Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Faux Pho

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle dish that you're probably familiar with. You may also know about and enjoy eating Mexican chicken soup, a broth-based mixture with rice, cilantro and crispy tortilla strips. Perhaps you even know about bone broth, the old-now-new-again healing broth simmered for hours from the bones of chicken, turkey or beef. These three dishes come together in what I call my Mexican Pho. Confused? Allow me to clarify.

I try to eat low-carb these days, so noodles and tortillas and rice are not on my daily eating plan. This new way of eating has presented me with a challenge to develop new recipes, which are both lower in carbohydrates and high in flavor. In my Faux Pho or Mexican Pho, I have combined healthy turkey bone broth with the meat from the bones used to make the broth, and incorporated seasonings of Mexican cooking with the presentation style of Vietnamese pho, typically sprouts, aromatic herbs and lime wedges. A trifecta of flavor-packed, healthy eating.

You can find my recipe for turkey bone broth in an earlier post. Be sure to allow the broth to simmer for several hours. Ideally, if you can spare the time, broth should simmer for 24 hours.

Here's the recipe:

8 cups turkey bone broth (if you plan ahead, you always have this in the freezer ready to thaw)
1/2 packet of taco seasoning
1 can Rotel Original
4 T. cilantro chopped roughly
1 cup turkey meat (removed from bones used to make the broth)

2 Hass avocados cut into wedges and mixed with fresh lime juice to stop discoloration
1/2 red onion very thinly sliced
1/2 bunch cilantro
1-2 cups crumbled queso fresco (can substitute with ricotta salata or feta, but reduce amount used--they are saltier)
1 lime cut into wedges

Bring the broth to a boil, add taco seasoning and the can of Rotel. Stir in chopped cilantro and turkey meat. Once the meat is heated through, fill your bowl with as much (or as little) of the accompaniments as you wish and ladle the steaming hot soup directly on top. Do not serve with a grilled cheese sandwich, please. This is a healthy, delicious and nutritious meal all on its own. I approve this message for your eating pleasure and improved good health.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ro-Tel: Go Tell Everyone

Yes, go tell everyone how wonderful this canned (yes, canned) Southern pantry staple is and how helpful it can be to any "whole food" cook at home.

If you've never heard of it, Ro*Tel is just a little can of zingy, spicy, put-a-pep-in-your-step diced tomatoes with diced green chillies. Yup, that's it, but the addition of this simple concoction perks up most "normal" recipes. I've used it to develop a squash recipe; added it to a low-carb Mexican soup to replace the volume of tortillas and to spice things up enough to call the soup Mexican Pho; used it to make a quick Mexican-like casserole; stirred it into a jar of store-bought salsa to make it fresher tasting; and cooked it in a frittata and many a breakfast casserole. Why, I've even mixed it with lentils for a spicy anytime side to grilled meats.

Ro*Tel is so popular, that the awesome Roy Blount Jr.wrote about it in his "End of the Line" column for "Garden & Gun" magazine.

Here's one of my recipes for squash with Ro*Tel:

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
2 c chopped sweet yellow onions
12 c yellow squash (cut into thick slices or 2" batons)
2 (10 oz) cans Ro*Tel Original
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped

Friday, December 2, 2016

Russian Teatime

I love my coffee--ask anyone--but I do enjoy tea also. In Greece, it was chamomile or the mountain tea that we sipped on to help soothe a sore throat. In Australia, we had strong black tea with sugar and milk. I still remember the tea ladies who rolled carts of tea up and down the halls of the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet where I worked; they came mid-morning and mid-afternoon and they always remembered exactly how you liked your tea.  

I brew my tea by the cup and by the teapot. The few pots I have left (having given many away) all have a connection to other people, which is a lovely thought, given that most tea-drinking or -sipping is a social event. I have so many tea memories, which is the same as saying that I have so many socializing-with-loved-ones tea memories!

Today I'm focusing on Russian tea and the traditional tools required for an authentic Russian teatime.

Family portrait by T.Myagkov

Well, it doesn't look like a photo of a rollicking good time, but everyone in this photo looks calm, don't you agree? While it's all assumption on my part, I'd have to say that they're all a tad tired from waiting around for the proper preparation of tea using a samovar. Apparently, it was quite a ritual, requiring fuel to heat the water in the samovar and (once that was done) to heat the teapot containing tea concentrate. And, of course, as we all know (not), the teapot was heated by placing it at the very top of the samovar. From there you could begin serving tea: concentrate poured into your cup, diluted to your preference with hot water from the samovar, sweetened with sugar (or jam!) and you're done; lemon or cream if you wish.

