Thursday, May 28, 2020

Pea and Japanese pumpkin soup

Sopa de abóbora e ervilha / Pea and Japanese pumpkin soup

Do you ever get tired of your own food?

That has not happened to me yet – not only during the pandemic, because before that I already took my own food for lunch at the office – but I must confess that there are days that I eat and think “it could have been better”, or “this does not go with that”.

Cooking with whatever we have at hand can yield good surprises, like the risotto I posted the other day, but it can go terribly wrong, too, like when I made rice and beans - the staple of Brazilian food - with pumpkin and carrots cooked together (because I didn’t have much of each) and a radish salad on the side: I felt that the salad did not agree with the other components, maybe because it was a cold day, maybe because the radishes were too peppery… I usually roast pumpkin because it tastes so much better that way, but I was baking bread and could not use the oven. The whole meal was not bad, but it lacked something… There was no “yum” factor. I filed that lunch under “I tried, but it didn’t work”. :)

But now I will talk about something good: there was also the day I made a soup using some of that same Japanese pumpkin, 1 lonely potato and frozen peas. It turned out delicious and with a beautiful, vibrant, almost fluorescent color.
Since both the pumpkin and the peas are sweet, the acidity of the lime (or lemon) juice and the saltiness of the bacon balance the sweetness perfectly.

Pea and Japanese pumpkin soup
own recipe

2 slices of bacon, chopped
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ large onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 medium potato (150g), peeled and diced
200g peeled and diced Japanese pumpkin (about 1 2/3 cups already diced in 2cm cubes)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ½ cups (840ml) boiling water
1 bay leaf
2 ½ cups (325g) frozen peas, straight from the freezer
juice of ½ lime (or lemon)

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp – remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the olive oil to the pan and mix with the rendered fat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute – do not let it burn or it will turn bitter.
Add wine and scrape the bottom of the pan, cooking until wine has evaporated. Add potato and pumpkin, stir to combine and season with salt and pepper. Add the water and the bay leaf, stir, and let it come to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 15-17 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add the peas and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and blitz with a handheld mixer.
Stir in the lime juice and serve topped with the crunchy bits of bacon.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as an entrée


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Spinach and cheese “meatballs”

Bolinhos de espinafre e queijo

Who follows me on Instagram has seen some of my lunch dishes: it is usually simple food, quick to put together, so I can make it and eat in on my lunch break. Rice and beans I keep ready at the fridge, so it is just a matter of roasting some vegetables, making a salad or an omelet, or getting meatballs from the fridge straight to the oven. All very quick.

But when I have a little more time, or when I get organized enough on the previous night, I like to make new recipes, food that takes a little bit longer in the kitchen, like these delicious spinach “meatballs”: I had some spinach in the fridge and wanted to use it in something different – on a busy day I would simple stir-fry it with olive oil, garlic and a pinch of nutmeg for a tasty side dish, but since I had a bit of extra time I went to my good old sources for recipes online (Donna Hay, Jamie Oliver, Gourmet Traveller, both Australian and UK Delicious magazines) and it was on the Guardian that I found something interesting. I adapted the recipe slightly and got truly delicious spinach cakes – I am calling them meatballs because I decided to roll them into balls.

I am sure these meatballs would be delicious baked, but since my oven was already full with something else I just grilled them quickly in a nonstick frying pan with a little bit of olive oil. If you decide to bake them, line the baking sheet with foil and brush it with olive oil, because the amount of cheese in these cakes will make them stick on the sheet.

Too bad the recipe does not yield much – the meatballs were gone in no time at all. :D

Spinach and cheese “meatballs”
adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's savory spinach cakes recipe

"Meatballs":
4 cups (260g) fresh spinach, tough stalks removed, leaves washed, packed
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup coarsely grated yellow mozzarella – cheddar should make a fine substitute, or even Monterey Jack
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon cream cheese
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten – the egg I used was a small one, 50g; I buy organic eggs and sizes vary
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For frying the balls:
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large nonstick frying pan over high heat, cook the spinach in two batches, stirring until wilted. Transfer to a colander. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze very well with your hands, then chop. Set aside to cool completely.
Using the same frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute – don’t overcook or the garlic will turn bitter. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely.

