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Beef Stir Fry with Apricot Sauce

June 28, 2009   

apricot-beef-stirfryI love making a stir fry at home. We all love Chinese food and our favorite is Hunan Spring in Springfield, NJ. We go there quite often and Sia loves the Chicken and Corn Soup. The food is delicious but it is quite greasy and there is really no way for me to know what all is in the  food. I especially love the sweet and sour or tangy sauces that go with the different meats they serve. Mostly we get Mango Chicken and Shredded Pork in a Garlic Sauce. When I make the dishes at home, the sauces usually include brown sugar or honey for the sweetness and rice vinegar to add the sourness. 
Lately I have been into cooking with apricots and nectarines. Since they are in season now, I see them every where I go. I had seen a stir fry recipe that used nectarines with beef. I read the recipe and envisioned a sauce made out of apricot jam mixed with soy sauce and chili sauce- hmm, yum! I couldn’t wait to make it. I went to Whole Foods to buy some beef suitable for a stir fry and decided to buy a red pepper as well. I love the bright colors in a stir fry- and you eat with your eyes first. I marinated the beef in the afternoon thinking I would cook the dish in the evening. We ended up going out to eat that evening so the beef sat in the fridge overnight. I cooked it the next evening and I have to say, it was extra tasty because of the extra long marination time. I am sure it would be tasty even if it is marinated for a few hours- I think the key is to get the right cut for a stir fry, I used top round and it worked out very well- great beef flavor.

For the sauce I used the apricot jam and paired it with rice vinegar, soy sauce and the chili garlic sauce. That’s all it really needed- well I definitely had to add the ginger and the garlic- you can’t have Chinese food or really any food without them! It was a delicious sauce- great to use as a pan sauce for chicken or a pork tenderloin. 

One of the reasons I love making a stir fry  is that it can be prepped for in advance- I usually cut and marinate everything in the morning; I put the sauce together as well- I even cook the rice in advance. All I have to do in the evening is put the ingredients in the wok or frying pan and add the sauce. A few things to remember when making a stir fry: first- cut everything into the same small size- so it all cooks at the same time and really fast. Second-Saute everything separately- it keeps all the vegetables crisp- and third- have everything ready since the cooking process doesn’t take very long. 

I cooked brown rice with this dish. I buy the basmati brown rice from Trader Joes which is delicious. The thing to remember with brown rice is that it takes almost double the amount of cooking time than white rice. Also, white rice gets double the amount of liquid- for brown rice, I use a little bit more. For example: I used one cup of uncooked rice with three cups of liquid. Since the rice takes longer, more liquid is necessary. 

My daughter loved the stir fry especially with the brown rice. I thought it was absolutely delicious- especially the tangy sauce. We had our usual Malbec Rose with the dinner and it was fabulous as usual!

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Easy and Fast Pasta Recipe: Seafood Pasta

June 25, 2009   

seafood-pasta1 I love pasta- in all forms and in different preparations. I make it all the time, I especially love the one pot meals I come up with. They are so easy to put together and great to serve to a big crowd- all the prep work is done- all you have to do is stick it in the oven. View some of these one pot meals I have made in the past- healthy mac and cheese, penne with tomatoes, spinach and sausage,  and a baked vegetable pasta. My all time favorite pasta is the one I make with broccoli rabe and sausage –  I make with lots of lemon zest and garlic- it has no marinara sauce. Now, every time I make this pasta, my husband asks, “is there any marinara sauce “? I get very annoyed at the question since I feel the pasta has so much flavor that we don’t really need a ‘sauce’.  Also, there are delicious pastas to be had without marinara sauce! – but he loves the red sauce so much that he wants it in every pasta preparation. So, when I made a big batch of marinara sauce last weekend, I made sure to save some for a pasta preparation. I used the rest in the grilled pizzas I made.

School is done and my daughter is home this week before camp starts. We had plans to go into New York City for lunch. We had a great lunch, went to a kid’s bookstore and came back around 3:30. While we were on the train coming home, I started to wonder what I was going to make for dinner. I had the marinara sauce in the fridge and some bucatini in the pantry. I love using bucatini- it is thicker than spaghetti and it is hollow inside. It’s a lot of fun to eat. I decided to stop at the fish store and buy some shrimp and scallops to make a seafood pasta. Once we got home, my daughter insisted on going to the pool- so we did- even though it was supposed to rain- and it did! We got home around 5:30 and that is when I started making dinner. Luckily it was going to be a quick one. I boiled the pasta; started the anchovies in another pan and added the marinara sauce. It took all of 15 minutes to make this dish and it was delicious! My daughter really enjoyed it.

I realize most Italians don’t add any cheese on seafood dishes- but I really like cheese on mine. I added some Pecorino Romano– it was really yummy! I served it with a green salad and a Malbec. My husband was a happy man- he finally got his pasta with marinara sauce!

