12/25/17

Meatless Monday: Cookie Roundup


Whether you are invited to a dinner party and want to bring dessert, hosting a cookie exchange, or are having a rough day and need baking therapy, these three cookies will come to your rescue!

My friend Patricia invited me to join her family for Christmas Eve dinner and asked to bring sweets. I decided to go slightly overboard and bring three kinds of cookies: the more, the merrier! All of these can be done a day or two before and satisfy 99% of the people :)

The one pictured above is Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Saucisson. I remember my mom making chocolate salami when I was growing up in Russia, but it's been decades since I've tasted one, and I've never made one before. Until this past weekend. It was so easy!! If you like chocolate dessert, you'll love this. Bonus points: no baking required! The recipe calls for pistachios, cookies and dried apricots, which is what I used, but it'd be easy to play around with other nuts and dried fruit.

For the second cookie, I baked cookies with tahini from Zahav cookbook. I had a brilliant idea, if I say so myself, to use oxo cookie press: this made the entire process so much easier that the original method of using a cookie scoop! Anna, my twin, suggested I sprinkle half of the cookies with black sesame seeds before baking: it gave the cookies a slight crunch. These will melt in your mouth!


Last, but definitely not least, I made Pistachio, Cranberries & Orange Biscotti from Domenica Marchetti's Ciao Biscotti cookbook. I added cranberries into the dough and sprinkled the biscotti with sugar in the raw before the first bake. This is not the first time I've made Domenica's recipe, and as always it was a success. Patricia's family raved about these, and I may be just a tiny bit sad that I did not leave any for myself. 

The recipe was different from the ones I've used in the past because it called for separating the eggs and whipping the whites with sugar until the mixture becomes white and glossy. Only then do you add the egg yolks with honey and olive oil. The extra step wasn't too hard and the final results were definitely worth it!


Let me know what cookies you like the most!

12/21/17

Chickarina Soup From Valerie's Home Cooking Cookbook


Looking for a different take on chicken noodle soup? I recommend you try Valerie Bertinelli's Chickarina Soup. This is the second recipe I made from Valerie Bertinelli's new cookbook, which I received as a review copy from the book's publisher. {Here's the first recipe I made.} 

It's been too long since I cooked with Israeli couscous, aka pearl couscous, which are larger than regular couscous, but not to be mistaken for grain. It's basically little balls of pasta, and there's nothing wrong with it!

Chickarina Soup
Reprinted with permission from the publisher

Ingredients
  • 3/4 pound ground chicken
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh pecorino romano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced carrot 
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup uncooked pearl couscous
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Directions
1. Preheat the broiler with the oven rack 6 to 8 inches from the heat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat with cooking spray. Gently combine the chicken, egg white, salt, pepper, and half of the pecorino romano. Scoop the mixture into meatballs using a 1/2-inch cookie scoop, and place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet. Broil until the meatballs are lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 6 minutes. Add the couscous, garlic, and rosemary; cook, stirring often, until the couscous is lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, and cook until the couscous is tender and the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Top with the parsley and remaining half of the pecorino romano.
Variation:
The pearl couscous may be switched for rice or ditalini pasta, but the pearls are true to the original.
Trick Technique:
Don’t have a cookie scoop? These mini meatballs can also be formed by using a piping bag or ziplock bag with a corner snipped off. Simply spoon the sticky chicken mixture into the bag and squeeze out 1/2-inch meatballs.

Thoughts: 
1) Definitely increase the amount of carrots: I doubled it, but could have tripled it.
2) I made my meatballs larger, and was happy with the results.
3) This soup is great as leftovers.
4) I think the soup could benefit from adding defrosted peas.
5) I left out rosemary because I'm not a huge fan of it: the soup still had plenty of flavor.

Happy cooking and slurping!!

12/19/17

Travel Tuesday: Solo Trip To Lisbon, Portugal

It has been over two weeks since I've come back from my first international solo trip (not counting Toronto).

I decided to whisk myself to Lisbon for Thanksgiving for 5 nights to see what I can see, eat all the food, walk around, acquire new impressions, meet new people, and get away from my regular life.

