Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Chicken" a.k.a. tempeh enchiladas

That's tempeh the food, not a mispelling of the city in Arizona. 

I've introduced M to Mexican food and while he doesn't quite get the difference between enchilada, fajita, burrito, etc., he loves it all. His favorite is still tostada night when I make some refried beans, salsa and guacamole, cut up some tomatoes & lettuce, grate some cheese, and put out sour cream.  This time I thought I try something new - enchiladas. And while I love cheese enchiladas, sometimes you need something a bit heartier and so when a friend pointed out a chicken enchilada recipe, I decided to change it up a bit.

To replace the chicken, I used tempeh, which is a fantastic substitute for chicken in most recipes and for people who just don't like tofu. It's originally from Indonesia and is made with soy beans instead of curd like tofu. It has it's own taste, unlike tofu, and is firm, sort of chewy and has kernels of soybean in it. You'll want to boil tempeh for 10 15 minutes before including it in most recipes.

You'll need a few ingredients that aren't that easy to find in Austria. For one, soft corn tortillas. I have yet to find a place that sells them. I make them from scratch. A corn tortilla recipe is coming soon; I promise! You'll also need green chilis. Luckily, I've found the pointy bell peppers from Hungary or even, in a pinch, the jarred, whole green chilis are a decent substitute.

I managed this whole thing in one evening including making tortillas and the sauce, but I would recommend making the sauce and tortillas ahead of time. Both can be frozen and can be used as the basis of many different Mexican recipes.

"Chicken" a.k.a. tempeh enchiladas

Adapted from:  Green-Sauced Chicken Enchiladas
Notes: Make the tortillas and sauce first if you haven't already. You can chop the onions and shred the cheese while the sauce is simmering. If you can at all find them or make them, corn tortillas will turn out much better than flour tortillas. Flour tortillas will tend to get a bit mushy. Please try to find a good quality cheddar cheese - from Ireland if you're in Europe. Most of the cheddar cheese that's sold in Austrian grocery stores is a poor cousin to good cheddar cheese. You can substitute however a mix of Vorarlberger Bergkäse and Emmental.
Prep time: 10 min (not including time for the sauce)
Cooking time: 15 min; in the oven.
Servings: 4


Tempeh enchiladas
8 6-inch or 10 5-inch corn tortillas

green enchilada sauce (see below for recipe)

1 1/2 cup / 200 g / 7 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
200 g / 7 oz. of tempeh

olive oil or similar to grease your cooking pan

Preheat your oven to 177°C / 350°F.

Chop tempeh into dice sized cubes. Bring a small pot of water with the tempeh to boil and boil for 10 to 15 min. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile on a very hot, dry cast iron griddle or non-stick pan, heat the tortillas on each side until warm and pliable; about 1 min.

Spread about 1 to 2 tablespoons of enchilada sauce, enough to cover each tortillas completely. On top of that add about 1 tablespoon of shredded cheeses. Roll up the tortilla and place it, seam side down, into the corner of a greased casserole dish. Repeat until all of the tortillas are used up. You should have approx. half of the cheese and a bit more than half of the sauce left over.

Crumble the drained tempeh with your fingers over the top of the rolled up enchiladas. Spread the remaining sauce over the tempeh. Cover with the remaining cheddar cheese.

Bake at 177°C/350°F for 15 min.

Green-chili enchilada sauce
Adapted from:  Green Enchilada Sauce
Notes: The original recipe called for roasting fresh green chilis in the oven and removing their skins. While that probably tastes delish, it takes forever and fresh chilis weren't available in the grocery store. I replaced it with jarred peppers that I drained and quickly browned on a dry non-stick pan. It worked out just fine and saved me a lot of time. 
Prep time: 15 min
Cooking time: 20 min; simmering on the stove.
Servings: 3 cups / 700 ml


600 g jarred green chilis
2 small or 1 large onions
2 medium tomatoes
6 garlic cloves

1/2 cup / 120 ml water
3/4 teaspoon salt

InstructionsDrain the jarred chilis. On a dry non-stick pan over medium high heat, brown the chilis. Set aside to cool. Finely slice or chop the onions. Chop the tomatoes.  Mince the garlic. Chop the cooled chilis.
Place all of the ingredients in a medium sized sauce pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 20 min. Using a stand mixer, blend until it is a thick sauce.
© 2010 Nicole

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tomato Provençale

I served these tomatoes with my spoon bread I made other day. They are really easy, but need a while to sit around and soak up seasoning and drain. It worked out well as spoon bread needs an hour in the oven, but I might be tempted in the future to skip the whole draining thing or at least shorten it. 

Basically this is breadless garlic bread. So if you're still trying to go low-carb, this might be for you. I don't have any amounts listed because it really depends on how many tomatoes you are making and your individual taste buds. I LOVE garlic. I probably eat too much of it, so unless you're off fighting off vampires, you'd never probably put as much in as I would.  It's also heading to the end of basil season around here so I was very generous in how much basil I used just so that I use up everything on my plant before the winter kicks in.

Tomatoes Provençale

Prep time: 10 min + up to 1 hour draining
Cooking time: 15 min

Big, ripe tomatoes
Fresh Provençale herbs - basil is a must, then maybe rosemary, lavender, thyme, etc.
Dried Oregano

Olive oil or melted butter
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, press the garlic, add a pinch or two of oregano and enough olive oil to brush on all of your tomatoes. Set aside for a moment. 