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A Southwestern One Pot Recipe: Roasted Salsa Chicken with Red Beans

June 24, 2009   

salsa-chicken-rice-and-beans This is another one pot meal I am proud of. I love when I come up with something that is enjoyed both by adults and kids. My daughter loved it even though she is not a fan of salsas or any tangy sauces. It started with me having tons of cherry tomatoes in the house. I decided to roast them with an onion and garlic and make a roasted salsa. My husband loves salsa with chips- so I thought we can consume the tomatoes in a tasty way. Once the salsa was made, I realized that it is essentially a sauce, with a lot of flavor- and I can cook with it! So I decided to make a rice dish with chicken and beans. I bought my favorite part of the chicken- thighs- I love cooking with them. They have so much more flavor than chicken breasts and they are a lot more forgiving in terms of cooking. Chicken thighs are perfect for curries, stews or really any dish- you can cook the heck out of them and they still taste delicious.

I sauteed them in some olive oil, salt and pepper. I then added the salsa and sauteed it with the chicken for a few minutes as I wanted the chicken to impart some delicious flavor into the sauce. I then added a can of red kidney beans and basmati rice. The beans added a delicious creaminess to the savory dish. I always cook my rice with chicken broth. I love using it- definitely one of my favorite ingredients to have around all the time. It’s a great way to add extra flavor to rice, sauces or curries. I buy the big case of organic chicken broth boxes from Costco- there are six in one big case and I go through them very quickly- since I use it in almost everything I make. If you are a vegetarian, I would recommend using vegetable broth instead. 

The dish is easy to make since the salsa has all the flavor. You can also buy your favorite salsa from the store and cook this dish- definitely a quick ‘go to’ meal. It doesn’t take very long at all- the key is to have the staples at home- rice, chicken broth and some cans of your favorite beans. 

The dish was a big success. I gave some leftovers to a friend. We ate as a family with a green salad and of course some wine. 

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Arugula Prosciutto and Nectarine Salad with a Yogurt Dressing

June 23, 2009   

nectarine-and-feta-salad I wait for this time all year long. The summer produce is coming out and there is lot to cook with.  About a week or two ago I started buying nectarines and apricots- my favorite. I love the firm texture of the nectarines and of course their delicious flavor. In the past I devour them just as they are but now since I write this blog, I decided to use them in different dishes.  I recently made a beef stir fry where I used some nectarines and cooked everything in an apricot sauce- it was delicious! I will post the recipe soon. I also made an apricot kuchen the other day which was so good with coffee. I have also been cooking with dried apricots. They remind me of Moroccan cooking. I used them in a chicken dish and I made some banana apricot scones with white chocolate- don’t worry, all these recipes will be posted soon. My point was that even tough it’s been a very rainy start to the summer season- it still feels like summer to me since the produce is out. Nothing like biting into a delicious juicy nectarine- I especially like the white ones- they are extremely sweet. Somehow peaches don’t do it for me- most people cook with and prefer peaches- I don’t like their fuzzy skin and soft texture- I prefer the smooth exterior and the firm interior of a nectarine.
I was watching Jamie Oliver making a grilled peach salad with a yogurt dressing. That is where this recipe came from- or at least the inspiration did. I used arugula for my greens since I love the bitter bite they have. I thought pairing nectarines would be extra delicious with arugula. Prosciutto and feta add a nice salty and creamy balance to the salad- all the taste buds are awakened in the palette. The yogurt dressing on top is quite interesting as well. I added some honey and lemon for a balance and ancho chili powder for a bit of a kick to the dish. Somehow oregano came to mind so I went outside to my herb garden and picked some fresh oregano and chives. It was a yummy creamy, salty, spicy and sweet sauce to pour over the salad. We ate it with the plain and white pizza– and yes we actually got to sit outside for a change- it was a beautiful day!

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A Homemade Pizza Recipe with Store Bought Dough- Plain and White with Spinach

June 22, 2009   

plain-pizzaPizza is a staple in our house. I remember when my daughter, Sia was about two years and change- she was quite picky. She had no problem eating mushy food and didn’t want any texture at all. I slowly got her into the habit of eating adult food- pizza played a big roll in the process. We ran into our neighbors with their daughters around that time at a local pizzeria. Sia saw them eating pizza with olives- and that is what started her love of pizza- with olives! She must have eaten cups and cups of olives in the last four years. The people working at the place knew as soon as we walked in- a slice of olive pizza for Sia with a cup of olives on the side. I even looked up the nutritional value for olives- not too much. Since then, she has graduated to mushroom pizza. She loves it! She is very particular about the mushrooms though- turns out some places use canned mushrooms and they taste very different than the fresh ones. Well, she only likes the fresh ones- so we stick to our favorite pizzeria, Arturos.