Below are some of the instagram photos that I took along the way, but first I'll describe for you my itinerary and how I approached putting together this vacation. My intention for this post is to help you in planning your own trip to Lisbon or at the very least to show you a part of the world you've not seen before and to encourage you not to wait for anyone to travel with. Go! Go! Go!

WHERE TO STAY
This part was easy. My twin went to Lisbon 5 years ago and highly recommended International Design Hotel. I booked it immediately. Because I was traveling in the off season, the rates were great. The hotel is centrally located, easily accessible by public transportation from the airport, has a boutique feel, and really great customer service. I loved having the room on the 4th floor with a balcony overlooking the Rossio square. {NOTE: ask for a robe in the room and fresh milk for your coffee.}

WHAT TO DO
Normally, I plan my vacations well in advance and fill the days with museum visits, markets, salsa dancing, shopping, etc. This time around, I just wasn't feeling like doing that.

Instead, I decided to book two day trips through Viator, a company I've used before both in the States and internationally with great success and to spend the rest of the time wandering around without a strict agenda. 

The first day trip was to visit Palacio de Queluz and Pena Palace. This was a magical day. I felt like I was transported to the time of kings and queens or to Disneyland, where I've actually never been. Make sure to walk through the grounds of the Pena Palace to experience the magic of Mother Nature so close to the city.

The second day trip was to a few wineries, a small seaside town where we had seafood lunch with the view of the water, and a visit to a tile factory! That's where I met Stacey and Patricia who I became friends with and shared my last dinner in Lisbon (more on that later). In fact, Patricia lives in MD and invited me to her family's house for Christmas Eve!

And if you follow my blog, you've already read about Lazy Flavors walking food tour of Lisbon I was invited to and absolutely loved on my first full day in the city

I did not visit a single museum. I did not go salsa dancing. I did almost no shopping. And I have ZERO regrets about this. 

Instead, I got lost and went to a botanical garden which was in a different part of the city from the one I intended to visit.

I took dozens of photos of tiled buildings and clotheslines and street murals.

I went to see the Tower of Belem, saw a beautiful sunset, and learned that a view of the city from Rua Augusta Arch is much better than the one from the Elevador de Santa Justa, not to mention there was no line and the entrance fee was only 2 euros.

And then there was all the food...


WHERE TO EAT
1. Bastardo: this is the restaurant located in the International Design Hotel. I normally don't eat at hotel restaurants, but because I was really tired one of the nights, I decided to walk down and have a meal. I was blown away. Funky decor. Friendly service. A bread basket that comes in a box made out of legos with hummus. Carefully chosen menu. What's not to like!? In fact, I returned for my last dinner at Bastardo with Stacey and Patricia before flying back the next morning.

Bastardo also does a fantastic buffet breakfast for 15 euros {!!!} including pastries, fresh fruit, quiches, coffee, mimosas, meats, cheeses, etc. I only went once because of my schedule, but wish I had visited it at least one more time. {NOTE: Bastard happens to be one of my favorite words.}

2. A Cevicheria: my friend Jenny's friend went to this restaurant and recommended it to Jenny, who then recommended it to me, and I'm so glad I listened. {NOTE: one of the benefits of solo traveling is that your wait for a table or a seat at a bar is waaaaay shorter than if you are a couple or a group of people.} I loved this place as soon as I saw a giant octopus {not real} hanging from the ceiling, and saw the beautiful tiled floor. I sat at the bar next to an adorable American couple in Lisbon on their honeymoon and chatted off and on with them throughout the meal ooh'ing and aah'ing over how vibrant, flavorful, and creative the food was. Go for the chef's menu!

Have you been to Lisbon?
Do you travel solo?
Leave a comment sharing your favorites with me and my readers!!


Safe travels!



















12/15/17

Easy Homemade Challah Recipe From Olga Massov: Happy Hanukkah & Shabbat Shalom

 

Happy 4th night of Hanukkah and Shabbat Shalom if you follow Jewish customs. Even if you don't, hold on and don't click out.

I'm here to share a great recipe for challah from Olga Massov, formerly Sassy Radish! I've not baked challah in at least 8 years, but have been thinking about it for quite some time.

