black pepper

Roast grapes at 375F on a baking pan with the herbs, olive oil, sea salt and pepper for about 25 minutes until shriveled and soft.

IMG_0725 IMG_0726 IMG_0734 IMG_0743 IMG_0749 IMG_0750 IMG_0752 IMG_0753 IMG_0755 IMG_0769

Braised Red Cabbage with Tahini Dressing

IMG_0690 IMG_0691 IMG_0692 IMG_0702

I often struggle with figuring out ways to get vegetables into my meals. If I had it my way I could eat bread and cheese at every meal, but the healthier voice in my head begs to differ. I found myself staring at a head of red cabbage feeling highly uninspired as I imagined sticks of butter and cups of cream instead. Fighting between good and evil I took out my go-to cookbook when I am trying to use vegetables, Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. It is over four hundred pages dissecting every vegetable imaginable with great recipes to accompany. Browsing through the cabbage section there was a Mediterranean inspired recipe reminiscent of an Ottolenghi approach that I decided to try. The recipe in the book is more of a salad whereas I wanted to do more of a hearty braised cabbage so I adapted the recipe accordingly.

The result was lovely, warm and vibrant in both taste and color. Instead of sautéing the cabbage for two minutes as the recipe states, I let it braise for twenty minutes in date balsamic vinegar from Bateel. I love using their date balsamic as it has sweeter, less pungent notes than a typical balsamic vinegar. The tahini yogurt dressing added a much needed richness to the cabbage making my vegetable woes a long lost struggle.

Recipe (adapted from the cookbook Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion sliced thinly

1 head red cabbage sliced thinly

2 garlic cloves finely minced

1 tsp sea salt (I used Maldon)

1 tsp ground black pepper

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup date balsamic vinegar  (if you can’t find date balsamic, you may substitute regular)

2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

3 tablespoons fresh dill

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Dressing

1 clove garlic finely minced

1/2 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Heat the oil in large skillet on medium. Once heated add the onion with the brown sugar and let it caramelize for around 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and sauté for one minute. Next add the cabbage with the salt and pepper. Immediately start mixing and turning the cabbage so everything is distributed evenly for about two minutes. Now add the date balsamic  and once again mix it thoroughly. Once mixed cover the pan and let it braise for about twenty minutes. You will need to keep mixing it every 4-5 minutes to make sure it is cooked evenly. The cabbage will shrink and soften during this process.

Once done put cabbage onto a nice flat serving tray or plate to cool. While cooling is a good time to make the dressing. In a bowl (I used a mason jar) put the garlic, salt, pepper, yoghurt, tahini, and lemon and whisk thoroughly till combined and smooth. Once the cabbage has reached room temperature elegantly place all your herbs on top, pay specific attention to the dill as it gives a lovely finishing. Carefully spoon the tahini dressing on the cabbage and drizzle with the pine nuts to finish. Enjoy. 

Pain De Mie Bread Pudding

        IMG_0688

I grew up in a small town where everyone had a vegetable garden and everyone went to their local farm to collect eggs every weekend. We knew our local bakers and who had the best bread in town. Over the years I saw that farmers markets became “trendy,” maybe due to the rise in health conscious individuals or because everyone was trying to eat “local and organic,” because that’s the cool thing to do. Living in Dubai we aren’t blessed with the best soil nor the best growing environment, but it makes me happy to see farmers markets and local produce efforts popping up. My current favorite farmers market is the Friday Farmers Market on the Terrace at Emirates Towers by Baker & Spice. I think what differentiates this market from a few of the others is that you are dealing directly with the farmers who grow the produce. There isn’t a middle man, and you can see the pride in each of their faces as their display their abundant bounty. Prices are fair and there are quite a few other stalls of honey, coffee, and fresh pomegranate juice. Baker & Spice also sets up shop with their tremendously delicious baked goods from breads, to pastries to croissants.

Last Friday I picked up a gorgeous pain de pie loaf, which is quite similar to a brioche with its’ sweet soft texture. I used this loaf to make an easy bread pudding. It’s such a simple dessert and is great for entertaining big groups. I love a dessert where you can literally put everything into one pan and bake away without the fuss. I used notes of cinnamon, turbinado sugar, vanilla bean, and sliced almonds. I also used red currants to offset the sweetness with their puckering sourness.

Recipe

1 loaf of pain de mie (a more stale loaf will soak up the egg mixture better)

3 eggs

3 cups whole milk

1/2 cup turbinado sugar (plus one extra tablespoon for top)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean scraped

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup slices almonds

1/2 cup red currants

pinch of salt

confectioners sugar for finishing

Cut the loaf of pain di mie into medium sized chunks and put in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and milk together and then add the sugars, vanilla bean, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and pinch of salt and mix thoroughly. Pour the egg mixture onto the bread chunks and let the bread sit in the egg mixture for a good 15-20 minutes. Keep pressing it down so the bread soaks up all the liquid. Next butter a baking dish and start putting in the bread chunks. Do one layer then sprinkle the almonds and red currants over it, then do another layer until it is piled to the top. Do a final layer of almonds and red currants and sprinkle the last tablespoon of turbinado sugar on top.

Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes until puffy. Finish with a dusting of confectioners sugar.

Finis 

       IMG_0669

      IMG_0672

IMG_0674 IMG_0676 IMG_0678 IMG_0683 IMG_0687