Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter Lumpia

Let's talk about lumpia (pronounced as loom-pi-yuh), which is a favorite among Filipinos. It is basically a deep fried spring roll filled with vegetables, some ground meat, and perhaps some shrimp. My mom makes the best vegetable and meat or shrimp lumpias. I have made those before too but just never blogged about it because the directions are quite tedious to write. Sorry… I can be really lazy sometimes.

One of these days, I will make the traditional lumpia recipe and share it with you all, but for now, I would like to introduce you to my winter lumpia. Hmmm... Weird, considering we don't have winter in the Philippines. But hey, I am in the US now and since I like cooking with seasonal ingredients, gotta use what's in season! So this winter lumpia showcases the gorgeous purple cabbage and parsnip and is backed by regular staples like garlic, onion, and bell pepper. Not the lumpia that I grew up eating (that's very special too and I promise to share it in the future), but something that I know my mom will be proud of when she tastes it.

Before I proceed to describe lumpia and how awesome it is, I want to make sure that you get the right wrapper. Most often, you can buy lumpia wrappers at Asian stores and they are usually refrigerated. Do make sure that the packaging says “Lumpia Wrapper” with the words "spring roll wrapper" in parentheses. You do not want to use egg roll wrappers, those are different!   

Lumpia requires a lot of preparation time and some affinity for dealing with grease and splattering. There's chopping involved, some stir frying, wrapping (which for me is the best part), and deep frying. Do not let all this daunt you though, please don’t! Once you taste it, you will know that it is well worth all the effort!

A good lumpia should have two main characteristics: it has to have a flavorful filling and a nice, crispy exterior. I love the flaky wrapper that gently crunches in your mouth. Each bite is a combination of that and the savory filling inside. The tenderized purple cabbage, which tastes bolder than its green cousin, and the earthy sweetness of parsnip go very well together. The combination becomes even better when doused with an Asian marinade then wrapped in a thin, flaky, egg roll that gets deep fried in hot, hot oil. It is a perfect winter appetizer... Earthy, savory, greasy, and just plain delicious!

There are many sauces that go well with lumpia and people prefer different sauces for various kinds of lumpia. Soy sauce and vinegar, sweet chili sauce, vinegar with salt and pepper, or ketchup. For this lumpia, I accidentally concocted a sauce that's absolutely great with it and I encourage you to try it too.

Be ready to read super lengthy directions. If you have no patience for the folding directions, just learn from the pictures. I just want to make sure that you produce a perfectly crunchy lumpia that you will love! 

Winter Fried Lumpia

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced
1 lb cabbage (I used purple cabbage), sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1 parsnip, julienned
1/2 large bell pepper, julienned
1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

lumpia wrappers

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and fish sauce. Set this marinade aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, cook the garlic just until it turns a nice golden color. Cook the onion for about 3 minutes until it is almost translucent. Toss in the cabbage and cook for about 4 minutes until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsnip and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and cook for a minute. Toss in the fresh parsley and add the sauce mixture. Cook while stirring often for 3 more minutes.

Turn off the stove and remove pan from heat. Move the stir fry to a large bowl to prevent from further cooking.

Put some water in a small bowl. This water will serve as your glue to help seal the wrapped lumpia. Place two large plates side by side. One plate is for wrapping the lumpia on and the other is for the finished product.

Place a lumpia wrapper on one plate. Scoop a generous spoonful of the filling and line it close to the bottom edge of the lumpia wrapper. Make sure to leave an inch of space on the right, left, and bottom edges so you can fold the lumpia wrapper over the filling. Fold the right and left side edges snugly, holding them down with your fingertips. Use your other hand to fold the bottom edge snugly over the filling. Roll into a log, making sure that the sides remain tucked in. Wet your fingertips with a little bit of the water and pat it on the flap to help seal the lumpia. Lay it on the other plate, flap side down to put weight on it so it doesn't unroll. Repeat the process and make as many lumpias until you run out of filling. See the pictures.

Before cooking the lumpia, prepare a serving plate lined with a paper towel or two to soak up the excess oil from the cooked lumpia.

