Archive for March, 2012

Beets/parsnip soup

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Main course, Soups, Vegetables
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In my daughter’s school the parents association often prepare something for the teachers, as a way to thank them for taking good care of our children. It’s a nice gesture, and whenever we can we try to participate. Last week they decided to prepare a “soup lunch”, where many parents would bring soups and we offered to prepare something. Since I imagined most people would bring “traditional” soups, I decided to try something different, and when I saw some beets on the supermarket, it looked like a good idea.

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Having never prepared a beet soup before, I didn’t know whether the beets would stand on its own or it needed something to thicken the soup. Potatoes were an option, but since I was trying something new, I decided to go with parsnips, which I had tried in a soup a while back and gave a nice aroma to the dish.

It turned out to be quite good (and, indeed, very different). The bright burgundy color was really enticing, and offered a good contrast for the decoration. The only problem I had was that I think I used too much salt, to balance the sweetness of the beets; next time I’ll just less salt and embrace the “beetness” of the soup instead.

Ingredients (for 8-10 people):

  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 5 beets (~2” diameter), peeled, chopped in small pieces
  • 2 parsnips, peeled, chopped in small pieces
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • parsley and cream for decoration

In a large pan, heat the oil, then add the onions and season them with salt and pepper. Fry them until they’re golden brown. Add the beets then add the stock and water, and bring it to a boil. The beets take a long time to cook, so chopping them in small pieces helps making the process faster.

When the beets look almost fork-tender, add the parsnips and cook for another 10-20 minutes, until the parsnips themselves are fork-tender. Using a blender (or an immersion blender, which I did), purée the soup until it’s clear of any lumps. Adjust the salt (careful on this step), and serve with a sprig of parsley and a touch of cream. The soup can be prepared a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, just reheat it (adding some water if necessary) prior to serving.

Enjoy!

After preparing the pork tenderloin with cachaça, I ended up with some pineapple leftover, since I didn’t use all that I had bought. The pineapples I were used to when growing up were really sweet and great to be had by itself, but around the Pacific Northwest they tend to be more to the sour side and are best used in recipes or salads. But while shopping at a supermarket, I remembered one situation where I was at a juice bar a few years ago. The person in front of me was having something light-green, which definitely didn’t look very enticing. The person behind the counter, probably noticing my puzzled look, offered me a sample.

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After knowing the ingredients (pineapple, ginger, spinach, frozen yogurt), I was even more intrigued, but when I tried it it turned out to taste really great, so every once in a while I prepare it again at home, and everyone who I’ve offered it to had the same reactions: puzzlement, surprise.

Ingredients (for 2 people):

  • 1”-long ginger root piece, peeled, sliced in small pieces (my blender isn’t too powerful, so cutting it that way helps preventing the fibers from getting in the juice)
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 1/2 pint vanilla frozen yogurt
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, cubed

Blend well all of the ingredients. If your blender (like mine) can’t get the job done at first, you can help it by adding some water or milk, only enough to get it to blend. You may want to strain it to get some of the (small) fibers of the ginger out, but if it was sliced small enough it shouldn’t be an issue).

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Enjoy!

And as usual I’m back to my favorite Brazilian food book series, “Cozinha Regional Brasileira” (Brazilian Regional Cuisine) this time to the book about food from Paraíba, a state which borders where I grew up (Pernambuco). This is a recipe for pork tenderloin marinated with cachaça (a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane, which can now be found in many stores in the US) and “mel de engenho” (molasses). Since the beginning of the colonization of Brazil brought many sugar mills (“engenhos”) to that region in the mid 1500’s, sugar and sugar-derived foods have been a part of the local culinary for many years now.

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This recipe had many ingredients which I like – pork, cachaça, and a combination of savory and sweet flavors which go really well with pork. The citric fruits (pineapple, orange and limes) combined greatly with the meat, and this turned out to be one of the best recipes I’ve tried in a long time, and will certainly be repeated in the future. It is also fairly easy to make, although it needs a long prep time.

Ingredients (for 6 people)

  • About 3lb. pork tenderloins, fat trimmed
  • 2/3 cup cachaça (I used one which I had from the state of Paraíba, to add to the authenticity, but since it was used in a marinade, any decent brand would work)
  • 2 tbsp. molasses
  • 1 orange, sliced in 1/4” circles
  • 1 lime, sliced in 1/4” circles
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 15 whole cloves (the recipe asked for ~1tsp. ground cloves, but since I only had the whole cloves, I used them and it didn’t cause any problems)
  • salt
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1/2 pineapple (lengthwise), cut in 1/2” slices
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter

The day before: store the tenderloins with the cachaça, molasses, sliced orange / lime and some salt in a closed Ziploc bag (or any recipient to hold the marinade, but remember to cover it with plastic film – the bag was the easiest thing I could find). Every 6 hours or so, shake the bag (or turn the tenderloins in the recipient) for the marinade to act over the meat evenly.

On a large pan, heat the oil and the butter. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade (don’t discard the marinade), and fry each side of them in the pan, until it starts browning. Strain the rest of the marinade into the pan, and add the orange juice. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 1.5 hours, turning the tenderloins a few times throughout the cooking.