I am always trying to make things she likes at home healthier so I don’t feel guilty about giving them to her more often. We have tried many different ways of making pizza at home over the years but nothing has been very delicious and authentic. What I like about making pizza at home is that I can control all the ingredients. I use my basic marinara sauce for the pizza sauce. I usually buy low-fat mozzarella cheese- although in this case I couldn’t find any so I used full fat- but I didn’t use too much of it.

I was making two pizzas that day- a plain one for the kids and a white one with spinach for the adults. I made the marinara sauce the morning of and kept it aside. I bought shredded low moisture mozzarella cheese to make my life easier. The plain one was quite simple to put together. I did add some olive oil to the crust before cooking it on the grill. The oil gives the dough a nice sheen and a crusty top. For the white one I mixed ricotta cheese with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. I added garlic powder and salt to season the cheese sauce. I sautéed frozen, chopped spinach with fresh garlic for extra flavor. Both adults and kids enjoyed the pizzas. I made a nectarine salad for the adults- the recipe will be up tomorrow. I served the apricot kuchen as dessert and of course some wine- we ended up opening two bottles! 

To read more about pizza making at home, please read my post in New York Times blog, The Local. It will be out Wednesday, June 24th.

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Apricot Kuchen- Gesa’s German Cake Recipe

June 21, 2009   

apricot-kuchen My favorite breakfast would be a big-huge cup of perfectly brewed coffee with a huge slice of toasted pound cake!- oh and a big chunk of salty cheese as well. I don’t think I have indulged in just cake and cheese for any meal in a long time. Pound cake has a special place in my heart. I remember eating lots of it in India growing up. My Mom would make it at home but the one I remember fondly is from Standard Bakery. They made their pound cakes in round molds. It was small in diameter but baked really high. It used to be wrapped with a brown parchment paper, which I remember peeling off and devouring a big slice of cake as soon as it came home. I do try to eat that particular one whenever I go back. 

I ate an apricot cake a few years ago at a friend’s baby shower. Her Austrian friend had made her Mom’s recipe. It was delicious! It reminded me of the pound cake I used to eat years ago. It was not too sweet but had the pound cake texture. The apricots on top were a great accompaniment- sweet and tangy. The cake was served with sweetened whipped cream- again, my favorite. I could have eaten that whole thing by myself.

Recently my friend made her aunt Gesa’s  apple kuchen (word for ‘cake’ in German). I ate some and it reminded me of the apricot cake I had at her shower. I took the recipe, tweaked it a bit and added apricots instead of apples. It was delicious. It is not as rich as a pound cake but has a similar feel. It is not too sweet so it can be eaten for breakfast and tea. Most importantly, it tastes delicious with ice cream or whipped cream. I served it with a mixture of creme fraiche and ricotta cheese. I decided to use creme fraiche because its thick and creamy. I added ricotta cheese for it’s great texture. Both mixed together made a really yummy accompaniment to the cake. I sweetened the whole thing with a bit of vanilla sugar. 

Vanilla sugar can be bought but it is quite easy to make. Every time a recipe calls for a vanilla bean, I scrape the seeds out and save the rest. I add the emptied pods to a jar of sugar. After a week or so, the entire jar of sugar is flavored with the yummy vanilla taste. I always have some on hand – it’s a great way to flavor anything. Every morning my daughter, Sia get a bowl of berries topped with a bit of vanilla sugar- she loves it!

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Easy Summer Dessert Recipe: Raspberry Cake

June 18, 2009   

raspberry-pudding-cake I have been making this cake for a few years now. I like it because it is quite easy to make and a little different- the berries are cooked into a thick sauce by adding cornstarch and then poured over the cake batter. I love how the berries sink into the cake and spread through out, resulting in a very appealing looking dessert. The initial recipe called for blueberries, which are delicious in the cake. I used raspberries this time, I love the tang and the color they impart. I also switched the regular flour with white whole wheat flour and regular sugar with evaporated cane sugar. It makes me feel good to be able to use healthier ingredients and still make a delicious dessert!
I made this dessert for a barbecue this past weekend. It worked really well- we sat outside and enjoyed the food and drinks. I didn’t think the kids would want the cake, but they all enjoyed it with their vanilla ice cream.

Speaking of ice cream- I was planning to buy some creme fraiche or whipping cream to serve with the cake- but then I saw a television show about fromage blanc. It’s a french style cheese made out of non-fat milk. It is usually mixed with honey since it has an edge to it- like goat cheese. It is then served with fresh fruit. Until recently it was hard to find fromage blanc around here, but now it is available at some stores- I found it at Whole Foods. I bought a small tub and added a bit of honey and lemon zest. The honey gave it a subtle sweetness and the lemon zest off set the tanginess of the cheese really well.
I loved the idea of serving the non-fat cheese with the raspberry cake. The flavors went really well. Although the cake is healthy, it does have a stick of butter- so, I felt a lot better serving fromage blanc- it has the creaminess of whipping cream without the calories but most importantly it has a different flavor- which I love- it’s nice to experiment a little and surprise your guests.

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