Posts tagged ‘Healthy’

December 6, 2013

Bimba’s first stew

Here I am. Me trying to find space again, words again, after all in my life has changed.

So the last year and a half I have been busy making a baby. Growing it, battling the hormons that made all the enjoyment related to food disappear for months, fighting tiredness and worry, and then, after Bimba arrived,  trying to survive months of sleep deprivation. Food is yet another chore more often than not, and I do feel grateful for ready meals and not having to cook for the first time in my life.

It is hard work, and it is fun. In a way. At least, I think this is how I’ll remember it a few years down the line.

But now Bimba is discovering food other than eating me. I did manage to cook a couple of times and I have a couple of new recipes I want to write, but Bimba has not tasted them yet. I will post them here, and she will taste them, in due time.

I have already forgotten what her first taste of food was, probably an apple, maybe a peach. So I need to start recording, because I don’t want to lose it all. A few days ago I made her a beef stew. Experiments so far with meat had not been too successful: meatballs are too dry, ragu is difficult to swallow somehow, though she loves the taste. She gums a piece of chicken happily enough though. I put a pile of chunks of carrots and meat in front of her, and a little pot with the sauce to spoon, which I thought was out of reach. She grabbed the pot immediately and it landed on the floor. With the open side up and most of the sauce still in. I could not believe my beginner’s luck.

She then grabbed a chunk of meat with her tiny, greedy hands. She sucked it with that puzzled expression she always has when she tastes something new, then dropped it on the floor. She immediately went for more. She is a little cave man at the moment, crazy about proteins, meat and fish and yogurt. Pasta and potatoes are seen as useless plastic, more or less. She loves vegetables though and she loved the sauce of the stew, flavoured with her current favourites, bell pepper and tomato. We liked it as well, after adding a bit of salt. I loved that I would not have cooked it were it not for her.

Almost forgot: when I eventually sat down to eat that evening, much later, while I was telling Bimba’s dad how much she loved her stew, I finally raised my eyes. The walls and ceiling were covered in sauce splatters. Messy, happy times.

Today I took a break from being a mum and used some of the time to write this post, and some to make her some salt free pitta bread. I love doing things for her in my own me-time.

Bimba’s first stew

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, yellow

2 carrots

2 red bell peppers

500 g stewing beef (it was chunk steak), cut in large strips

1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 bay leaf

1 can of peeled tomatoes

tiny hint of ground black pepper

Cut the onions in wedges and the carrots in chunks of unequal shape. Cut also the bell peppers in wedges. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. Brown the meat, then add the chunks of vegetables. Brown for a few more minutes, then add the bay leaf, the tomatoes, paprika and pepper. Add some more water, close the pressure cooker and cook for about 30-45 minutes until the meat is tender but not completely melted (if you want the baby to be able to grab it). Let any excess water evaporate over high heat until you have a nice thick sauce with chunks of soft vegetables in it. It tastes better the day after.

March 20, 2012

The first day of spring

Spring greens in red pepper paste

There is something magical in solstices and equinoxes. They stir ancestral, deep resonances inside me. I always forget equinox days though: they are not obviously bright or gloomy like the peaks of summer and winter. But this year I wanted to celebrate. This Saturday I planted a few handful of seeds in my garden. It’s going to be a struggle with the snails – and they’ll win as I well know, but I’ll try at least.

This quiet, unassuming recipe comes from the second Riverford cookbook; actually it is from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, as reported in their introduction.  I expected it to be an everyday recipe, and it is: easy and quick. But it tasted so good I know I’m going to learn the recipe for this paste by heart. The problem with spice pastes is that if they are not in your DNA – and they definitely are not in mine – you have to read a recipe for them. No matter if it takes ten minutes in the end, I find I have to rummage through my overcrowded spice cabinet for a good half an hour, going back and forth to the recipe measuring, toasting, getting it wrong.. It is just not obvious to me what needs to be roasted, what needs to go in last, what needs to be ground, what can be left whole, although I am developing a feel for it. I have no such doubts when cooking a European recipe, even a more involved one. I read it once and I normally don’t even need to look at it again. So during week time, when I’m busier, I rarely venture into spice-hunting mode. Now, this recipe is not spiced, although it is hot, but it tastes as if it is. It is grown up and complex, and makes spring greens, a vegetable I find a bit perplexing (should I think about it like a mild cabbage? Or rather, a cabbage-y chard? Or rather, a sweet kale? ), find their right place in the world. Of course you could use the paste for something else, and I most definitely will.

