you'd think from this blog that i'm some sort of natural gourmand. but the truth is, i ate horribly until i met mr. mimi -- my palette was unadventurous and whatever i did eat was of the worst nutritional balance. one of the things i love about our relationship is how much i've learned and experienced with new foods over the years.
and although this dinner isn't so lofty, it was something new for me since i've never had a real honey mustard dressing before. it's embarrassing to admit, but the only honey mustard i've ever had is the sticky sweet kind in those plastic containers from random eating out at mcdonalds. and i don't mean to sound like a gourmand, but how does one ever think that is the way food tastes? mcdonalds might be an extreme comparison, and it's not like i ate junk food or fast food on a regular basis. but so much of what i used to eat that's considered "natural" was just a processed version of something that is so simple to make at home -- and dressings are a prime example. if you don't believe me, then surely you'd believe mark bittman! but if you need more proof, try this recipe that is super easy but full of flavor (aren't all donna hay recipes pretty easy but so tasty? that's why i love them).
pan roasted chicken with honey mustard dressing: serves 4
adapted from donna hay (spring 2009, issue 47)
4 chicken breasts
4 large carrots, sliced
6-8 baby potatoes, halved (or quartered if too large)
1 package of baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper
1 tb whole grain mustard
1 tb honey
1 tb white wine vinegar
1. preheat oven to 375F. make the honey mustard dressing by combining the mustard, honey, vinegar, and 1/4 cup olive oil in bowl; set aside.
2. toss carrots and potatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper, place on baking sheet and roast for about 15-20 minutes.
3. meanwhile, salt and pepper the chicken breasts and heat oil in skillet on medium high heat. sear each side of chicken breast until golden brown, about 4 minutes each side.
4. put chicken breasts on top of carrots/potatoes on tray and continue roasting everything until chicken has internal temp of 165F, and carrots/potatoes are cooked through, about 20 more minutes.
5. toss spinach leaves with carrot and potato to warm and slightly wilt. serve with chicken breast on top and spoon over dressing to serve.
just because i don't like salmon doesn't mean i don't like white fish fish (although now that i think about it, i do like salmon when it's raw suhi, but not cooked). we tend to make the same kind of fish dinners, only because we like to keep the flavors really simple and clean. this recipe is really no different, just another great combination of all the things i like -- asparagus from the farmer's market, potatoes, and capers. it's a super easy recipe, and with a great presentation and hardly any work involved at all, it would be a great option for a small dinner party, too.
roasted fish, potato, and asparagus with dill butter: serves 2
adapted from donna hay (spring, 2009 issue no. 47)
4 baby potatoes, sliced
1 lb firm white fish fillets
1 bunch thin-medium asparagus, trimmed
1 tb capers
2 tb butter
1 tb dill leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1. preheat oven to 400F. toss potato and asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (not too much salt because of the fish and capers in the dish). place potato on baking tray and roast for 25 minutes.
2. season fish with oil, salt and pepper. add fish and asparagus to tray and roast for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are golden.
3. combine the butter and dill and spoon over fish, garnish with capers and squeeze of lemon (donna roasted the capers along with the fish).
it's amazing what happens when you try a fruit you hate in the place where it comes from. has that ever happened to you, with any kind of food? like you normally hate gumbo, but then you're down in new orleans (my heart hangs heavy) and get the real deal and you're like wow, this is good.
six years ago (!!) mr. mimi and i enjoyed our honeymoon down in peru, and on our second week we stayed in the rainforest where of course there were fresh avocado and papaya trees, two of the fruits i typically hate eating. yeah, i know, advocado! weird, right? everyone loves avocado. well evidently i don't, unless it comes right off the tree. same with the papaya. buy me some up here in the US and i hate it. pick one off the tree in the rainforest and i love it. sure, i admit maybe it has something to do with the beauty of the place -- i fell in love with the fruit because i fell in love with being in the rainforest. i admit it because i know how closely food is tied to emotions and well-being (isn't that what "comfort food" is all about). but it's like my taste buds changed once i tasted what a real avocado should taste like.
same thing with the mango. i've always hated it. but down in haiti, mango trees are everywhere. it's the fruit du jour, tourjours! the first month i was in haiti i didn't eat any. but the second month i finally succumbed to needing some fruit in my diet and hesitatingly i ate my first mango in a really, really long time.
i loved it.
ok, maybe i admit i was in haiti and desperate for fruit in my diet -- that any fruit would have been delicious. but the mango was so fresh and juicy, with such a sweet flavor, but not like a berry sweet, just an unfamiliar (to me) tropical sweet. so when i came back home i went on a mango binge, 10 for $10 at the grocery store, done.
then i found this recipe and i was like hmm, mango and candied pecans?! what is not to like about that idea! and, indeed, i loved this salad, all three different flavors -- earthy spinach, tropical mango, and sweet candied pecans -- were wonderful.
spinach salad with mango and candied pecans: serves 4
adapted from bon appetit (april 2000, original recipe click here)
large piece of parchment paper
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
6 tb olive oil
3 tb balsamic vinegar
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 lb baby spinach leaves
2 large mangos, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1. stir sugar, 1 tb oil, and 1 tb vinegar in skillet over medium heat until sugar melts and syrup bubbles, about 3 minutes.
