Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Well, in the Dominican Republic, it's not "cold." "Fresh" or "brisk" might be a better fit, and only at night. I'm sweating as I'm writing this right now. Either way, the temperature is dropping, and it makes me want soup and hot chocolate and Christmas tunes in the background.

If you haven't noticed, I love the holidays. It's never too soon to decorate the house, put up twinkling Christmas lights, wrap presents, and eat holiday treats. There were about five years when I was in high school/college that our Christmas tree did not come down, at all, between Christmas's. It was magical, until it was embarrassing. 5 years is the limit - if you don't take it down, you can't put it back up again! 

I made 2 soups in the last couple of weeks that satisfied my winter food cravings. Both soups have robust, creamy broths without using any cream. The Curried Vegetable Soup's blend of Indian spices are absorbed by the vegetables of your choice; I chose potatoes, carrots, auyama (pumpkin/winter squash), eggplant, tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Mama's White Chili is a recipe from my mom. White beans and corn, combined with chicken and seasonings, makes this the healthiest chili I've tried, as well as one of the tastiest. 

Choosing wine for a curry dish can be tricky. Because this stew is so thick and hearty, I think the Curried Vegetable Soup is best with a fruity red wine, like Tempranillo, or a fruity rosé, like White Zinfandel.  For Mama's White Chicken Chili, a Chardonnay pairs nicely because of its creamy, vanilla flavor.  It's heavier white wine, so it complements the dish without being overwhelmed by the chili's flavors. 

Curried Vegetable Soup

Mama's White Chicken Chili

I've got some exciting news this week, virtual world! Even though I'm in the DR, the international school I work for celebrates Thanksgiving, meaning that I have Thursday and Friday off from work this week!

You thought that was the exciting news, didn't you? 

Even though the vacation days are well received (trust me), the real jaw dropper is that...
I'm hosting my first Thanksgiving!

I'm taking advantage of both days to host Thanksgiving at my house on Friday night! The menu is already planned, and the invitations are out. It will be a Thanksgiving without turkey, but a delicious, thanks-filled evening nonetheless! Wish me luck (it's my first time).

Right now I'm in Step 1: "Pep Talk Mode". Patrick Swayze and Baby's Dirty Dancing scene as they land the big lift is repeated over and over in my head. Sylvester Stallone, jabbing and fist pumping in general, is an image I'm trying to focus on. You know, for inspiration. From the "greats".

The Amurican Flag is fitting for Thanksgiving, right? A nice touch.
Step 1: "Pep Talk Mode", also goes hand-in-hand with Step 2: Preparation: getting the shopping done at a reasonable price and preparing a schedule of how I'm going to get everything made for Friday evening. Jab those high prices! Go on! Fist pump with me!
Is it ironic that the first pictures that are not originally mine,
taken by the fiance nor I,
are of Sylvester Stallone?
To everyone else out there celebrating the day with their families and friends - Happy Turkey Day! Take pictures to share with us on La Buena Fe!!

Curried Vegetable Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, stewed with preferred seasonings  (2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped would also work)
2-3 small potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 large eggplant, chopped into cubes
1 large carrot, chopped 
1 pound auyama/pumpkin/winter squash (butternut squash, acorn squash), chopped into cubes
3 cups chicken/vegetable stock
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
salt and pepper to taste 

First, place the potatoes, eggplant, carrots, and squash in a large mixing bowl. Add the curry, ground coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well. The trick to vegetable soup is to make sure your vegetables are well seasoned!

Next, heat the last tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they are soft.  Add the garlic for 30 seconds, and then stir in the eggplant, carrots, and whatever other vegetable you would like to add. Turn the heat to low and cover the skillet for around 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Make sure to stir occasionally so the vegetables do not burn.

Finally, pour in the tomatoes, chicken/vegetable stock, potatoes, and squash, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and the let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes and squash are tender. Add salt if necessary. Serve hot!

Serves 4-6.

Mama's White Chicken Chili 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce (hot sauce)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 (11 oz.) can of white corn, drained
1 (15 oz.) can of cannellini beans, drained
1 (15 oz.) can butter beans, drained
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast

First, heat the vegetable oil in your cooking pot and cook the onions until they are beginning to soften. Add the garlic for around 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the chicken. Heat to boiling, and then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.  Finally, add the chicken and cook until hot!

Serves 4-6.