Wash and cut your tomatoes into thick, horizontal slices. Set them on a rack to drain; salt and pepper both sides generously.

Wash, remove from the stems, and finely chop the fresh herbs.

Brush each tomato slice on both sides with the olive oil mixture. The on one side, add a layer of herbs on each slice. Top with any remaining garlic or olive oil. Let the tomatoes drain on the rack for up to one hour, at room temperature. 

Preheat oven to 177°C/350°F. Place the tomatoes under the broiler for a few minutes until brown, turn the heat back down to 177°C/350°F and bake for 15 min on the middle rack. Serve immediately.
© 2010 Nicole

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spoon bread à la Nicole with tomato provençale

On Sunday mornings in Harlem, New York lines wind around several street corners for those waiting to get into the Abyssinian Gospel Church. One of the times my friends and I lined up to go to this church, the church filled up before we got in. So what did we do?  We went to a great little restaurant serving Southern brunch. Despite having lived in Texas, that was my first taste of spoon bread - not at all a bread, but a cross somewhere between a soufflé and cornbread and polenta.

Spoon bread is one of those home-cooking recipes that has as many variations as there are families living in the South. It seems everyone has their secret ingredient or method of turning out a truly fantastic crusty, yet soft spoon bread. I didn't grow up in a spoon bread eating family, but after last night. M's & my family will be.

At its most basic, spoon bread is cornmeal, milk and eggs. However, there are lots of variations with things like buttermilk, corn, or onions and cheese thrown in. Besides being easy, this is the great thing about this recipe. It's a great way to use up leftovers. In fact the original recipe, called for 1 cup of cooked rice or millet. It seems I always have at least a cup of rice left over after I cook and I never know what to do with it. Now I do!


I really encourage you to be creative with this recipe. Make it à la Mexican, à la Italian, make it plain & serve with a green salad for hot summer days, pour a hearty mushroom sauce on top in the winter, fry some in a pan for breakfast the next morning. I think some green chilies, Monterrey jack cheese and a salsa poured on top would be delish!

I served mine with Tomato Provençale--otherwise known as breadless garlic bread. That'll be the recipe for the next post.

Spoon bread à la Nicole

Inspired by:  Joy of Cooking, 1975 ed., Rice or millet spoon bread, p. 629, and the little voices in my own head.
Notes: This is a very flexible batter; add to it as you want or leave it plain with just corn and cornmeal.  Feel free to substitute other cooked grains than rice or millet. If you use buttermilk instead of regular milk, add in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.
Prep time: 5 - 10 min; depending on if you want to chop some veggies and onions
Cooking time: 1 hour; in the oven.
Servings: 6


Basic spoon bread & cooked grains
1-2 cups / ~200-400g of cooked rice or millet
1/4 cup / ~40 g cornmeal
2 cups / 0.5 L milk
1 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil
spoon bread à la Nicole
1 bunch of green onions
1 medium red bell pepper
~1/4 cup / 50g mozzarella

Preheat your oven to 177°C / 350°F.

Wash the vegetables. Chop off the roots of the green onions and coarsely chop the remainder along the diagonal. Remove the top of the bell pepper and clean out the ribs and seed inside, discard. Chop the pepper into small pieces. Shred or dice the mozzarella. Combine vegetables and cheese with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine well. Pour into a large oven-safe dish. (I found the 2 tablespoons of olive oil enough to not have it stick to my glass dish, but you may want to lightly grease it first.) Stir again so that the ingredients are evenly spread.  

Place in oven, uncovered for 50-60 minutes until the top is crispy and brown. Cool slightly before serving.

Serve with Tomato Provençale, a mushroom sauce, a green or tomato salad.
© 2010 Nicole

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Steamy sides: Vegetable Knödel "dumplings"

I think if there is any common denominator to all cuisines, it would have to be the dumpling. Whether you call them dumpling, gnocchi, matzah balls, sambusa, tortellini, pierogi, wontons, jiaozi, potstickers, Knödel, Spätzle, Knöpfle, momo, or gyoza, they are all basically the same - "cooked balls of dough," to quote Wikipedia. Some are based on potatoes, some on flour or meal and still others on bread. You can do almost anything with dumplings - fry, bake, boil, steam, heck you could probably even grill them if you got creative.

Considering they are such a basic aspect of so many different cuisines, it might come as a surprise that dumplings scare me to death. They are one of the culinary mysteries that I sort of shunned for a long time. My first dumplings were probably of the Italian variety - gnocchi, tortelloni & co. , all of which I didn't originally realize were dumplings and have at least in the case of gnocchi have a reputation of being difficult to make. The first dumplings I ran into, that I knew were dumplings, were Chinese dumplings. In the 5 months I studied abroad in Beijing, I literally devoured my weight in dumplings. It doesn't hurt that one orders them by the jin, 500g or a little more than a pound. They were beautiful and delicate and intricate. The women in the university cafeteria and different restaurants could be seen quickly pressing the dough together and forming different shaped dumplings. No way could I ever match that. Turns out mine aren't as pretty, but M & I can make pretty mean Chinese dumplings if given a free Sunday afternoon. But that's for another post.

