Monday, October 26, 2009

Black Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomato Paste

Black Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomato Paste“There are numerous ghost stories in Louisiana”, said Patricia, who is native to New Orleans. Old plantation houses, massive oak trees with hanging Spanish moss, heavy fog over mysterious swamps and sudden rain are Louisiana’s familiar sights. They are already creepy enough. But Patricia continued, “one day, one of my girlfriends visited an old plantation house as a guest. She arrived late so the owner of the plantation house briefly greeted her and took her to a room. Then she heard rain started falling. Also she heard children started playing in the hallway. Next day, she politely mentioned to the owner about that incident. The owner was wondering and said there was no child living or invited there. As a matter of fact, she was the only guest the owner had at that day.”

The other day, my husband was startled at me eating this incredible black spaghetti with sun-dried tomato paste. He said it was peculiar. It was scarier than Patricia’s story. This black color came from natural squid ink. I love the aroma. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to obtain fresh squid ink in Louisiana. But I found this spaghetti made with squid ink. It has a slight flavor of squid ink, which is irresistible.

I made sun-dried tomato paste to mix with this black spaghetti. This paste can also be used as a spread on crispy bread. Adding parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil leaves enhances the delicious flavor of this paste and any pasta. Also this dish may give you a perfect frightening presentation for Halloween.

Sun-dried tomato paste:
1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
1-2 olive oil marinated set of anchovies
6 black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of chili pepper
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 lb of black spaghetti
2-3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
¼ cup of chopped fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese

1. Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in water for 30-40 minutes. Drain them and transfer to a food processor. Do not discard the water.
2. Add the anchovies, black olives without their seeds and extra virgin olive oil. Process the mixture until it becomes smooth. Season it with salt, black pepper and chili pepper.
3. Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot and cook the spaghetti in the pot for 8 to 10 minutes or al dente. Drain the spaghetti well. Toss them with 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
4. Heat 3-4 tbsp of olive oil in a large fry pan. Fry the garlic until sizzling. Add the spaghetti and sun-dried tomato paste. Mix them well. Turn off the heat and add the basil leaves. Stir them well.
5. Transfer them into saving plates. Sprinkle a lot of parmesan cheese. Serve with crispy bread!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chickpeas with Beef Soup

Chickpeas with Beef SoupThe first snow of the season came last weekend in the northeast of the USA. I remember when I lived in New York City this time of the year a heater started working. It seems winter is arriving a bit earlier than usual.

We also are having a very cold October in the south. Unexpectedly, we started using our fireplace last weekend. According to my husband who has been a residence of Louisiana for more than a decade, it is one of the coldest Octobers if not the coldest one.

I long for hot soup when I feel the air become cold. So I decided to make chickpea soup. Chickpeas are very common and popular in Mediterranean cuisine. They are high in protein so it is one of the essential food items for vegetarians.

Most of the time I cook simple vegetarian chickpea soup. However, this time my husband asked to add a few short beef ribs. They give a wonderful broth to this soup. Plus the meat, which cooked slowly, is amazingly tender and delicious to add an extra joy eating this soup in a cold day.

2 cups of chickpeas
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, diced
3 stalks chopped celery
3 rip tomato, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
½ lb of short beef ribs
¼ cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried oregano
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the chickpeas, onion, carrots, celery, tomato, garlic, short beef ribs and bay leaf in a large soup pot.
2. Add water and bring to boil on medium heat.
3. Reduce the heat to low after it boils. Cover and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes until all vegetables, chickpeas and the meat are soft. Season it with salt and pepper (or Cajun seasoning).
4. Turn off the heat. Add the flat-leaf parsley and the olive oil. Cover and leave it for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bitter Melon with Sesame and Soy Sauce

Bitter Melon with Sesame and Soy SauceWhen my friend, Pete, asked me if I need something from Japanese grocery stores in NY before his visit from NY to Louisiana this spring, I immediately requested suribachi and surikogi. Suribachi (grinding-bowl) and surikogi (grind-powder-wood) are Japanese mortar and pestle. These tools are mainly used to grind sesame seeds.

“ゴマをする” means “grinding sesame seeds” in English. Its metaphorical meaning is “to flatter ” in Japanese. I am not flattering. But, hey Pete, the wonderful kitchen tools you brought me made my life much more delicious! I did not realize how flavorsome ground sesame seeds are.

Of course, I knew about these tools and the fantastic taste of ground sesame seeds. My mother was using them all the time when I was a kid. Also, I frequently ate them while I was in NY. But I did not pay much attention to it. Then, after I moved to Louisiana, I recognized I was missing this crispy flavor and regretted that I did not buy the Japanese mortar and pestle (you may use a regular mortar and pestle or spice grinder to produce the same result as the Japanese ones).

Surprisingly, ground sesame seeds with soy sauce enrich the taste of many kinds of just steamed / boiled vegetables. Steamed / boiled spinach, boiled bitter melon, boiled green peas are some of these vegetables. Use roasted sesame seeds. If they are raw, just roast them on a fry pan. Then, simply grind them. You will be amazed by the crisp and magnificent sesame aroma.

1 bitter melon
2 tablespoons of roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1. Slice the bitter melon into small pieces. Soak them into salty water for about 10 minutes. Drain them.
2. Boil the bitter melon pieces into boiling water for about 3 minutes. Let them cool and drain them well.
3. Grind the roasted sesame seeds very well. Add the soy sauce and mix them well.
4. Add the bitter melon pieces into the sesame mixture and stir them together.
5. Serve this dish as an appetizer or side dish with steamed rice!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fried Shrimps in Tomato Sauce

Fried Shrimps in Tomato SauceMy husband and I tried not to eat shrimps frequently because they are high in cholesterol. But recently, one of our friends said that shrimp’s cholesterol is “good” one. So I did a little research on Google. Indeed, I found a lot of articles mentioning that shrimp’s cholesterol is “good” cholesterol. As a result, I think we can be more generous when eating shrimps.