I hesitated because the last time I baked challah was slightly disastrous, messy, and the results were mediocre. Plus, most recipes make at least a few loaves. I live by myself--I don't need that much bread.

And then.......Olga, yes, we have the same name, posted a few insta stories of baking challah, and I decided it was a great push/encouragement for me to do the same.


I used Olga's recipe and am soooo happy with the results! 

The recipe uses honey, orange juice, and olive oil. I was a little worried that the challah will taste too sweet. It did not! I was a little worried the dough will not rise. It did. I was a little worried I would end up not being impressed. I was impressed!

I was impressed with the ease of the recipe, how gorgeous the final challah looked, and with the pride I felt in baking it at home!


I highly recommend doing the 3rd rise of the challah overnight as Olga mentions. It was exciting going to bed at night and knowing that I'll be baking fresh bread in the morning. Once cooled, the challah went great with white fish salad, fresh orange juice, avocado and cucumber/tomato salad. You can have this brunch too if you just plan slightly ahead.

The challah tasted even better the next day. I have frozen half of it sliced so I'm not tempted to carbo load ;)

12/13/17

Gluten Free Carrot Latkes For Hannukah



Happy Hannukah! Yesterday for the first night of Hannukah I made Gluten Free Carrot Latkes. Why? Because I was out of potatoes :)

Using carrots has a few benefits: you don't need to squeeze out any liquid as you would with potatoes, there are most likely fewer carbs, and the color is so pretty!

Gluten Free Carrot Latkes For Hannukah
Makes 5

Ingredients
vegetable oil for frying
2 carrots, peeled, grated
1 small shallot, grated
1 egg white {I had it left over from making challah over the weekend}
pinch of salt, or more
pinch of cayenne, or more
Ranch dressing {I did not have sour cream!}
fresh dill, chopped

Directions
1. Heat a cast iron skillet. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Heat.
2. Meanwhile, as the oil is getting hot, combine grated carrots and shallots with egg white, salt and cayenne.
3. Drop the mixture carefully into the hot oil making little latkes. Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side depending on the size. 
4. Season with salt as the latkes come out of the oil. 
5. Serve IMMEDIATELY with a side of Ranch and sprinkled with dill.


Here's to everyone getting at least one miracle this season.

12/11/17

Salad Inspired By Pantone's Color Of The Year Greenery


I love playing in the kitchen and creating food that is simple, colorful, and fun. Over the weekend I made a salad using produce from Washington's Green Grocer and inspired by Pantone's 2017 color of the year: Greenery.

Salad Inspired By Pantone's Color Of The Year Greenery
Bibb lettuce
avocado, sliced
cucumber, peeled and sliced
Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced
Castelvetrano olives
Romanesco
olive oil
kosher salt

No cooking required! Arrange the first 6 ingredients on a platter and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt.

Maybe I'll create another salad for Pantone's 2018 color of the year: Ultra Violet.


12/7/17

TBT: Food Tour of Lisbon with Lazy Flavors


Going to Lisbon? Love food? Looking for a fun way to spend 4 hours, learn about food and history of Portugal, and get hundreds of steps in? Then you need to sign up for one of the tours offered by Lazy Flavors

One of the first things I did after booking airline tickets and hotel for a solo vacation in Lisbon for Thanksgiving, was finding a food tour. I found Mariana, the owner of Lazy Flavors, through one of my sister's friends and contacted her to see if I could join one of the tours. Because of the schedule conflicts, I could not join a group tour, but Mariana offered a one on one tour and was gracious to host me in exchange for an honest review on my blog. 

I was game!

I highly recommend arranging a food tour of any destination you are visiting as close to the beginning of the trip as possible. That way you'll get a great understanding of the city, find areas you'd like to explore further, and meet a local.

Mariana customized the tour for me when I mentioned that I wanted to visit one of the markets, and was very quick to respond by email to multiple questions I had.

Mariana picked me up at my hotel and we went next door to Confeitaria Nacional established in 1829! There, over pastries and coffee, Mariana told me that Portuguese sweets are commonly made with eggs and almonds. This particular bakery is known for their King's Cake that many residents buy for Christmas after standing in line that wraps around the block. 