When I moved here to Austria, I became introduced to a whole new sort of dumplings - Spätzle, Knödel, Nockerl, Knöpfle, etc. Some like Spätzle and Knöpfle are almost pasta-like - dough you drop into boiling water and wait until they rise. This seems to be another common denominator when boiling dumplings. You plop them into boiling water and wait until they come back up. Other Austrian dumplings are formed into ball some as small as golf balls, others as large as a baseball. Sometimes the filling is in the middle, especially for sweet deserts, other times they are mixed all the way through.

I don't know why I hesitated so long in making Knödel. I had heard horror stories about them falling apart in the boiling water and just thought no way can I make them as well as my father-in-law. Well, I haven't attempted my father-in-laws baseball-sized versions, but I made my own veggie friendly beautiful and cute little dumplings. They were so easy and not a single one fell apart in the boiling water, all were thoroughly cooked and all were devoured! Go me!
Knödel are very typical Austrian so I used some very typical Austrian ingredients: Gelbe Rüben - yellow Austrian carrots and Bärlauch - in English: wild garlic or bear's garlic.  Bärlauch, by the way, is easy to grow, plant some seeds under a shady tree in the fall and wait until spring.  It will come back year after year.  The smaller leaves are more flavorful than the large ones.

Here I must apologize for the bad pictures. M & I were having a pick-nick on our living room floor, because it rained so much and before I remembered to take pictures, we had devoured all, but a few!! Trust me, they were beautiful. The green of the wild garlic and the purples, oranges and yellows of the carrots mixed well.

How to serve Knödel: Oh! the possibilities are endless, just like dumplings themselves. One option is to melt some butter over them & serve with a salad. Another is to chop them into large chunks after cooking and then fry them in oil with some scrambled eggs and chopped onion. If you are a carnivore, pour some gravy on top and serve as a side to meat. Really whatever you like. They also freeze well if not yet cooked. When ready to cook, just plop the frozen Knödel in boiling water and wait for it to float up to the top. Are you seeing a pattern here? 

Vegetable Knödel adapted from Adamah Organic Veggie Box Recipe Flyer KW 13/10
Notes: When choosing your root vegetables, choose some that you would eat raw as they are only getting cooked for a short time or pre-cook them. Carrots and parsnips are great choices. This recipe calls for Topfen (Austrian)/Quark (German). This is a cheese curd, sort of a cross between yogurt and cream cheese, but a bit sour like sour cream. Quark is sold in some gourmet groceries in the US, but you can also substitute plain cream cheese, but it will be less tangy or mix 4 parts ricotta with 1 part sour cream. If you're adventurous, you can try making your own Topfen - I haven't tried it though since Topfen is readily available in Vienna. As to the flour, feel free to substitute with white flour.
Prep time: 7-10 min + 20 min resting period
Cooking time: 5-7 min
Servings: approx. 18 golf-sized dumplings

5-6 small-medium carrots or other root vegetables
1 large garlic clove
1 small onion
1-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
2 egg yolks
150 g /~1 cup Quark or Topfen, drained if necessary
3 tablespoons milk
130g / ~1 cup sifted, whole wheat flour
Salt & pepper

Finely grate the carrots or chop them in a food processor. Finely chop the garlic and onion. In a large bowl, combine carrots, garlic, onion and herbs.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks, Topfen/Quark and milk. Add to the vegetables and mix well. Salt & pepper to taste. Add flour and mix well. Everything should be covered, but it won't be like a dough. Set it aside for 15-20 min. Whole grain flours will need the full 20 min. This allows the flavors and the liquid to penetrate the flour all the way through. In the meantime, grab yourself a glass of Grüner Veltliner and say thanks for the wonders of fermented grapes.

After the resting period, start boiling a big pot of salted water. Adjust the dumpling dough as necessary by adding a bit of milk or flour as necessary. The dough should stick together easily, be a bit sticky, but still manageable. Form the dough into balls about as big as a golf ball. When the water is boiling, lower the temperature to just higher than a simmer - still boiling, but not full speed. With a slotted spoon drop those babies in the water, don't fill the pot too full. Step back and wait for them to pop back up. Most of my Knödel were finished in about 5 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon. Serve with melted butter. Enjoy!
© 2010 Nicole

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Red onion, pear, swiss chard and walnut pizza

So last week I did a bit of a healthy makeover of a grilled cheese sandwich.  This week pizza is up to bat.

I love pizza. I could literally devour an entire large pizza smothered in yummy, delish, slightly browned and melting cheese.  Probably not the healthiest thing to do though.  Did you know that one slice of pizza is a serving size?  And we're not talking those slices you get in NY city - those are almost a quarter of a pizza.  

Pizza doesn't have to be all unhealthy. To tackle the portion size issue, I make my pizzas into little individual pizzas - nothing like lying to yourself that you've just eaten a whole pizza.  I feel like I've indulged, but I haven't had more than the equivalent of 1-2 slices.  For the dough, try to find a whole wheat dough or make your own and swap out at least half of the flour for whole wheat. Use a healthy and tasty oil like olive oil.  Then, load up on the veggies. Be creative, here in Austria corn and an egg, sunny-side-up, are favorite toppings.  Corn is delish!  Then comes the hard part.  Put less cheese on there than you think you need.  I promise it won't be missed. 