Pour canola oil into a nonstick pan, just until it covers the entire bottom of the pan. When the oil is very hot, but not smoking, place 3-4 lumpias in the pan, depending on how big it is. Do not overcrowd, you want your lumpia to brown evenly and to be manageable when you start turning them. Cook each side for 1-2 minutes, depending on how fast the wrapper turns golden brown. Use tongs to carefully flip the lumpia. Keep a watchful eye especially after you have cooked a few batches because the oil tends to get really hot which causes the lumpia to brown faster. You may need to lower down the heat and add more oil when you are running low. When you add oil, allow it to heat up before cooking another batch. Otherwise, the lumpia wrapper won't turn out crispy. The sides and ends might not brown as well, so use your tongs to hold the uncooked edges down into the oil for a couple seconds to make sure the entire surface of your lumpia is evenly browned.

Spicy Lumpia Dipping Sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon chili paste
½ teaspoon ketchup
generous squeeze of fresh lemon

In a small bowl, stir the soy sauce, chili paste, and ketchup together. Squeeze a generous amount of fresh lemon juice to taste. The lemon juice works very well at cutting the oiliness of the lumpia.  

 A somewhat healthy pub food right in your own kitchen, Filipino style!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Polenta Cakes with Garlicky Mushrooms + Astrid and Veronika Book Review

This weekend flew by pretty darn fast! It was a fun one… lots of baking and cooking, a foggy hike, a delicious brunch at home with good friends, too much yoga (never!), a sunny walk, and heart to heart talks.

I also finished reading the sweetest book about a loving friendship between two women who couldn’t be more different from each other, Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson. This beautifully written novel tugged my heart and touched me deeply. I highly recommend it!

…for the day is you,
and the light is you,
the sun is you,
and all the beautiful, beautiful
awaiting life is you.
-Karin Boye, Morning… an excerpt from Astrid’s letter to Veronika  

My weekend also involved some polenta cakes and garlicky mushroomsSandra of Meadows Cooks picked this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe. I actually read the recipe ahead of time, thank goodness, so I had time to allow the creamy polenta to set in the fridge. It took some will power to not eat it by the spoonful right out of the pot.

The creamy polenta is good enough, but when toasted and topped with mushrooms stir-fried with lots of garlic and some wine, it totally takes on a new character! I love the bit of crunch on the outside of the toasted polenta and the softness and creaminess inside. The mushrooms are meaty, juicy, and so full of flavor! This dish is so perfect for the season, earthy and comforting. Very satisfying without being overwhelming… definitely the kind of food that warms your heart.

Check out Sandra’s post to read the original Mark Bittman recipe and see what the other FMP members came up with at our website

Now I am off to spend the rest of my evening snuggling on the couch with DFJ, watching Downton Abbey and drinking tea. Hope you all have a great week my friends!  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Adventure in Winthrop, WA

Being a teacher has many perks and one of which is getting to enjoy three-day weekends! DFJ and I went on a winter adventure weekend in Winthrop. It is an adorable little town in the Okanogan County in Washington. When I met my friend, Emily, for dinner last month, she mentioned how much she loves Winthrop. If there’s anyone who loves the outdoors the most and knows the best places for adventures, that would be Emily. I woke up early on Saturday morning feeling listless and bored, so I started looking up Winthrop and had the greatest desire to go cross country skiing. Since I tried downhill skiing last year and didn’t really enjoy it, I wanted to give winter sports another shot and thought maybe something less nerve-racking, like cross country skiing might be my thing. Plans were made and we decided to drive to Winthrop early Sunday morning, stay the night, snowshoe, cross country ski, eat, drink, and have fun!   

First stop was at Sun Mountain Lodge to rent snowshoes. We snowshoed around the Sun Mountain trails for two hours and absolutely enjoyed it. The view of the surrounding mountains heavily blanketed in snow with clear, blue skies and orange-pink sunset hues was breathtaking!

Snowshoeing requires some resolution to just put on your boots, strap them into your snow shoes, and brave the cold and the snow. Only then will you realize how pleasant and calming it is, just like hiking. I love how snowshoeing allows me to trudge along, uphill and downhill, in deep snow without slipping and sliding. 

After the long drive and playing around in the snow, we finally checked in at our hotel, Duck Brand Inn. Our room was very cozy, charming, and clean. I love the red doors and the wooden staircase that leads to the parking lot. 