Over the next 4 hours we visited Time Out Market, went on a tuk tuk ride to the neighborhood of Alfama (my favorite) where I tried fire roasted chorizo and ginginha (sour cherry liquor) sold by an old lady, then made our way back into central Lisbon for a cheese tasting, and a stop at a store that only sells tinned fish.

Time Out Market is a great place to visit whether you are staying in a hotel or an airbnb. Part of the market is devoted to produce, fresh fish, flowers, and other ingredients you can pick up to bring back to your airbnb and turn into a meal. The other part is prepared food, restaurants, and kiosks where you can buy food to eat right there. That's where I tried Lisbon's famous egg tarts at a Manteigaria. Every time the tarts come out of the oven, the little cafe rings the bell! 

I returned to the market one other time during my trip for fresh oysters. 

At the cheese store where we had our cheese tasting, with a very large glass of wine, I learned that most of the cheeses in Portugal are made from sheep or goat milk. Queijaria Nacional is a great place to pop into in between wondering around the city for a quick bite. The service, food, and decor were outstanding. 

Before dropping me off at my hotel, Mariana bought a bag of roasted chestnuts: this was the first time I've ever tried them. Lisbon's sidewalks were filled with people roasting chestnuts on little carts. The chestnuts were hot, dense, and filling! The aroma was the best part. 

Thank you Mariana for a wonderful tour of the city. I'll be sure to sign up for one of the cooking classes if I'll come back to Lisbon.

Stay tuned for another blog post about all the other things I did in Lisbon. I had the best time and am excited to share all my experiences with you to help you plan your trip!

12/4/17

Arugula, Apple, and Fennel Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and Three-Cheese Crostini


I'm back from vacation and back to cooking and trying to eat slightly lighter, which is why the first recipe I made from Valerie Bertinelli's new cookbook was Arugula, Apple, and Fennel Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and Three-Cheese Crostini.

I received a preview copy of Valerie's book and am impressed by the gorgeous photography, including Valerie herself who looks about 30 years old, helpful tips about ingredient substitutions and steps you can do ahead of time.

I've watched Valerie's show on Food Network for some time now and find her recipes simple, approachable, and quite appealing. The cookbook, called Valerie's Home Cooking, has the same feel to it.


Arugula, Apple, and Fennel Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and Three-Cheese Crostini

Reprinted with permission

Ingredients
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups baby arugula
1 head Bibb lettuce, torn
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds chopped and reserved
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
8 (1/2-inch-thick) baguette bread slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Whisk together the shallot, citrus juices, honey, mustard, salt, and white pepper; let stand for 2 minutes. Add the extra virgin olive oil in a slow, stead stream, whisking until blended. Set aside the dressing.
2. Toss together arugula, Bibb lettuce, apple, fennel bulb, and walnuts in a large bowl. Set aside the salad.
3. Place the baguette slices in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and lightly brush the tops with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven.
4. Stir together the cheeses, lemon zest, and black pepper in a small bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon of the reserved chopped fennel fronds. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto each toasted bread slice, and return to the oven. Bake until the cheese slightly melts and the bread edges are crispy, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add the dressing to the salad, and toss. Divide the salad evenly among 4 plates, and serve with 2 crostini.

My variations:
1. I forgot to pick up feta in the grocery store: used grated Parmesan
2. I don't have white pepper: used black pepper
3. Sliced my baguette into thinner slices to make them easier to eat
4. Added tangerine segments


This was a great light lunch. I can't believe there was a time when I did not like fennel! 

I will be posting another recipe from Valerie's book soon: stay tuned!

Disclosure: I received the cookbook free of charge but am not compensated for this post. All thoughts/opinions are my own.

12/1/17

TGIF: December


TGIF!! I'm back from Lisbon where I had such a great solo vacation. I'm planning on blogging about it and sharing with you all my favorite impressions, but for now I wish you a great December and a lovely weekend. {If you are as impatient as I am, you can go see all my vacation photos on instagram.}

Buy yourself some flowers, because having a bit of nature in your home is so uplifting! I added a few fennel tops to my bouquet. 

Tell me if you have any exciting plans for the last month of 2017.