Now to putting salad on your pizza, try out some of your winter greens - Swiss chard, kale, spinach. There a bit tougher and can hold their own against the heat.  More sensitive greens like arugula/rocket should be added at the very last few minutes of oven time. 

To make this recipe, I mixed in a handful of baby spinach in with chard, which worked really well. I thought I had prepped too much greens and sort of panicked when I looked at the 7 cups of chopped greens. I'm happy I made so much though, they really wilted during the cooking.

For the pizza bottoms, you'll need 6 rounds of approximately 6-7 inches each. For a quick meal, grab the pre-made ones from the store or try making them from scratch. Here's the pizza dough recipe I use the most.  

This is a beautiful and delish recipe. It goes pretty fast, so be ready with everything before you begin. That's why I separated the vegetable prep in this recipe. This is great for a family dinner or when you want to make something casual, but still special for when a guest comes over. It will even keep for lunch the next day, wrapped in foil, in the fridge. Reheat in a hot oven.

What do you serve with salad on pizza? Well a salad and red wine of course! Try a baby spinach, walnut and pear salad with an olive oil, mustard and apple-raspberry vinegar and a bottle of Austrian Zweigelt. That's what we did. Enjoy!

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Salad on Pizza

Notes: Any tougher greens - spinach, kale, radish and beet tops, etc. can be used in place of or with the Swiss chard. Vorarlberger Bergkäse can be bought in the USA at Murray's in New York. While in Austria it's possible to get Bergkäse made without animal rennet, Murray's only carries one with animal rennet. Substitute any slightly stronger, but not overpowering cheese.
Prep time: 20 min (mostly washing and chopping vegetables)
Cooking time: 10 min + 4-5 min per pizza
Servings: 6

1/4 of a yellow onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
Swiss chard, 1 medium-sized bunch, washed and dried
3 pears, medium or 1 can of pears, unsweetened and drained
1 red onion, small
4 tablespoons shredded Vorarlberger Bergkäse (Austrian Mountain Cheese)
5 tablespoons walnuts
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 6-inch pizza rounds
salt and pepper
rosemary, dried and crushed
Preheat your oven to 220°C / 425°F.
Vegetable prep
Peel and chop the yellow onion and garlic. Wash the Swiss chard, remove the stem and center rib. Retain half of them and chop into small pieces. Add to the onion and garlic (remaining stems can be used in other recipes). Roughly chop the green leaves. You need approx. 7 cups of greens.

Peel, core and chop pears into large chunks. Add to the greens. Peel and cut the red onion in half and slice into thin half-circles. Grate or crumble cheese. Chop the walnuts. Set each aside individually.

Cooking pizza
Brush one tablespoon of olive oil on all of the pizza rounds (in total; not one tablespoon per pizza round). Slightly salt and add a pinch of dried rosemary. Place in the oven until toasted, approx. 3 min for pre-cooked rounds; 7-8 for uncooked rounds. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic and chopped Swiss chard stems and heat until onions are translucent, approx. 1-2 minutes.

Lower heat to medium. Add greens and pears. Cook until greens wilt and pears are soft, approx. 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and dried rosemary.
Layer a bit of cooked greens on each pizza. Top with remaining red onions and cheese.

Return to the oven for approx. 4-5 minutes, or just until the cheese is melted. Top with walnuts and serve.
© 2010 Nicole

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gourmet grilled cheese

Here's another quick recipe for a great lunch or a low-key evening dinner when everyone is running around crazy with a million things to do. If Camembert is a bit too much for you, try out some Brie. And by all means, if you are set on cheddar, then use that. Just make certain any cheese you use is ripe; in the case of Camembert and Brie, you don't want it hard, you want it soft and a bit runny.

I recommend serving the sandwiches with a mixed lettuce salad, tossed in a light vinaigrette.  The cheese makes these sandwiches quite heavy in the stomach. You'll need something light and fresh to even it out.  If everyone's really hungry, cream of tomato soup is what Mom always made us with the traditional cheddar cheese version of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Get someone to help you assemble all of the sandwiches and then one after the other grill them in a pan. Put them under a broiler so that they are all warm at the same time and the cheese can finish melting. I'll admit these are even good cold the next morning when heading out the door to work.

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches loosely adapted from Saving Dinner: Winter Vegetarian E-Book
Notes: If not using sliced bread, slice your whole grain loaf as thin as you can.  In the pan, the cheese won't melt all the way because there is so much loaded up on there. That's what's the broiler for at the end.  If you have it, ghee or clarified butter, will give you really top results.  Ghee has a higher smoke point than normal butter and will give you more even browning. Butter or any other healthy oil will substitute just fine. If you've got an indoor grill or sandwich maker, this recipe would be a prime candidate to try it out.
Prep time: 15 min
Cooking time: 10 min per sandwich
Servings: 5-6 sandwiches

1-2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
Sundried tomatoes, in oil (reserve 2 teaspoons of oil)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5-6 walnuts, shelled
10-12 slices of whole grain bread, thinly sliced
1/2 a round of ripe Camembert
1 jar roasted red peppers
2-3 tablespoons chopped chives
Enough hard cheese to make 5-6 sandwiches, my suggestions Gruyère or Vorarlberg (Austria) Bergkaese (mountain cheese).