We had dinner at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. This place is pretty awesome! They have delicious burgers and great beer. Be prepared to enter with a very hungry belly because the servings are giant.

The next day started out freezing cold and we had a sweet breakfast at the Rocking Horse Bakery, which was right across our hotel. Their coffee is very good and so are all the breakfast treats! I wish my stomach had room for everything but my bran muffin was a very good choice.

After breakfast, we dressed in our ski gear and drove to the Community Trail Park and did some practice runs around the track for an hour. DFJ and I are both beginners at this sport and since we were on our own, practicing really helped us understand what we were doing (or so we think). 
We headed off to Big Valley Ranch afterwards for 5 miles of cross country skiing (sans trail pass fees!). I have never had so much fun while getting a great workout at the same time! Despite the pain and the soreness that I’m suffering through right now, I realized that cross country skiing is something that I really enjoyed and look forward to doing more often in the next couple of years. Working hard in the bitter cold felt invigorating and gliding through the woods with sparkling snow everywhere made me feel at peace with the world.

DFJ and I were exhausted at the end of the loop and we both just wanted to get out of our sweaty gear and grab some food. After we returned our skis and changed into fresh clothes, we stopped for a late lunch at East 20 Pizza before our long drive home. Their pizza is amazing! One half was the sausage with spicy pineapple and the other was portabella with goat cheese… yummm! East 20 pizzas are heavy with toppings yet the crust remains nice and crispy. Every bite was simply delightful! 

Before we drove off, we went back into town to look around for a bit and grab some coffee for the road. After that, everything was a blur as I spent a good part of the drive home sleeping my tiredness away. DFJ is the best chauffer.

Winthrop is a winter wonderland! It offers all the cold weather outdoor activities you could dream of doing. During these trying times in our lives, the snow covered hills and mountains of Winthrop showed us that being one with the earth is the perfect way to rejuvenate our souls. 

Cheers to the first of our 2013 adventures DFJ!         

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chicken Jook with Lots of Vegetables

Happy Food Matters Project Monday friends! This week’s recipe, Chicken Jook with Lots of Vegetables, chosen by Erin of The Goodness Life, is a childhood favorite of mine. Of course in our Cebuano vernacular, it doesn’t sound this fancy, it is merely lugaw or at restaurants, the more appropriate Chinese name, congee. This rice porridge dish always warmed my belly and warranted seconds and thirds. You would think that growing up in hot and humid Philippines, soups aren’t a hit, but they are, especially this. The aroma of lugaw cooking in my mom’s kitchen was one of the best smells ever and I didn’t realize how much I have missed it until now.  For the longest time, I never thought to recreate my mom’s lugaw. How did I ever forget about it? Thank you Erin for taking me back home!

I followed Mark Bittman’s original recipe closely with a few minor changes:
- I used one chicken thigh instead of three
- I used 1 and ½ cups homemade chicken stock along with 4 and ½ cups of water to cook the rice
- I used three cups of bok choy, instead of just two cups of cabbage

Mosey on over to Erin’s blog for the original recipe and make sure to check out what the other FMP members came up with!  

This rice porridge is heart-warmingly delicious! The ginger really gives it a good warmth and the gravy-like broth is so full of all the flavors that everyone loves in Asian food. Each bite is a delightful mixture of thick broth, chewy rice, and crunchy vegetables.

I made this rice porridge on Saturday night before DFJ and I went on a winter adventure (more on that later). Whenever I started forgetting about how much fun we were having as we plodded and skied in the cold for the past two days, I daydreamed about this. DFJ and I just got home an hour ago and we shared a warm bowl of goodness. Doing my FMP homework before leaving town was the best idea ever!

 Have a great week everyone!     

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chocolate Chip Rye Blondies

So, the first time I made blondies was a little over two years ago. Guess who they were baked for? Yup, DFJ. We just started getting to know each other then… he was the hot guy at the gym who happened to like inviting me over for dinner once a week at his place. 