Typically, in the Russian tea tradition, honey-spice cookies  and cakes are served with the tea. Because tea is served throughout the day, more savory food bites are also served: bagel-like cookies and blinis with an assortment of fillings.

Interior of the Russian Tea Room
Russian Tea Room in New York. Opulent, yes?

I have the Russian Tea Room on my list of places that I'd like to visit and enjoy one day soon.  In the meantime, earlier this year, I did enjoy a lovely dinner at Russian Tea Time, a landmark restaurant on Adams Street in Chicago. Following my dinner of the classic Ukrainian dish of Stuffed Cabbage Golubtsi, served with buckwheat and a carrot salad, I enjoyed an aromatic cup of hot tea. Yes, it was served in a glass cup nestled in an ornate metal holder--the real deal. See for yourselves.

If you're a tea fan, you may enjoy reading a more comprehensive article on tea rituals around the world. Scroll down for Russian tea service--they mention Chicago's Russian Tea Time restaurant.

Oh, how do I take my tea? Strong, hot, sweet and with a generous splash of half and half. That's the way it was served to me on our picnics to the Botanical Gardens in Sydney (Australia), straight out of a Thermos with sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. But, I digress--that is another story for another blog post.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

For the Love of Carb UNloading

Since last October, it's been low-carb living for me. Yes, I have allowed myself lots of carb meals: holidays, special dinners, birthday cake, etc. Yes, I've struggled to live (to eat) this way, but it's been much easier than you might imagine. One of my ways of managing this new lifestyle is to bring something to a dinner or party that is low-carb. This means that I'll always have something that I can eat without guilt. Here's one of those delicious offerings.

Low Carb Sausage Balls

  • 1 (16oz) Snow Creek Breakfast Sausage (mild)*
  • 3 green onions, ends and limp green parts cut off. Sliced & chopped
  • 3 oz shredded parmesan
  • 2 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 1 t poultry seasoning
  • 2 T hot tap water
  • Cherry tomatoes (amount depends on the yield of balls you make, which depends on how big or small you make your sausage balls)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

*Snow Creek breakfast sausage is minimally processed and packaged in Seneca, South Carolina.

Combine all ingredients by kneading with your hands. Shape into golfball-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and thread one-half per sausage ball onto a large toothpick or small skewer and place into each sausage ball. You may sprinkle a little grated Parmesan on each tomato half, but this is optional.

Bake in middle to upper part of oven at 400F for 20-30 minutes.

TIP: Sausage balls can be made ahead and covered with plastic wrap. Can be refrigerated for up to a day before cooking.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Honey-Poached Apricots: A Tesselated Dessert

I posted photos of this dessert on twitter, and a friend remarked, "tesselated." I thought she'd meant to say "titillated," as in her taste buds had been titillated or stimulated or awakened. It took me a minute more to realize she was referring to the design of the apricots on the Creme Anglaise!

This dessert is a throwback to a dinner I prepared about 10 years ago. I love any dessert with custard, fruit and toasted nuts--it's a fond (and delicious) reminder of my Greek heritage, but more about that another day. Today I'll share this honey-laced recipe, which I developed to titillate the taste buds of my friends who had dinner with me and Dewey that night. Yes, you can use peaches instead of apricots.

Honey-Poached Apricots in Honey Crème Anglaise

Will serve 6-12, depending on how you decide to serve this dish. To serve 6, use 4 apricot halves (or 2 whole apricots) per person and serve in a shallow rimmed soup bowl. For a smaller serving for 12 people, use smaller salad plates or dessert bowls and only 2 apricot halves per person. May also be served over almond angel food cake.

Honey Crème Anglaise:
3 ½ cups half and half
4 T. honey
8 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 t. vanilla essence
zest of one lemon

Crème Anglaise is a thick custard sauce typically served cold. It may be made ahead.

  • In a heavy saucepan, heat half and half and honey until the honey has dissolved, then remove from heat. 
  • Mix the eggs and sugar at high speed until creamy. 
  • Slowly incorporate about one-third of the hot half and half into the egg mixture by adding half a cup and mixing and then repeating.  This serves to temper the eggs, so that they don’t cook too quickly and make scrambled eggs.  Now whisk the egg mixture into the half and half in the saucepan.
  • Place saucepan over low to medium heat, and stir continuously with a whisk.  Continue whisking until the temperature registers 170 degrees.
  • Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest, then remove the pan from the heat. To cool the sauce, pour the Crème Anglaise into a bowl, and set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with iced water, giving it a stir periodically to avoid a skin forming on the top. 