Transfer spinach, onion and garlic mixture, cheeses, cream cheese, breadcrumbs and nutmeg to a medium bowl. Stir in the egg and season with salt and pepper. With damp hands, roll 1 ½ tablespoons of the mixture into balls, pressing slightly to compact the mixture. Transfer to a place and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Before frying the meatballs, roll them into the breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in the same frying pan used before over medium-high heat and fry the balls, turning two or three times to evenly brown them – be careful because they are very soft. Serve immediately.

Makes 10-11 cakes

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Carrot and kale risotto with roasted radishes, or “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-risotto”

Risoto de cenoura e couve com rabanetes assados

Saturday morning, feeling super lazy after cleaning the apartment, all I really wanted was to take a shower, open a bottle of wine and lay on my couch. But we gotta eat, right? After cleaning the apartment and doing the laundry Joao and I get pretty hungry – never fails. :D I was not feeling very creative or inspired to cook, to be honest with you: I could have made burgers, but had forgotten to defrost the beef. I did not feel like eating pasta. So I opened the fridge and grabbed everything in front of me: carrots, leeks, radishes. Oh, there were also some kale leaves already washed, so I just gathered everything and decided to use them up in a risotto.

It is a carrot and kale risotto with roasted radishes, a.k.a. “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-risotto”. :)

As I did not have any vegetable stock at hand, I used leeks and onion to enhance the risotto flavor and boiled 1 bay leaf in the water I used to replace the stock. It worked like a charm! The risotto turned out really good, guys – sorry for not being modest at all. :D
In the end, the roasted radishes did not go so well with the rest of the dish: I wanted to add a different texture to the meal, but the risotto worked very well without the radishes. I bring you the recipe anyway, in case you want to serve the radishes in a different meal, with a different dish.

Carrot and kale risotto with roasted radishes
own recipe

Radishes:
5 small radishes (100g in total), sliced in half lengthwise; if radishes are large, cut them in 3 or 4 pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Risotto:
3 cups (720ml) water
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 small and thin leek, only the light green part, thinly sliced
½ small onion, finely diced
¾ cup (165g) Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¼ cup (60ml) dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 small carrots (160g in total, weighed before peeling), coarsely grated
2 kale leaves, without the central stalk, torn into small pieces
¼ xícara (35g) coarsely grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a small baking sheet with foil. Transfer the radishes to the foil, drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat, spread on the sheet leaving some space between the radishes and roast for 30 minutes, turning at half the oven time. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In the meantime, make the risotto: place the water and the bay leaf in a small saucepan over high heat until it boils. Keep it simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt half the butter and olive oil. Add leek and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 2-3 minutes, to coat all the rice grains with fat. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the carrots. Start adding the water, 1 ladle at a time, then stirring constantly so the rice releases its starch.
Repeat this until all the water has been used, the rice is al dente and the risotto is thick and glossy – about 20 minutes. Stir in the kale, the remaining butter and the parmesan. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary, cover the pan and wait 5 minutes. Transfer risotto to serving plates, arrange the radishes on top and serve immediately.

Serves 2 generously, or 3 lighter servings

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Apple crumble with corn flour and orange and my eating habits during quarantine

Crumble de maçã com fubá e laranja / Apple crumble with corn flour and orange

I don’t know about you guys, but during this quarantine my eating habits have varied a lot: breakfast with homemade bread and fruit, followed by lunch, also homemade, the very Brazilian combo of rice & beans with vegetables on the side, and sometimes beef or chicken (usually once or twice a week, tops). When it comes to dinner… my will power is usually gone.