*** Squeeze extra lime juice in both soups for a surprising kick! ***

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eggplant Lasagna and a "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

A couple of months ago, the fiancé and I had a few people over, and I made Eggplant Lasagna. 15 of our friends made it the most people I had ever cooked for, and I worked all. day. long. I mean it - I woke up and started chopping, sautéing, pureeing, preparing, and cleaning, and I didn't stop until it was time to eat.

Then, at the moment of truth, the most amazing sound pierced the air...


Everyone was eating. Not only eating, but going for seconds! It really was so good. When I was making the "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce," I saved a cup and savored it while I finished cooking. Wish I was joking. The mix of flavors in the lasagna are perfect together. The ricotta cheese filling - thyme, oregano, ricotta cheese - are complemented perfectly by the natural ingredients of the pasta sauce - carrots, onion, tomatoes, basil, garlic. You can taste the individual flavors in each bite - and the textures! The distinct layers of the homemade marinara sauce, soft eggplant, and creamy ricotta mushroom mixture are divine.

Not to mention that my nerves, which had been leading to profuse sweating and self-hatred (maybe I would just tell everyone the oven broke and order pizza?), were more than relieved. I have a food blog for pete's sake! My food couldn't taste mediocre when most everyone I know here was at my house, gathered together, with the intention of eating something delicious.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was such a  rush. I loved every part of it. The planning, grocery shopping, hours of chopping and dicing, welcoming everyone into our home, and in the end, eating every last bite of that massively sized lasagna, plus the entire moro de gandules, and of course - the compliments! Cooking and sharing and then writing about it has not been a lifelong passion, but it's fun right now.

On that note, I'm throwing this idea out into the universe: November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoMo promotes a "competition" in which you write an entire novel in 30 days, starting yesterday! It seems like such a romantic notion from the outset - having a novel written by December. But let's be real - I'm overwhelmed with the idea of it. Of course, with fear also comes doubt. Could I even do this? Should writing be something I consider pursuing?  Que sé yo. I'm not concerned with having something concretely finished in 1 month, because boundaries really aren't my thing - but this could be what gives me a little push in the right direction. My ideas are bound to my experiences living abroad, particularly the clash and/or assimilation of expats and their communities. What to do, what to do?

Until then - enjoy the recipe (taken from the Food Network). Try it, enjoy it, invite some friends over and pair it with a bottle of Chianti - a red wine made in the Chianti region in Tuscany from the Sangiovese grape. To match this dish, choose a Chianti Rufina or Chianti Clasico, which should be between $12-25. For a more economic option, you can find a more simple Chianti (look for bottles only labeled "Chianti") for $6-10.


Eggplant Lasagna

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise 3/4-inch thick (8 slices)
5+ tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms (1 8 oz. can)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
1 15. oz container ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons oregano leaves, chopped
2 cups Nona's Marinara Sauce (Or the "I Just Might Bathe in this Pasta Sauce" - Recipe below!)

1. Prepare the eggplant: 
Arrange the sliced eggplant on 2 sheet pans. Brush both sides of the eggplant using 3 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant for around 50 minutes at 400 degrees until the slices are soft and golden, but not burnt! After 25 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and roast for another 25 minutes. After roasting the eggplant, lower the heat to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare ricotta spread:
In a medium-sized skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced mushrooms. Sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook for another 2 minutes. Set the seasoned mushrooms aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, oregano, freshly cooked mushrooms, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well!

3. Arrange the lasagna: 
Lightly oil an 8-inch baking dish with oil. Spread half of the marinara sauce (chunky, not puréed) on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Place 4 roasted eggplant slices on top of the chunky sauce, and then layer with all of the ricotta cheese spread. Add the next 4 slices of eggplant, and then evenly pour second half of the marinara sauce (puréed!) on top.

Finish by topping the lasagna with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown - about 30 minutes.


Nona's Marinara Sauce:
Or as I like to call it: It's so good that..."I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

5 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 (28 oz.) can crushed (or diced) tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cloves of garlic with salt and pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Wrap up each clove in foil and place it on the oven rack. Roast the garlic until it is brown and tender, around 20-25 minutes. Once cool, squeeze the garlic from their skins and set aside.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and carrots over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and stir well. This will give it a nice orange color. Cook for about 10 minutes. When vegetables are softened, add the roasted garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and stir until they are all mixed together. Pour in the tomatoes. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered. Stir occasionally. Once the sauce is ready, carefully pour 1/2 the sauce into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth! Keep both sauces - chunky and puréed, separate.

Serves 4-6.

a buen tiempo!