Preheat the broiler in your oven.

In a mortar and pestle or food processor, mash the garlic, sundried tomato oil, walnuts, mustard, salt and pepper into a paste. Adjust seasoning as desired. Take one slice of bread and spread a bunch of Camembert on it. Load it up with a layer of roasted peppers. Add some chives. Top with the hard cheese. Top with one or two sundried tomatoes. Spread a bit of the garlic and walnut mustard on a second slice of bread. Top the sandwich with the second bread.

On high heat, melt ghee or butter in a pan. Carefully grill each side of the sandwich until brown, flipping one time. Place all of the sandwiches on a baking pan lined with parchment paper and broil until all of the cheese is melted.
© 2010 Nicole

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Curried pumpkin and carrot soup

Curried soups were one of my first "special" cooking skills I learned.  Somewhere online I found an article on making better soups and it included a 5-in-1 soup recipe - or something along those lines.  I remember being so proud of myself for making such a good and creative soup. Over the years, this method of cooking became a fall-back routine for me, but as my cooking improved and the techniques and recipes I had been exposed to grew, this well-deserving recipe fell out of use.  It wasn't that it didn't taste good to me, but it had lost the original excitement for me. 

Then, just 2 days ago, I was staring at a whole bunch of carrots in my fridge and half of a Hokkaido pumpkin - leftovers from a walnut pumpkin lasagna.  Soup came immediately to mind.   So I pulled out a few of my many traditional Austrian recipes for pumpkin soup, thinking I'd just add some carrots to it.  I opened my spice cabinet and my eyes fell on my curry jar.  Memories of that first time I made really good soup came back.  I called into the living room to ask M what he would prefer - traditional pumpkin soup or one made with curry.  I held my breath.  He chose curry.  I jumped on it. 

This way of making soup is super versatile.  I don't remember what vegetables exactly the original recipe was for, but it had a carrot soup version and a cauliflower version, never a pumpkin version and never a mixed vegetable version.  I believe good recipes are there to be used as inspiration. My good ole friend of a recipe didn't let me down this time.  As I cautiously tasted the soup, I remembered why I used to cook vegetables this way so often.  Try this out, not only with pumpkin, but also with just carrots or with cauliflower or red beets or or or.  

The secret is the pan roasting of the vegetables first.  It caramelizes the sugars and locks in the flavor.  If you just plop veggies in a broth and then puree, you'll end up with something akin to baby food.  Great for babies, boring for adult taste buds.  So you really want to make certain your veggies end up golden brown, but certainly not burnt.

A few tips when cooking with pumpkin. Hokkaido is my favorite for soup, but others such as butternut squash are also good.  My sister-in-law gave me the tip, that at least for Hokkaido, there is no need to remove the outer peel of the pumpkin.  Which is a BIG pain in the butt. Just wash it super well.  Cut the stem and base away as well as any obviously knobby parts.  Then cut your pumpkin into cubes and plop them into the pot. 

This recipe is best with a bit of Styrian pumpkin seed oil, but a really exquisite olive oil can be substituted. Serve this with a really crusty, heavy whole grain bread.


Curried Carrot and Pumpkin Soup
Notes: It is better to use a flavorful vegetable broth.  If using bouillion powder, go right ahead and add an extra (half) teaspoon. I am also a fan of really thick soups.  Add a bit of broth if it's too thick for your taste.  If you are a curry fan, add an extra teaspoon or use a stronger version of curry powder. If you are not a curry fan, try this recipe without the curry.  Mix into the soup a bit of crème fraiche and serve with a spoonful of sour cream plopped on top.  Nomatter how you make it, serve with a really good crusty whole grain bread.

Prep time: 15 min
Cooking time: 20-30 min
Servings: 4 large bowls of soup

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
small piece of fresh ginger
500g / 1 pound / ~1/2 a medium Hokkaido pumpkin
2 medium carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
700ml vegetable broth
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
roasted pumpkin seeds or fresh chives (garnish)
pumpkin seed oil (garnish)
Prep the vegetables. Wash the carrots and pumpkin well. As long as they are organic, there is no reason to peel or cut away the shell. Cut away both ends of the carrot and chop the rest into thick coins. Cut the pumpkin in half and with a spoon scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Chop into roughly the same size cubes as the carrot coins. Peel and chop onion. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.

Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onion, garlic and ginger. Sautée, but do not burn, until fragrant and onions start to turn translucent. Add in carrots and pumpkin. Stir occasionally, but allow them to brown (approx. 8-10 minutes). Add curry and salt and pepper. Mix to cover evenly and cook for a few minutes until curry is fragrant. Then, pour in the broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are able to be pureed (approx. 10 min).

Remove pot from heat. Puree the vegetables with a hand held mixer or in batches in a blender. Adjust consistency by adding broth. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding up to 2 teaspoons lemon juice for flavor.

Serve with chopped pumpkin seeds or chives and a few drops of pumpkin seed oil.
© 2010 Nicole

Friday, March 5, 2010

Swiss chard chips

This is a quicky.  I served these up for some friends we had over last Saturday night.  I told my guests they were my guinea pigs - frankly I've never followed the rule about not serving new things to guests.  I pretty much serve guests exclusively new recipes.  Usually recipes that are too complicated or time consuming than what I would prepare during the week.  This one though was the opposite.  Can you add dressing to a salad and know how to turn on your oven (and maybe use that timer as well)?  Then you can make this recipe.  