Some days I make soup, some days I make a hearty salad with beans and eggs, but there are days I crave food that makes me feel hugged – that is when my dinner becomes pizza (homemade, because I am too afraid to order), or a nice loaf of bread with cheeses and some wine. If there are avocados dinner is guacamole. And on top of all that my cravings for sweets are now daily, and no longer only during my PMS days.

In the very few times I went out for groceries I brought home some chocolate, but my stash sometimes vanishes in no time at all. In one of those days I was desperate for something sweet I used one apple that had been in the fridge forever to make a crumble, my favorite dessert. To make the recipe a little bit more interesting, I replaced the all purpose flour with corn flour (finer than cornmeal, but this would also work) and added orange zest – it turned out delicious!

I share the recipe with you today and I hope you like it as much as I did – I am sure this crumble topping would also be delicious with other fruit, like bananas or pears: use whatever you have at hand.

Apple crumble with corn flour and orange
own recipe

Crumble topping:
2 tablespoons demerara sugar – I use it for the crunch, but it can be replaced by granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup (70g) corn flour – it is finer than cornmeal, but the latter works just as fine
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 ½ tablespoons (35g) unsalted butter, cold and diced
¼ cup (22g) rolled oats

Filling:
2 medium Granny Smith apples
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Have ready two 1-cup capacity each heatproof bowls.

Topping: in a medium bowl, rub together the sugar and orange zest until sugar is fragrant. Add the corn flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub the ingredients with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. With a fork, stir in the oats. Freeze the mixture while you prepared the apples: peel and core the apples. Cut them into small dice and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir to coat. Divide the apples between the two dishes and sprinkle with the crumble topping. Bake for about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Serve warm.

The crumble topping might be frozen for up to 1 month in a tightly sealed plastic bag.

Serves 2

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Red lentil soup with kale chips

Sopa de lentilha vermelha com chips de couve / Red lentil soup with kale chips

As many of you, I have been cooking a lot more since the quarantine started, and it is not an easy task to cook lunch and dinner every day while also trying to vary the menu with what I have at hand – we already feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, so if the food is also the same in every meal… I don’t want to think about that. :D

I was going through some recipes I bookmarked in the past and found this soup on Gourmet Traveller, one of my favorite recipe sources. I decided to freestyle a little with the recipe while also aiming to make it a vegan meal. I did not have vegetable stock in the freezer and was also out of carrots to make some from scratch, so on top of the spices I also added a bay leaf and tomato paste to enhance flavors. And speaking of spices, I used the ones I have at hand and you can adapt and do the same.

To make it vegan I served my soup with kale chips and it worked beautifully – feel free to do what GT suggests and serve the soup with yogurt. Next time I have the soup for dinner (I froze half of it for some other day) I will top mine with a poached egg – my mouth is watering already. :D

Red lentil soup with kale chips
soup recipe adapted from here, chips adapted from several recipes around the web

Soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1/3 cup celery stalks, finely chopped – I used frozen and added unthawed to the pan
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon tomato paste
5 ½ cups (1,320ml) boiling water
1 1/3 cups (285g) dried red lentils
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large lime, finely grated zest and juice

Kale chips:
5 large kale leaves
1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
In the meantime, start with the soup: heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add celery and cook for another 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute – do not overcook it or the soup will taste bitter. Add spices and tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes – it is important to cook the tomato paste well to remove the flavor of raw tomatoes from the recipe. Add water and stir. When it comes to a boil, add lentils and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and then simmer for 15-17 minutes or until lentils are soft and starting to break down – stir occasionally so it does not catch in the bottom of the pan.

While the soup boils, make the chips: tear the kale leaves into medium pieces and transfer to a nonstick large baking pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper and dress the leaves using your hands. Spread the kale onto the sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Leave to cool completely so they become crunchy.

If you will eat the soup right away, remove the bay leaf, add lemon rind and juice, then blend with a hand-held blender until a coarse purée. If you are making the soup to freeze, do not add lime zest and juice – do this upon serving.

Divide among bowls and serve with the kale chips.

Serves 4-5

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