My most favorite way of eating shrimps is simply steaming/boiling them with just some lemon juice and olive oil. To fry shrimps in tomato sauce is the next preferred way. A crispy garlic flavor, sweet tomato and wine enhance the taste of juicy shrimps. They can be good with pasta or rice.

Of course, steamed / boiled shrimps are healthier than fried ones. Eating shrimps may be healthy but it should not be done everyday. Certainly, variety and moderation may be the keys to enjoy this healthy seafood.

Fried Shrimps in Tomato SauceIngredients:
1 lb shrimps with their heads and shells on
3 cloves of chopped garlic
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
¼ cup of white wine
¼ cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to fry

1. Wash the shrimps well and cut off their whiskers.
2. Heat the olive oil and the garlic in a fry pan until sizzling. Add the shrimps and fry them until their color turns to pink. Add the white wine and stir.
3. Transfer the shrimps from the fry pan to a plate. Using the same fry pan, add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer them together for 10 to 15 minutes. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper.
4. Add the shrimps, again and stir them well with the tomato mixture.
5. Before turning off the heat, add the parsley. Stir them well.
6. Serve with crispy bread to wipe the delicious juice!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leek and Feta Cheese Quiche

Having a quiche at Balthazar restaurant in NYC was my most favorite and luxurious weekday breakfast while I was in NY. The sweet onion filling was so delicious. The combination of this filling and the crunchy pastry crust made me crazily happy. Not to mention the lavish ambiance inside of the restaurant. After the fabulous breakfast at Balthazar restaurant, I remember that I always became generous to some of the rude colleagues of mine and forgave their bad manners.

Quiche is a very popular breakfast dish in Louisiana. Many Creole/Cajun people are proud of being French descendants and enjoy this French dish. Many plantation houses and restaurants serve magnificent quiches. I have tried many tasty quiches since I moved here.

I love a quiche. However, a butter flavor is sometimes too heavy for me because I do not frequently use butter in cooking. Therefore, when I make a quiche, I use extra virgin olive oil instead of using butter. Olive oil is much healthier. Moreover, if you use olive oil for the pie dough, it would be much easier to deal with.

Leek has been cultivated for thousands of years in Mediterranean countries. This vegetable becomes very sweet and flavorsome after frying or boiling. It is a member of the onion family. Using leek and feta cheese for filling adds Mediterranean aroma on this delicious yet simple quiche. Now having this healthy Mediterranean quiche while watching wild ducks and herons in our back yard is my most favorite and relaxing weekend breakfast.

2 leeks
4-5 large brown mushrooms
1 cup of heavy cream (or milk plus 1 tablespoon of cornstarch)
3 eggs
¼ cup of feta cheese, broken into pieces
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to fry
Pie dough for a 9 inch-pie pan

1. Cut off the roots and remove the dark green parts of the leaves. Wash the leeks very well. Slice the leeks into small pieces.
2. Wash the mushrooms and slice them.
3. Roll the pie dough and press it into the pie pan.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees.
5. Heat the olive oil in a fry pan and fry the chopped leek and mushrooms until they become soft. 6. Fill the leeks and mushrooms into the pie pan.
7. Place the eggs and beat them well. Add feta cheese, nutmeg, salt and black pepper.
8. Fill the egg mixture into the pie pan.
9. Bake it in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is slightly brown.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Ham

Chicken HamMy husband, who is very health conscious, wants us to avoid eating processed meats, such as ham, sausages and bacon. Processed meats are high in fat and sodium. Also many researches show strong connections between processed meats and cancers of the digestive system (liver, intestines, etc).

I know that I should stay away from processed meats. But I like them. They give nice flavors to sandwiches, salads, soups and many other dishes.

Luckily I found a local famer selling organic and freshly harvested chickens. Instantly, I knew their meats would be wonderful for homemade ham.

I got this homemade chicken ham recipe from a friend, who is a professional nutritionist. She also gave me a few useful tips. First, use honey instead of using sugar. Honey/sugar make meats tender. But only honey eliminates the typical odor of chicken meat. Second, do not discard the water, which is used to boil chicken breasts. It would be a fantastic chicken broth to make a soup, stew or gumbo (I usually freeze this tasty broth for later use)! Third, add different kinds of herbs and seasonings to make specially flavored ham.

Indeed, homemade chicken ham is extremely delicious and very easy to prepare/cook. After I tried it, I cannot think of eating again ham from any store.

Chicken HamIngredients:
1 chicken breast
1 tablespoon of honey/sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Optional: Herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary and etc.

1 Wash the chicken breast and remove the fat. Pat it dry.
2. Spread the honey first and then the salt around the chicken breast. Season it with a pinch of ground black pepper.
4. Put the chicken breast in a zip lock bag and remove the air from the bag as much as possible. Let it marinate from overnight to 3 days in a refrigerator.
5. Take out the chicken breast from the bag and soak it into water for 30 minutes. Pad it dry. Sprinkle the herbs. Roll the chicken breast and compactly wrap it with plastic wrap. Tight it with cooking twine.
6. Boil it into water for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it there from 4 to 6 hours until the water completely cools down.
7. Slice the ham and enjoy it!