This is a crumbly finger-food so probably better for casual get-togethers or for a healthy alternative, and personally more delicious one, than potato chips in front of the TV.

This is becoming a staple in our house.  The chips after a cautious look and little nibble from the guests disappeared immediately.  I had left over French bread, cheese, spread and crostinis, but not a single crumb of chard chips.  There are tons of recipes floating around and different presentations.  Some with lemon juice, some with less oil, some with more.  I found the cayenne, as one guest noted, added an almost Asian note to the chips.  I overdid it a bit with the cayenne, but I definitely recommend trying at least a few with cayenne.

There are tons of "recipes" for kale chips all over the Internet. It's so easy it's odd to call it a recipe.  All are about the same,toss the green, leafy part of the kale with some olive oil and salt, put it in a low-heat oven and wait until crunchy.  I changed it up just a bit by using Swiss chard and adding cayenne pepper, but I think all variations would be great! Healthy, tasty and easy, what more can I want?

Chard chips  adapted from Epicurious
Notes: Save the ribs for stir fry or for quiche. Replace Swiss chard (mangold) with any other leafy winter green, such as kale. This might be beautiful with some of the rainbow varieties of Swiss chard out there.
Prep time: less than 5 min min
Cooking time: approx. 30 min

1 head of Swiss chard
olive oil
salt & pepper
cayenne pepper

Preheat your oven to 120°C / 250°F.

Wash and dry the chard thoroughly.  Cut away the leaves from the ribs and large stems of the chard. Reserve the ribs for another recipe.  Toss the leaves with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper generously and add cayenne pepper to taste.

Either tear the leaves into chip size or leave as are. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approx. 30 minutes or until crispy.

Let them cool and enjoy!
Other kale chip recipes on the web (really there are 100s and each has its own temperature and amount of oil, be creative!):
© 2010 Nicole

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Walnut Pesto

Family is great. My in-laws have a great big walnut tree.  When I told my father-in-law that I loved walnuts, he looked at me quizzically and said, "what do you do with them?" I started listing off: as a snack, in a salad, make a pie, add them to cookies or lasagna...  On their next visit to Vienna, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend came to visit and brought me a giant, Santa Claus red bag of walnuts. I didn't weigh it, but I think it was around 5-7 kilos of organic walnuts. So thanks to my father-in-law, I have more yummy, nutty, crunchy walnuts than I know what to do with.

Since then, I've been cooking away with walnuts. Below is an adaptation of a walnut pesto that appeared on 101 Cookbooks.   This is great because basil isn't exactly in season at the moment and my little potted basil is too little to provide enough for pesto.

Got some issues? Pent up aggression?   Shell some walnuts. You'll feel better I promise.

Lay them out on a baking sheet and toast them.  With a clean towel, rub to remove most of the skin. I had a lot of trouble with this. It took forever.  Make certain your walnuts are well toasted, but not burnt.

Grind your walnuts in a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Add in the olive oil, herbs and cheese.  I don't know if my walnuts are a special oily version, but I used a lot less oil than the recipe called for and I still think it was a bit too much. Go slowly with the oil, mix often and stop when there's enough. As to the cheese, I used a vegetarian Parmesan and a Allgauer Bergkäse, a Swiss mountain cheese, you'll want a dry, slightly spicy cheese - Italian hard cheeses work well.

This pesto will keep, but not long if either M or I come by to visit. When you add it to the pasta, use the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto. 

Use a short pasta, one with lots of nooks and crannies. By the way, do you know your pasta shapes?  Here's a handy little quiz.

How many did you get right?  My score? 16 right.

Walnut Pesto Rigatoni, adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Notes: Add the olive oil a little bit at a time. It's easy to end up with too much oil.  For the fresh herbs, my suggestions are thyme and marjoram. Use a short noodle with lots of nooks & crannies.
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking time: 30-40 min
Servings: approx. 6-8

140g / 1 1/2 cup walnuts, shelled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
115 - 160ml / 1/2 - 2/3 cup olive oil, extra-virgin & cold pressed
5-6 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
30g / 1/2 cup vegetarian Parmesan, grated
10g / 3 tablespoons Allgauer Bergkäse (Swiss mountain cheese)
salt & pepper
450g / 1 pound whole-grain rigatoni
Preheat your oven to 350°F / 175°C.
Toast your walnuts by laying them on a baking sheet and toasting them in the oven until golden brown, approx. 8-10 minutes. Remove the skins by rubbing them, while still warm, with a clean kitchen towel.

Start heating a big pot of water for the pasta.

In a food processor or mortar and pestel, grind or pound the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the walnuts and continue to pound or grind. Then transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and add in the herbs and the cheese.  Finish by slowly adding the olive oil, mixing often, until the desired consistency.

To cook the pasta:
When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of salt and add the pasta all at once. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Do not rinse. Add the pesto to the pasta, mixing well and adding the cooking water to thin the sauce.

Leftover pesto can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container.
Other Walnut Pesto on the web:
© 2010 Nicole

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot breakfast: Okayu

There's nothing like standing outside your locked apartment, with slippers on and having forgotten your keys and cell phone inside. I'm that kind of morning person.