One day, I wanted to do something sweet for him and baked some blondies that unfortunately, didn’t turn out quite right. They were not bad, just a little hard and not too sweet. I had second thoughts about giving them to him, but what was I to do? Eat them all or give them to my coworkers and pretend that I made it for them? Uh-uh! So, even though the blondies were just so-so, I drove over to his house after working out at the gym (he lived close). My brain kept telling me to just forget about it and drive home. But my instinct refused to listen. I wanted him to know that, that…

All of a sudden, I had a stroke of brilliance! What fixes a subpar baked good? Duh, ice cream! So, I drove to the grocery store, picked up some vanilla ice cream, went to his apartment, and walked to his door with determination. When I got there, I lost all the nerve and wondered if he had another girl over or if he was in the middle of something. Perhaps I did not want to know…? I dropped off the bag of blondies and the tub of ice cream, climbed back in my car, called him and told him to open his front door. After we hung up, I drove home. Smooth move, huh? Well, we are still dating! It must have worked!

Fast forward to the present… Blondies, take two! DFJ’s mom gave me Ina Garten’s newest cookbook, Foolproof, for Christmas and I love it! Many recipes will be cooked from this book and I figured that a good place to start would be her Chocolate Chunk Blondies. It took me forever to get started because I had to thumb through my other cookbooks and browse online to find a blondie recipe that uses less sugar than Ina’s. All the recipes I found require more sugar and even less flour… yikes! As much as I wanted to follow her recipe to the tee, circumstances did not allow me to do so. I didn’t have any chocolate chunks, just chocolate chips; not enough walnuts; and some rye flour that needed to be used. Remember when I swore off all-purpose flour a long time ago? Well, I have some now. DFJ bought some for the birthday cake he made for me and we have lots of it left over. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you know I hate wasting, so naturally, I had to use the all-purpose flour too.

Even with all these substitutions and omissions, my blondies rock! You really can’t go wrong if you follow Ina’s basic recipe. These blondies are awesome on their own and I am confident to tell you that you don’t need ice cream to cover up any imperfections… There are none, if I may say so myself. But I won’t hold it against you if you add a scoop of ice cream on top!    

Chocolate Chip Rye Blondies (Makes 16-28 blondies, depending on what size you want them!)
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Chocolate Chunk Blondies, Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, 8 oz
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup ultrafine sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, 8 oz
1 cup chopped walnuts

a tad of butter for greasing

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, and salt. Carefully move the dry mixture to a sifter or a strainer and sift back into the bowl (make sure to catch the ingredients that will go through the holes). Whisk well again and set aside.  

Place the butter and sugars in a separate, large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars on high speed until it turns light and fluffy, about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Using a flexible, rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Pour in the vanilla and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed for a minute each. Scrape the bowl again before and after the addition and mixing of each egg.  

Add the flour mixture one cup at a time and mix on low until everything is just incorporated (meaning, you can see streaks of flour) or well incorporated (no streaks of flour left). *See explanation below.* Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well combined. 

Stop for a moment to move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom, sides, and corners of a deep, baking pan (I used a 13x9x2 cake pan) with butter.

Gently fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts into the batter using a flexible, rubber spatula. Drop big dollops of the thick batter all over the pan. Spread the batter as evenly as you can, until every inch of the pan is covered. Smooth the top. Bake for exactly 30 minutes. Any minute longer and the blondies will overcook and harden! Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in a few spots. If the toothpick comes out clean, it is done. If you happen to stab a chocolate chip, the toothpick will come out messy, so pick a different spot. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let it cool completely before cutting into squares.           

*If you want your blondies on the fudgy side, do not overmix the batter. If you want your blondies cakey, mix until everything is well incorporated.*   

P.S. These blondies are great with your morning coffee and perfect for after-dinner-Netflix time! 
Have a great MLK weekend friends!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pancit Bihon

Pancit Bihon is a classic Filipino dish that originated from Chinese occupants in the Philippines a long time ago. This is a popular dish that is often served during birthday parties for long life, fiestas (town birthdays), New Year’s Eve, and other big gatherings. Filipinos are fond of getting together and pancit seems to be everyone’s favorite. Everyone has their own version of pancit and it is a no-fail dish because no matter who makes it, it is always delicious!