On a non-stick pan lightly buttered, fry the pineapple slices (both sides) then serve them with the pork, drizzling the sauce from the pan over it. Serve it with white rice, farofa de cuscuz and “feijão de corda” (black-eyed peas, recipe to come soon).

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Enjoy!

“Cuscuz” is a very traditional Brazilian dish, based on a steamed ground corn (unlike the “couscous” more widely known in the US, made with semolina), typically served as a breakfast course, or as a part of a (fancy) supper. Depending on the region in Brazil, however, “cuscuz” can mean different things. In the Northeastern part of the country (where I grew up), cuscuz is a simple dish, made with nothing but cornmeal, water and salt, and served either with butter (and eggs) or with milk and sugar. In other parts, such as the Southeastern state of São Paulo, cuscuz (or the aptly named “cuscuz paulista”, where “paulista” is the adjective relative to that state) is a dish where the plain cuscuz is filled with vegetables, eggs and some meat (usually shrimp) – there’s one recipe on the Flavors of Brazil blog, one of my favorites for Brazilian cooking, written by a Canadian living in Brazil.

Cuscuz is very common (quite cheap, quick to make and nutritious), and in my house we used to have it a lot, and many times there would be leftovers. Since it could get dry if not eaten shortly after it’s made, reheated cuscuz wasn’t very sought after in our house, so we often used it to make “farofa” – instead of using the typical manioc / cassava flour, we’d use the dry cuscuz as the base of the recipe. It was a nice change, and depending on which seasoning was used (children tended to turn their noses to vegetables inside the “farofa”, and I wasn’t an exception) it could be a big hit. It can be used as a side dish accompanying any saucy meats or beans, since the dry cornmeal would be a greatly compliment to them.

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Making cuscuz in the US has always meant going to a Brazilian store and buying the pre-cooked versions which we used back home. But this time I decided to try with “native” ingredients only, so I tracked the cornmeal package which resembled the most what we have – and found an organic, medium grind cornmeal which would be the subject of the experiment. So I mixed it with water and salt, cooked it in the “cuscuz pan” (a 2-part steamer, with a bottom part for water and a sieved top where the food goes, with a lid) for more than the usual 10 minutes after boiling (since it wasn’t pre-cooked), and the result… turned out quite dry. So the cuscuz experiment by itself didn’t work, but it turned out to be a great consistency for a “farofa”. And that’s where it started.

There’s no “right” recipe for a cuscuz farofa – as long as you use some butter and salt, the remaining ingredients are usually what is on hand. I typically like to use onions (well sautéed) and tomatoes, and this time I also added green onions. I only had 1 tomato, but another one would have been better (and given it a nicer color as well).

Ingredients (6 people):

  • For the cuscuz:
    • 2 cups medium-grind whole cornmeal
    • 2/3 cups water
    • salt (1-2 tsp.)
  • For the farofa
    • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
    • 1 tomato, chopped in ~1/4” pieces
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
    • 2 tbsp. butter
    • salt & pepper

Prepare the cuscuz: in a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients, then mix it well. Let it rest for 10 minutes, transfer it to a steamer, with water on the bottom, then cook it for 30 minutes after it starts boiling on medium heat. Remove from the heat and reserve. Once it cools off, fluff it with a fork (or your hands) to remove and large lumps.

Prepare the farofa: melt the butter in a medium, non-stick pan over medium heat, then add the onion and the green onions, salt and pepper, and sauté them until the onions start becoming golden. Add the tomatoes, season it a little more and cook it for 2 minutes. Finally add the cuscuz and mix it well, until the corn absorbs all the moisture from the tomatoes and it’s fluffy again.

Serve it with any saucy food (meat with sauce or beans) and enjoy!

While reading Slate this week I saw a recipe for a frittata, it seemed like something easy enough to do and a nice break from the everyday bread / butter / cheese dinners which we usually have at home. Getting home I realized I definitely could not use the recipe from Slate (it was called “frittata with greens, feta and dill – I didn’t have any greens, feta or dill). So whatever was on the fridge became the recipe of the day.

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Since I had never cooked one before, I had no idea of quantities or even the material (pan) to use. I ended up using a very large (>12”) oven-safe skillet which I had, which ended up being too wide (the dish in most pictures looks deeper, mine ended up quite shallow), but the taste was actually pretty good. I ended up using the ingredients found in traditional omelettes, tomatoes / cheese (a Mexican shredded cheese blend, leftovers from a taco day) and mushrooms. It was indeed quite easy to make, being ready in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend)
  • 4 eggs
  • 6oz. sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter (onions)
  • salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). On a medium, oven-safe skillet over high heat, add the olive oil and the butter then add the onions, season them with salt and pepper and sauté them until they’re golden. Add the tomatoes (adding a little more salt & pepper) and cook them for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and mix well, cooking for another 5 minutes.

On a medium bowl, beat the eggs then add the cheese and the nutmeg. Remove the skillet from the heat, then pour the eggs over the onions / tomatoes / mushrooms, stirring gently to distribute the ingredients in the skillet. Transfer it to the oven and bake it until the top of the frittata is firm, about 10 minutes. Serve it immediately.

Enjoy!