Spring greens

Spring Greens with Red Pepper

from Everyday & Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm

Ingredients:

1/2 red pepper

1/2 red onion

1 garlic clove

3-4 drops fish sauce (they call for blachan, but I didn’t have any)

1 red chilli, deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 heads of spring greens,  chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

squeeze of lemon

salt

Method:

clean and chop onion, pepper, garlic and chilli. Whizz in a food processor with a bit of water to a rough paste. Add a little splash of fish sauce. Heat the oil in  a wide pan. Stir in the paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant – about 5 mins. Add in the spring greens, some salt, stir, cover until wilted. Add a bit more water if needed. Let cook for about ten minutes until the greens are tender. Adjust salt and serve, hot or cold.

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February 27, 2012

Soup again: a twist on vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

I found this gem of a recipe in the most unlikely location. As much as I love shopping for food,  I am not a big fan of supermarkets: I don’t like being in an overcrowded, artificially lighted environment for long, if I can avoid it.  They are convenient though, so a trip there now and again is almost inevitable. One of the most annoying features are those piles of products on offer, luring you into buying, buying, buying.

A ready-made soup from  the New Covent Garden Soup brand caught my eye: the flavour combinations looked quite inviting. I did not buy any however, for fear of being disappointed, once more, by a nice packaging and some clever marketing. I have not tried their soups to date, so I can’t judge their products. But when I stumbled upon a cookbook published by them, entirely devoted to soups, I could not resist having a good look at it. And indeed, although the editorial form is nothing short of irritating (no ingredients index, a “hand-written” font that is almost impossible to read on the dark green background), there are many recipes worth trying in this little book. I started by recreating the lentil, tomato and coriander soup that had caught my eye. It is a very simple soup, with no other ingredients than the named ones, plus a sautéed onion, a bit of cumin, coriander and pepper: it tastes rich and satisfying, it can be made with products probably already sitting in your pantry, and it comes together with five minutes’ active time.

February 16, 2012

The forgotten root soup

Winter roots soup

I had half forgotten about this soup. I do this kind of things all the time. I have a leaky memory, to say the least – this is why this blog is a life saver for me, at least for recipes. I’ve always wanted to keep a diary of the books I read, the movies I watch, sometimes even the people I meet. I forget who the killer is five minutes after the end of a thriller. I forget reading books altogether: I’ve often found myself reading half of a book, and at chapter twelve realizing that yes, I have indeed already read the whole thing. I just keep little drops of memory with me from books and movies – the colour of a dress, the face of a beautiful actress, a particularly funny character. I forget people I meet, I forget technical details of vital importance. I am always embarrassed when people ask me what my favourite book or  film is – if I’m lucky I remember the title, but don’t expect anything more than the knowledge that yes, I enjoyed that book immensely. This is why I have to be extra organised. I keep logs. I have lists.

I have a good memory for other random things. I remember number sequences really easily. I used to remember loads of poetry when I was in school, and I still do know some by heart. I remember where I’ve parked my car and where shops are and German grammar. Weird.

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January 25, 2012

A new love: freekeh

Freekeh salad

Meet my latest food crush. Crunchy and juicy, with a challenging but yielding texture interesting enough to make you want for more, but not actually get tired of it. A subtle whiff of smoke, the smell of a thousand and one nights, and its bronzed hue betray its Middle East origin, while a tiny hint of grass makes you dream of the wild outdoors. Like all love relationships, it wouldn’t work long-term, if it were not good for you.

Meet Freekeh, Green wheat. Think unripe grain, smoked to dryness. Better than it sounds. Easier than it sounds, too. I have never much liked simple whole wheat, but this is another story. This is up there with farro. This is marriage material.

November 16, 2011

Black Bean Soup

Black bean soup

This is not exactly the post I had in mind when I decided I had to share this soup with you. While living with my parents I was not cooking much at all,  and I was not cooking the type of food I crave daily. That food, after a few days of feasting on cheese, was essentially one: soup, loaded with vegetables, legumes, fibers, spices, herbs, chillies, hot, filling, easy to digest. I am addicted to that feeling of a warm and full, but not overloaded,  belly. I then decided that to celebrate the control I was going to regain in my kitchen and my life, I’d share a lot of soup recipes, whether from blogs, books, or my own fantasy. We all need more soup in our life.