Pancit is what Filipinos call stir-fry noodle dishes. Different kinds of noodles may be used in a pancit: egg noodles, cellophane noodles, thick rice noodles, or rice sticks (which is what I used in this recipe). There are different kinds of vegetable and meat or seafood combinations that can be thrown in a pancit. The most common vegetables are cabbage, carrots, celery, string beans, bell peppers, and green onions. The meat or seafood are usually, chicken, pork, Chinese sausage, and shrimp. What is most common among all pancit is the use of soy sauce for seasoning. Usually, when there is meat or seafood in the pancit, some key limes are added to temper the oiliness or the fishy taste.

As soon as I got home from work on Wednesday night, I started preparing the ingredients for this recipe all the while talking to my mom on the phone. It was a very nostalgic moment and it seemed like it wasn’t that long ago when I was helping her chop the vegetables in our hot and cozy kitchen back home. Oh Mama, how I miss you! Thank you for spoiling me with all the good food when I was growing up. Watching and observing you taught me how to cook and you would be impressed with the things that I am able to make now. All because of you! 

This pancit recipe that I am sharing is vegetarian but just as good as any other pancit! I fed it to my all-American boyfriend and he absolutely loved it. Not just because I made it, but because it was really, really good. All the vegetables are nicely cooked and they retained their crunch and juiciness. The slightly spicy sauce wonderfully complemented the vegetables and the noodles are cooked just right. With its spicy/herby touch, cilantro is the perfect garnish for this dish. DFJ suggested that we add cashews and I was glad for that advice because the cashews added a very delicious, sweet and nutty crunch.       

If you want a healthy, delicious weeknight meal or something new to bring to parties, make some pancit! Cutting the vegetables might take time but once you get that part done, the cooking time is pretty quick. Feel free to use the other vegetables I mentioned above or add some meat. When adding meat, make sure you pre-season them with salt and pepper and cut them into bite size pieces.         

Pancit Bihon (Makes 4 servings)

2.5 oz rice stick noodles
water to soak noodles
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large shallot, sliced thinly
6 shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 large bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
half a bunch of bok choy, chopped, stalks included

1/2 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish
1/2 cup toasted cashews, to garnish (recipe below)

Place the rice stick noodles in a large bowl. Add water to cover the noodles and soak for 20-30 minutes. Set aside. While the rice is soaking, prepare the vegetables. Everything should be set up in advance because each ingredient cooks for a short time and it is best not to overcook them.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and Sriracha. Set aside. 

Heat olive oil in a large, deep pan or a wok (if you have one). When the oil is hot but not smoking, cook the garlic until golden brown. Add the shallot slices and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Throw in the mushrooms and cook until shiny and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for a minute. Stir in the celery and carrot and cook just until they start to glisten, about 2 minutes. Pour in the sauce mixture and stir for 30 seconds, making sure everything gets coated with the good stuff. Throw in the bok choy and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

Now it is time to add the noodles. Use clean hands to grab the noodles from the bowl. There is no need to shake out the excess water that the noodles will carry, allow it to drip into the pan. That little bit of water adds moisture and will aid in cooking the noodles. Use a fork to separate the rice noodles and evenly distribute them for 3 minutes. Cover the pan and let cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir for another minute. Turn off the stove and move the pan away from the heat. You want to make sure not to leave the pan on the hot stove top for a long time, the noodles get mushy pretty fast. Continue to stir so all ingredients are evenly dispersed.

Serve immediately with a garnish of toasted cashews and fresh cilantro.

Toasted Raw Cashews

½ cup raw cashews, roughly chopped

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, toast the cashews for 5-8 minutes until they turn golden. Stir often and keep a close eye on them (they burn really fast!). When you think they are done, move to a small bowl and let cool.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sesame Noodles with Spinach and Salmon

Hello friends! I hate starting out a blog post complaining about life. However, I really am in some sort of crisis right now and am quite non-functional even though I should really be working double time to meet my deadline! Agh!

Amidst all these crazy stress that I’m dealing with, cooking and eating well has been my savior. Sara, the woman behind Pidge’s Pantry, picked this week’s Food Matter’s Project… Sesame Noodles with Spinach and Salmon. Holy smokes, this dish is AMAZING! It was hard to go slow while eating. My full bowl was empty in a flash! I felt like I was dining at a nice Japanese restaurant.