As a teenager I got up very early to ride my horse and then would pour myself a bowl of cereal and plop down in front of the television to watch really old reruns. Now, I hide myself under the comforter from the offending sunshine coming through my window. I'm no longer a morning person.

Most days, breakfast is a bowl of yoghurt with home-made muesli, maybe a slice of whole-grain bread with cream cheese. However, about a year ago, my traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor told me that cold breakfast was the equivalent of trying to "start my car engine on a cold morning."  This was right after he had picked me up from the floor after I had passed out at his suggestion that I ate too much dairy - Is that possible?! Cut back on cheese?!  His suggestion for breakfast was Grießbrei (Cream of Wheat), which is right up there in my book with oatmeal and chunky cottage cheese - okay on taste, but really inedible due to texture. At my screwed up face, he suggested warm baby porridge.  That's when I realized, while my TCM doctor might be a good doctor, he is probably a lousy cook.

I left his office, still weak from the thought of life without cheese, but determined to find yummy, warm, non-mushy breakfast alternatives.  Yesterday I ran into okayu on Healthy Green Kitchen.  Okayu, the Japanese cure-all rice breakfast, fights off the flu and hangovers from too much sake. 

I changed this recipe up quite a bit from the original because I didn't want to go grocery shopping before eating breakfast. Do you blame me? I've listed some substitutions below for ingredients you may not have.

Dinkelreis (pearl spelt) - literally translated it would be spelt rice. Actually it isn't a rice.  It's hulled or pearl spelt. I've had a box sitting in my pantry forever. Readily available in Austria. Substitute any short grained rice, brown or otherwise. 

Mushrooms - I didn't use any and I'm kicking myself for letting M use our super cool Japanese Buna-Shimeji mushrooms in a pasta sauce last night. They would be great here. Oh well, next time. 

Dashi Kombu - Optional -dried kelp, a basic in Japanese cooking, used to make the stock in miso soup.  A tiny bit goes a LONG way and it keeps forever in a sealed container. Great source of iodine and umami. Substitute dashi powder or leave it out.  

Toasted nori strips - the green sheets used to wrap your maki. Fold the strip up and cut away. Also a good source of iodine.
(I'm lovin' my orange finger nail polish.)

Purple haze carrots - a heirloom variety of carrots with a purple outer ring. Substitute a regular carrot.

Gelbe Rübe - Oddly in Germany, Gelbe Rübe (lit. yellow beet) is a term for a regular orange carrot, but in Austria these are a distinct vegetable in the carrot family.  They look a lot like carrots, but are yellow and a little bit sweeter.  Substitute a regular carrot.

Frozen peas - Authentic? No, but I didn't have any edamame. They were great.

Green tea salt - (Optional) The original recipe called for matcha salt. I didn't have any so I just mixed a bit of sea salt with crumbled up Japanese green tea. Substitute with plain old sea salt.

I highly recommend the additional fried egg. If I had had fresh ginger, I would have added it somewhere in this dish as well.

Final verdict: To be honest, I'm a bit torn on this recipe.  The taste is phenomenal.  I gobbled down 2 servings and was contemplating making another batch. While it is very versatile, as a breakfast, the cooking time is way too long - 1 hour. I wouldn't put it past me, in my morning stupor, to turn on the stove, walk away to get ready and then head right out the door with a pot simmering on the stove. One solution would be to make it the night before, but I don't know if it wouldn't get mushy.  I ate every last grain of "rice" or I would be able to tell you if it can be reheated the morning after. Sorry. Until I know, I'm going to keep this recipe for days like Tuesdays when I work from home and can start breakfast a bit later. In other words, when I can be trusted with things like knives and stove tops.
UPDATE: I made this again on the weekend and had 1 serving leftover.  At least with spelt, this was still not mushy the next day. It heated right up and was great in a few minutes. 
Okayu with heritage carrots and peas, inspired from Healthy Green Kitchen: Okayu

Notes: See the blog for notes about the less common ingredients.  This is a very flexible recipe, add and subtract as you wish. Maybe some toasted tofu bits, flax seeds, cabbage or fresh ginger?  At its most basic, okayu is white rice in stock.
Servings 4
Prep time 10 min
Cook time 1 hour

1 cup /200 g Dinkelreis (pearl spelt)or brown rice
4 cups / ~ 1 liter vegetable stock
1 one-by-four cm piece of dashi kombu (optional)
2 cup / 240 ml water
1 small purple haze carrot
1 small gelbe Rübe (sweet Austrian yellow carrot)
1/4 cup / 15 g frozen peas
small strip of nori
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
soy sauce, Japanese, for garnish
sesame seed oil, for garnish
matcha or Japanese green tea salt, for garnish (optional)

Serving suggestion
1 organic free-range egg, fried

1.   Rinse spelt, or rice.  Place spelt, stock, dashi kombu and water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes.
2.   Meanwhile, cut the carrot and gelbe Rübe into long thin strips. Toast and cut the nori into strips as well.
3.   Add carrot, gelbe Rübe and peas to the rice and simmer for approx. 10 more minutes. Add water as needed to get the desired amount of soupiness. 
4.   Optional: fry egg.
5.   Remove the dashi kombu (keep for making miso soup).  Place some rice and vegetable mixture in each bowl. Top with a good sprinkle of matcha salt.  Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce and sesame seed oil.  Garnish with the sesame seeds and nori strips. Serve with a fried egg in the bowl. Enjoy.
Other Okayu recipes on the web:
Healthy Green Lifestyle - Okayu with edamame, mushrooms and matcha salt