So when I made this soup whose recipe I found in Smitten Kitchen, and it exactly what I had been craving for: hot, filling, spicy, comforting, great leftovers… I thought I finally was starting to get it. I had the first soup of a long series of soups to share.

July 26, 2011

Nibbling roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpeas

Summer is gone astray here. It rains and rains and rains. There are no chances to enjoy my favourite activities at home, which are two. I have a shared garden that nobody else uses, where we can have barbecues. We had no opportunity for a barbecue since last month. And then, I have a terrace above my head. I rarely go there, surely not in winter when it is covered with snow. But the views are great and it faces west, so sitting there in the evening with one of the excellent German beers and something to nibble on is a great way to unwind after a working day. There are a couple of challenges involved though:  making sure the bare wood on the floor is not wet or humid, which requires this rain to stop for at least a couple of days; trying to convince the cats not to jump down from the roof; and managing to climb the very steep ladder down even after a beer. Which makes the snacking part vital. The food must be easy to carry (you need at least one hand to climb up that ladder, so one trip for the beer and one for the snack), it must be tasty, it must be healthy because I can’t keep on putting on weight, and then you have to have some dinner, right?

June 21, 2011

Eritrean lentil stew – travelling around Europe

Erithrea lentil stew

My lifestyle lately has been a bit weird. My partner is travelling a lot because of work, and I’ve been mainly alone with my cats,  spending weekends off to reach him wherever he is. I’m still trying to put together my thoughts on all the things I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot of friends, and this always feels good. I guess a positive side of this crazy lifestyle of ours is that, although there is no place I can go to where all my friends are, there are a lot of places where some friends are. That’s good, isn’t it?

In this period I cooked much less at home: I am not used to cooking for myself alone, although I like to try now and again some ‘extreme’ experiments when no one is there to watch.  Being out at weekends means that long, complex projects are not feasible. I ate out many times when travelling. I had really great food, and the funny part is that all of it was ‘ethnic’ food, although I was travelling around Europe. For someone coming from Italy, whose food is indeed seen as ‘ethnic’ in the rest of the world (the first time I found they store Italian ingredients at Tesco in the ‘world’ section, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, it just seemed so weird to me), this is very positive. There is much more in Italian cooking than greasy pizza and overcooked pasta, and this is true for all other food of the world. I felt a tangible wave of energy coming from these restaurants. They were all original, with high quality ingredients, populated by locals and by co-nationals alike (my number one criteria for choosing ethnic food when I don’t have recommendations).

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May 13, 2011

Smoky, fresh, sour, nutty: a lentil salad

Lentil aubergine salad

This salad looks a bit demure. It can be given a makeover with a nice presentation, on special occasions, but some people will keep thinking it is just another boring vegan blob. As if someone had invited also the ugly sister to a dinner party just to please the beautiful one.

It does not smell particularly strong – maybe a whiff of sour and mint if you go really close, but when it is at room temperature, it does not really hit.

And then you taste it, and it explodes. It smacks you in the face with smokiness, then unfolds its complexity as you chew through it. Fresh and sour notes come in, then meatiness and a hint of sweetness as you tackle the lentils, while the slightly bitter, crunchy, nutty walnuts predominate as you chew them last.

The heart of this salad is smoked aubergine, the one used for baba ghanoush dip.  I had never smoked an aubergine before starting to learn about Middle East food. I always thought the natural destiny for an aubergine, the right, glorious end  for its charming black beauty,  is to be deep-fried in olive oil. More often than not I ended up playing it down, pan roasting it in cubes with just a bit of oil, roasting it in the oven, cut into wedges, or even grilling it, sliced. A defeat for taste.

April 4, 2011

Instant summer fix: roasted tomatoes, rucola, aubergine

Roasted aubergine and tomato salad

Ok, ok, I know, officially spring is coming. I know that soon I will have too much asparagus to cook with and zillions of the best strawberries ever. But in Germany spring does arrive late. Oh so late. Yesterday an English friend of mine was telling us how he’s so fed up with the trees for not displaying any #@&%$? leaves, yet. The weather did turn milder, but the fields are still bare.

So for the moment I’m relying on the usual leeks, potatoes, cabbage, plus more or less tasty imports. I live with a serial tomato eater. When we came back here after being in Calabria for a month, we went to shop for food. While I was all in all quite happy with the selection of products, he bursted out: “Where are the vegetables I can actually  eat?”. He loves Brussel sprouts, potatoes and leeks, but when you grow up with tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, you miss them bitterly. Now and again I buy them because food nostalgia is too strong.

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