All the flavors in this Sesame Noodles with Spinach and Salmon blended together perfectly… the tender and savory salmon flakes with some salty, crackly salmon skin; the slightly sweet greens with the garlicky, sesame crunchies; and the perfectly done noodles. There’s no butter, cream, or an incredible amount of oil in the dish. But the little bit of sauce that coated everything had a wonderful sweet and buttery taste. Oh, every bite was fantastic! Wish I could take full credit for the recipe and the cooking, but it’s Mark Bittman’s recipe and DFJ was the chef tonight, I was merely an assistant.

You would be pleasantly surprised to know that making this dish is not that hard nor complicated! It didn’t require too much preparation nor any fancy ingredients. One crucial element is to properly cook the salmon. The trick is to the have the oil really hot when you put the salmon in the pan. This way you get a crispy exterior and a tender and flaky interior. This also helps prevent the fish from sticking. DFJ followed Mark Bittman’s instructions exactly and cooked each side for 3 minutes.

We followed the original recipe closely, which you will find at Pidge’s Pantry. The recipe required 1 ½ lbs of spinach but we only had 8 oz, so we added two leaves of kale. It worked well because kale doesn’t wilt as much as spinach does. We didn’t have any soba noodles left in the pantry, so we used our Japanese green tea noodles and it was very tasty.

DFJ and I really loved this delicious and authentic Japanese dish and I’m sure we are not the only ones with happy bellies. Check out what the other FMP members cooked up at our website. If we were able to make this happen in our kitchens, so can you! Again, visit Pidge’s Pantry for the original Mark Bittman recipe.  

I am already looking forward to the leftovers! Happy Monday you guys!     

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Minestrone

Wouldn’t it be nice if problems, worries, responsibilities, and chores would magically disappear after waking from a deep sleep? I am so ready for that to happen… My work visa is expiring soon and the deadline for the extension is on early February, a mere 5 weeks away. Due to budget constraints, I have a feeling that my work place is not going to extend their sponsorship. So I have been job hunting since last week, hoping that within the next couple of weeks, someone will be interested in hiring me for next school year. It is difficult to know where to start… updating my resume, making myself sound super awesome in my cover letter, answering endless questions on online job application websites, and so on. I have a job to do and the stress of job hunting is too much to bear. Many times I find myself biting my lips, restraining my hands from pulling my hair, keeping myself from banging my head on the wall, and from breaking out into a sobbing mess. Securing another job before the deadline is the most viable option to stay in the US right now and I need to get my act together to make this happen. Heaven help me!

Early Sunday morning, I woke up and made a big pot of soup. I stood for two hours, chopping, stirring, tasting, and hovering over my pot. It was nice, meditative almost… Making soup that morning renewed my soul and allowed me to take my time and breathe. During that moment, I forgot about my worries and felt thankful instead. Thankful for the tranquility that I felt and needed amidst my time of crisis. Most of the time it is so easy to give in to the feeling of frustration and it distracts us from what we should be focusing on. Taking ourselves away from this negativity is the most helpful way to get ourselves back on track and pay attention to what needs to be done. My problems are far from gone, but throwing a fit is not going to do me any good. I need to take a deep breath, clear my mind, and put my efforts into what needs to be done. Making a big pot of soup is a very good thing to do when experiencing some trials. I can attest to that.      

In Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, she has summer, fall, winter, and spring recipe variations for minestrone, the classic Italian soup. Using the fresh ingredients that I had, my minestrone is a combination of the fall and winter variations, with some other ingredient substitutions and omissions. Minestrone is a soup that can be made throughout the year and is best when made with seasonal ingredients. One can never go wrong with good ingredients. Plus, soups are very forgiving. Just remember to taste as you cook so you know what is missing or what you’ve added too much of. If it’s bland, add more salt. If it’s too salty, add more water and another cup of vegetables or so.

My minestrone is made with French green lentils instead of beans and I absolutely love the result! The lentils added a very pleasant nuttiness and heartiness to the soup without making it too heavy. The soffritto or flavorful stir-fried vegetable base is composed of common soup ingredients: onion, celery, carrot, parsnip, kale, bell peppers, garlic, thyme, a bay leaf, and salt. Other ingredients that were added into the pot later in the cooking process are potatoes, boiled cabbage, and fresh parsley. The combination of everything makes for a tasty, robust, and textured soup. Extraordinarily delicious in a simple and heart-warming way! Soul food, if you may call it.   