Honey-Poached Apricots:
½ cup honey
½ cup spiced rum (like Captain Morgan’s)
¼ cup water
12 apricots, pitted & cut into halves
  • Combine honey, rum and water in a large pot over high heat. Boil until honey has dissolved.
  • Gently stir in the apricots, bring to a boil and reduce to the lowest setting. Cover with a lid and monitor. 
  • When apricots have softened but are still a bit firm, turn off the heat. After 10-15 minutes, remove apricot halves to a platter and bring the 
  • remaining liquid to a boil. Continue to cook until reduced by one-third. 
  • Allow to cool. This may be done ahead and syrup poured into a jar. 
  • Apricots can be covered with plastic wrap and stored on the counter.

fresh raspberries
1 cup toasted chopped pistachios or almonds (as much or as little as you wish)

To Assemble:
  • Pour Crème Anglaise into bowl.
  • Place apricot halves onto the custard and garnish with a raspberry in between for contrast.
  • Spoon some of the syrup over the fruit.
  • Sprinkle lightly with toasted nuts.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The New Old

The old saying, "Everything old is new again," is so true today, especially when it comes to advice about nutrition and health. Take, for example, the latest newest and greatest health trend, bone broth. While professionals will argue about its healing properties--not enough scientific studies--Jewish grandmothers have known about the healing power of "real" chicken soup for...well, for ever! That's scientific enough for me.

My Mexican Pho, which is made from bone broth
The NEW old way of making bone broth: I've made bone broth/stock for most of my life, having been taught by my mother and aunt who learned from their mothers and grandmothers. My preferred method is to use a crockpot, which allows for unsupervised simmering--low and slow--either overnight or during the workday, resulting in a nutritious and delicious broth.

My recipe: 6 large turkey necks, 2 large carrots, 3 stalks celery, 1 small onion, 1 clove garlic, salt, pepper and enough cold tap water to come almost to the top of a large crockpot. Set this on "low" and allow to simmer for several hours. Pour through a sieve into a large bowl, cover and refrigerate. Once the fat layer has hardened, spoon that out. A little fat is absolutely fine, so you don't have to be meticulous. I freeze this to use later, freezing the meat separately to use in soup with the broth or with other recipes.

I use the broth in 2 of my soup recipes: Greek Cabbage Roll Soup Avgolemono and my Mexican Pho. Stick around. I may share these recipes on a future post. #foodtease

Monday, January 11, 2016

Breaking Eggs & Breaking Rules

Kimchi and mushrooms mingling

I seem to focus on eggs at the beginning of each new year. Usually it's fried eggs with grits. Simple. Back to basics I suppose. A simple breakfast? Deceptively difficult to pull off properly actually.

Fried eggs must be steamed. I cook them in a bit of olive oil and put the lid on for the steaming to expedite the process which delivers that creamy opaque film over the yolks. You have to keep an eye on the progress to be sure that the edges of the whites get a golden, crispy and lace-like appearance. All of this attention for a fried egg? Why? So that you've got an interesting mix of textures, from the crispy edges to the smooth firmness of the whites and that lovely golden yolk, soft enough to coat your mouth with comfort and firm enough not to run onto your new white shirt. Perfection in cooking requires patience and attention to detail.

Then the grits. If you've ever had grits cooked "the right way"--my way--then you know what a heavenly difference they make in your mouth. I cook them with milk and enough salt to make them taste like, well, like grits. I stir and cover, and stir and cover. I add a little water and stir and cover and stir and cover. I take the pot off the heat and prepare the eggs. Once I've got the eggs on my plate, I uncover the grits and add a chunk of butter and stir that into the grits. That's it! No cheese to add--none needed--and no Yankee adding of sugar. Please, you're in the South eating an iconic food of the South, so do it right!
Strange bedfellows--fried eggs, sauteed mushrooms and kimchi!
This year I broke some rules along with the eggs, Same eggs, but I ditched the grits for sauteed mushrooms (fresh from the North East, courtesy of friends, Phyllis and George Nolan) and a generous helping of Kimchi. Yup, that Korean staple which can offend the nose and tickle the palate at the same time. Certainly, as a fermented food, it puts good stuff in your gut, so learn to enjoy the smell of fermenting cabbage.

Go ahead, give it a try. You may find that it's a "menage a trois" that you can enjoy and not feel guilty about!