Monday, February 22, 2010

Red beet risotto with lime marinated tofu and celeriac straw

When I was making my grocery shopping list a few weeks ago, a picture of a gorgeous red risotto caught my eye.  My skeptical eyes ran down the list of ingredients - lime marinated shrimps, red beets, celeriac, red wine and araborio rice, but then it fell on the picture again.  It was dazzling.  I thought, hmm, not such a big beet person. Looked at the picture and fell a little bit in love.  

While my eyes had been convinced, this was a recipe to try, my mind was stilling mulling around the risotto part of it. Risotto - it's one of those dishes that can be exquisite or can really flop. I am always tempted to order it in restaurants, just like gnocchi Gorgonzola but I rarely do. A bad risotto is bad indeed. Will it be one of those horrid flops?   Truth be told, I'm pretty certain I've had more bad risottos than I've had good.  The disappointment of mushy rice, or worse rice not thoroughly cooked, in some sort of creamy sauce is only made worse by the expectations and hopes of what risotto can be.  A creamy, delightfully mild and sensuous dish.

Determined however, I took a look at the recipe, opened my fridge and let a bit of experimental fancy take hold of me.  The result has reminded me why I love a good risotto and how the unexpected can add just that something special to a dish to make everyone go "WOW!"

This is definitely a recipe to keep, to try and to offer guests.

Risotto is a finicky dish.  It can only be made with a medium- or short-grained rice.  That long-grained Uncle Ben's variety will never achieve risotto greatness. Arborio, Carnoroli and Vialone Nano are probably the most common rices, but feel free to use others.  I used a whole-grain round rice. 

On a personal note: I have found that my kitchen is a parallel dimension when it comes to risotto. It doesn't matter which recipe or which type of risotto rice I use, my cooking time and water amounts will be about double or triple of what the recipe calls for.  This however doesn't seem to apply to other types of rice like sushi or basmati. This recipe was no exception. I've left the liquid amounts and the times alone in this recipe, because if I put in my weird risotto-other-dimension cooking times, you'd end up with burnt rice and blame me. But for the curious, I used about 800ml of liquid and cooked the rice about 35 min. 

This recipe is definitely one to try. Who doesn't like cooking with wine? You can then serve the rest of the bottle with dinner - that is if you haven't finished it off yourself while cooking.

Red beet risotto with lime marinated tofu and celeriac straw,  adapted from Bio Maran grocery flier, 20/01/10

Notes: I used a whole-grain version of risotto rice.  Marinated tofu cubes can be made up to a day in advance, but fry them right before adding them to the dish. Celeriac straw should be made at the last minute. You are using the lime zest so it's very important that you use organic here. If you can't find pumpkin seed oil, use a high quality olive oil.

Prep time: 30 min
Cooking time: 30-40 min

300 g / 10.5 oz extra firm or smoked tofu
1 lime, organic
soy sauce, just a few sprinkles
50 g / 2 oz ginger, fresh
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium shallots (or small onions)
450 g / ~1 pound red beets
60 ml / 4 tablespoons / 1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil
300 ml / 1 1/4 cup red wine
300 g / 10.5 oz. risotto rice (short-grained, round rice)
700 ml / 3 cups vegetable broth, hot
salt, pepper
250 g / ~9 oz. celeriac (celery root)
oil for frying (i.e., peanut or safflower)
fresh thyme for garnish
paper towels


1.   If your tofu is wet or not so firm, line a plate with paper towels, place the tofu on the paper towel, and place another plate on top of the tofu to press out the water. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
2.   Meanwhile, using a small grater, zest the lime peel and set aside. Cut the lime in half.  Squeeze out the juice from the lime and mix with the lime zest. Add a sprinkle of soy sauce.
3.   Peel the ginger and finely grate.  Add half to the lime and soy sauce mixture.  Set aside the rest. 
4.   Cut the tofu into circa 1 cm cubes and stir carefully into the lime, soy, ginger marinade. Set aside.
5.   Prep the vegetables: Peel and mince the garlic and shallots.  Peel the red beets (you'll probably want to wear gloves) and cut them as well into 1 cm cubes. Peel the celeriac, cut into long thin strips, set aside.
6.   Over medium heat, heat the pumpkin seed oil in a large pan. Add the shallots, garlic, the remaining ginger, and the red beets. Sautée for approx. 1 min. Add the red wine. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rice. Stir. Add the vegetable broth, a bit at a time, salt-and-pepper. Lower heat and continue to simmer until the rice is cooked, stirring occasionally, approximately 10-15 minutes.
7.   Meanwhile, heat the frying oil in a deep pan or wok. When hot, quickly fry the marinated tofu until golden brown. Dry on paper towels. 
8.   Fry celeriac strips until crispy and golden brown. Dry on paper towels. 
9.   Arrange the risotto on each plate, add a few bits of fresh thyme, layer the lime tofu on top, and finish with a garnish of celeriac straw.
© 2010 Nicole


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