Winter Minestrone (Makes 8-10 servings)
Inspired from Alice Waters’ Minestrone, The Art of Simple Food

½ head of cabbage, chopped into thin, bite-size pieces (I used purple cabbage)
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup French green lentils
5 cups cabbage cooking water
tough first layer of onion skin
½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced
6 small bell peppers or 1 medium bell pepper, diced (I used small red and orange bell peppers)
4 stalks kale, coarsely chopped (stems included)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt

3 cups of water
½ lb yellow potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces (two small potatoes)

½ cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped (stems included)
½ teaspoon salt (to taste)

Fill a medium size pot over half full of water. Bring the water to a boil and throw in the salt. Cook the cabbage in the salted, boiling water over medium heat, uncovered. The cabbage is done when it is tender, about 6-8 minutes. Set a colander over a large bowl before draining the cabbage to save the cabbage water for cooking the lentils. Leave the cabbage in the colander.

Pour 5 cups of the cabbage water back into the pot along with the lentils. Use the tough, first layer of the onion to add flavor to the liquid that the lentils will be cooked in. Don’t chop that tough onion layer so you can easily remove it later. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When it is boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are done, 30-35 minutes. When the lentils are done, remove from heat and set aside. Discard the tough onion layer.   

Meanwhile, prepare and cook the ingredients for the soffritto. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, throw in the chopped onion, celery, carrot, and parsnip. Lower the heat down to medium low and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.

While these vegetables are slow cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Add the minced garlic, chopped bell peppers, kale, dried thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Keep the heat on medium low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Pour 3 cups of water and the chopped potatoes into the pot. Partially cover the pot and turn the heat back to medium. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils along with all of its cooking liquid, the boiled cabbage, and fresh parsley and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Turn the heat down to medium low and let cook for 5 more minutes. Add ½ teaspoon of salt or a bit more to taste. Turn the heat off and serve warm.

This soup is lovely and satisfying by itself. However, if you’re feeling fancy and want some crunch along with it, then make some of these Parmesan Croutons by Ina Garten.

Parmesan Croutons (Makes 20-24 croutons)    
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Parmesan Croutons, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 baguette
olive oil
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper    
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place an oven rack in the middle slot then preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Lay parchment paper on top of a baking sheet.

Cut the baguette into ¼ inch thick slices. Using a pastry brush, brush olive oil onto both sides of the baguette slices. Place the slices on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the slices liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then sprinkle freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top of the slices.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the edges of the baguette slices turn into a nice, golden brown color. Serve at room temperature. Warning: As soon as these babies come out of the oven, it is so tempting to grab a crouton and bite on it. Please don’t, it is crazy hot… so wait until it has cooled down before doing so, promise?  

These Parmesan croutons are great with soups and salads!

Enjoy this deliciously satisfying meal during these cold, winter nights.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hippie Rice

Hello Food Matters Project friends and everyone! My first blog post for 2013 is another great FMP recipe. Here’s to another year of awesome recipes from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook! I am honored to be a part of The Food Matters Project, a great online community of food bloggers who share their passion for cooking and eating healthy food.   

This week’s recipe is Hippie Rice, chosen by Gracie of Food Fascination. Hop on over to her website for the original recipe. AND do check out the delicious variations that other FMP members came up with at our website    

I love this recipe because:

#1. It is delicious! Different flavors and different textures playing together in every bite.
#2. It is so good for you.
#3. It is so easy to make. Very few ingredients and zero fuss!
#4. It brought back sweet memories from my mom’s kitchen. She steams vegetables on top of rice too!
#5. It is the perfect side dish to anything. Simple and light enough to not override the main dish yet special enough to be memorable.

When I made this Hippie Rice, I followed the directions to the tee... It sounded good as it is, with basic and familiar ingredients that I felt no need to add or change anything. My brain is neither fried nor incapable of creativity right now or anything like that.  What are you waiting for? Go ahead, make this!  

Again, here’s the link to the recipe and variations/creative spins/etc.!    

Have a great week friends!