2. mix in pecans and stir until nuts are toasted and syrup coats evenly, about 7 minutes. turn nuts out onto parchment paper, separating them to cool completely.
3. combine spinach, mango, and pecans in large bowl. whisk remaining 5 tb oil and 2 tb vinegar in small bowl to blend, season with salt and pepper. toss salad with dressing, and enjoy!
salmon is one of those things that i eat because i should, not because i particularly like it. not even smoked salmon with a schmear of cream cheese and capers (although doesn't that sound so hopelessly romantically new york?) but you know, it's healthy and blah blah blah so i try to eat some maybe once a month (and yes, always wild-caught alaskan).
but this salmon dinner was one i actually finished licking my lips. and i don't think it was the dill-cucumber sauce because that's just ordinary. but the orange-lemon glaze was amazing, i wish i had doubled it (though i wonder, does it follow the law of diminishing returns?) so if you're a salmon-phobe like me, do try this recipe out.
seared salmon with dill-cucumber sauce: serves 4
adapted from bon appetit (april 2005, original recipe click here)
2 tb olive oil
2 1/2 lb center-cut wild alaskan salmon fillet, pinbones removed and cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
for the dill-cucumber sauce
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tb milk
2 tb chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste
1. toss cucumber with salt and let stand for 30 minutes. transfer to colander and rinse well. pat dry with paper towels.
2. mix cucumber, sour cream, milk, and dill in small bowl. season with salt and pepper. cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3. preheat oven to 375F. season salmon with salt and pepper. heat oil in oven-proof skillet on high, sear salmon skin side up for about 3-4 minutes. flip and sear skin for about 2 minutes. pour off oil (hold salmon with spatula).
4. mix orange and lemon juice and pour on top of fish, finishing in oven to 140F internal temp. the orange-lemon juice should be a bit syrupy -- pour that on top of each plated fillet. spoon the dill-cucumber sauce on the side and garnish with fresh dill.
we made this back in march so again, apologies for another out of season recipe. but in my defense it is cold and rainy this week and winter squash be damned, i wouldn't have minded having a warm, cozy dinner like this last night!
the new york times runs this "recipes for health" series, although only until recently did they start including the nutritional information for each recipe. i like the way it's indexed by main ingredient so i can easily come up with dinner based on what i already have in the pantry or fridge.
even if quinoa weren't the nutritional powerhouse seed that it is, i would still always like to cook with it because i love the nutty taste, especially the red quinoa we used for this dinner. and like my previous enchilada post, this is a perfect vegetarian meal, too -- all real ingredients, easy to cook, and lots of sweet and nutty flavor. all you need is some crusty bread to offset the soft texture, and you have a perfect dinner for a cold night! and yes, it's better flavor as it sits, so a perfect left over lunch the next day, too!
andean bean stew with quinoa: serves 6
adapted from the new york times (november 2008; original recipe click here)
1 can pinto beans
1 can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup quinoa -- make sure to rinse thoroughly
salt and pepper to taste
1 tb sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tb chopped fresh parsley
1. heat oil in large, heavy pot and cook onion until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. add paprika, cook for about 1 minute and then add garlic. cook, stirring for a minute or two, until onions and garlic are fragrant but not brown. stir in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have slightly reduced, about 5-10 minutes.
2. add bay leaf and squash, bring to simmer and cover for 30 minutes until squash is tender. add beans and quinoa and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until quinoa is translucent and the little white thread uncurls from the seed. season with salt and pepper if needed and serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
this is going to be another one of those don't look at that photo, just listen to how wonderful this dinner is kind of post. i tend to not repeat making a recipe more than once, but this is definitely going into that small pile of eat, enjoy, repeat recipes. and yes i know that it's now mid-may and past clementine season, but it never hurts to bookmark this and try out later (later, like in next winter when they returns!). or maybe you can try this with regular oranges and see how it works out. a light, easy weeknight meal originally for chicken, surely this clementine salsa would work fabulously with fish, too!
chicken with clementine salsa: serves 4
adapted from bon appetit (december 2009, original recipe click here)
4 chicken breast halves
4 clementines, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 tb fresh lime juice
1 serrano chile, minced
4 tb olive oil
1/2 cup clementine juice (need about 6 clementines)
salt and pepper to taste
1. place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment paper and pound chicken to 1/4 inch thickness.
2. mix clementines and next 6 ingredients in medium bowl, with 2 tb olive oil. season with salt and pepper.
3. season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, heat 2 tb olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. add chicken and cook until slightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. transfer chicken to platter, but do not turn off heat.
4. add clementine juice to skillet and boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, stirring often, about 2 minutes. drizzle sauce over chicken and spoon salsa on top.
this poorly taken photo is an embarrassment, there's so many things wrong with it! besides composition how about that white plate that looks pink? urgh. i'm determined to get myself a copy of photoshop elements this summer and give myself a proper tutorial on how to edit my digital photos. i know photo editing won't magically turn my photos into press perfect images, but it certainly will help me turn that plate white!
why all the complaining about this photo? because this dinner was just so good, that i feel badly my photo can't possibly give it any justice.
strange as it may sound, but i made the conscious decision to stop eating all those "fake meat" products when i decided to eat real foods, including meat. oh sure, i made a lot of great dishes from my favorite vegetarian cookbook by deborah madison but eventually convenience took over and it was as if eating vegetarian became only about pretending to eat what i didn't (boca burgers, smart bacon, etc), instead of creating new dishes that were worthy on their own. how did that ever make sense? and have you ever looked at the ingredients on those things? the list is just as long and convoluted as some of your typical processed junk food, maybe just minus the high fructose corn syrup.
and that's why this dinner was just so good. it was everything that a vegetarian dish should be -- real ingredients with all the right flavors, a little sweet and a little salty, and filling without making you feel over stuffed. i started thinking that even my meat eating friends would be impressed! honestly i can't remember exactly why i liked it so much but the minute i finished it, i mentally checked it as one of those recipes i would definitely make again. so forgive me for the bad photo, because it's the only one i have, but i hope my words have at least convinced you to give it a try!
sweet potato and black bean enchilada: serves 4
adapted from whole foods market (original recipe click here)
1 jar of green chile sauce (we cheated and bought a jar of chile sauce, but it's easy enough to make your own and it's included in the printable recipe)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
4 garlic cloves, minced
fresh juice from 1 lime
2 cups cooked diced sweet potato
1/2 cup chopped roasted green chilies
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 tb chopped fresh cilantro
8 small flour tortillas (we couldn't find fresh corn tortillas the weekend we made this, so had to deal with the flour ones -- which technically makes it more like a mini burrito than an enchilada, but either way it's all good!)
4 ounces shredded monterey jack cheese
1. preheat oven to 350F. to make enchilada (mini-burrito) filling, combine the black beans with minced garlic and lime juice. toss to coat the beans and set aside.
2. in separate bowl, combine the cooked sweet potatoes with the chopped green chilies, and the spices and season with salt and pepper.
3. pour about 1/4 cup of the green chile sauce on to the bottom of a large baking dish. assemble each enchilada separately by laying the first tortilla in the baking dish, wetting it with the sauce. spoon 1/8 of the sweet potato mixture down the center and top with 1/8 of the black bean mixture. wrap and roll to the end of the baking dish, and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
4. spoon any leftover mixture around the sides, top with a generous coating of the chile sauce, and sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
5. bake for 20-25 minutes or until they're piping hot and sauce is bubbling around the edges. mid-way through, we topped with a little bit of chile sauce to keep the flour tortillas from drying out (not sure if this is an issue with corn, but you might want to just check).
even though i wasn't on my blog doesn't mean i wasn't actually cooking and taking photographs. i actually have quite a few photographs of some tasty meals that i'm going through now, some very good, indeed.
then there is this one that i remember being very tasty, but for the life of me i can't remember where i got the recipe from and i've looked everywhere. you can google something like fish, fennel, orange and get a recipe or two to try out. but none of them were the one i used. besides the tomato base it also looks like there is some sliced potatoes in there, too. i wish i could remember as fennel is one of my favorite vegetables!
and here's another origins unknown photo. although i remember that this one wasn't from a recipe, but just a dish that we created. evidently we must have been in a tomato phase, even though these were both made in the dead of winter. so much for seasonality! but a sauce of chopped carrots, onions, and tomatoes over grilled chicken and topped with capers -- not sure how exactly we made it, but still looks tasty!
what a start to 2010! so far, half the year was spent working in haiti, alongside some incredibly dedicated people trying to protect the children in their communities. it’s always the people that i meet and work with that keeps me wanting to go back out for more. many of you ask me what it was like there; here’s one story.
when i was there in february, the scenes of huge piles of concrete rubble and the wrenching stories you'd hear were always worse than whatever i saw or heard on television. it’s one thing to hear about 100 nurses who died as they were in a training; it’s another thing to be hearing the story as you're standing next to the collapsed building that still entombs them under rubble and dust. my driver showed me photographs he kept in the glove compartment of his fiancée who died in the earthquake; he showed me where his house once stood, and now these photos that he salvaged from the rubble was his consolation.
as an expat bystander the whole atmosphere wasn’t so much depressing, as just chaotic and overwhelming – only so many ways to help, only so much resources, but everywhere you drove by were immense needs not being met. signs made out of bed sheets, pleading for food, water, and medicine. and when the heavy rains came, it brought relief from the heat, but you knew it brought muddy misery and drenched nights for the thousands others not as lucky to have shelter.
and the fear that lingered in the beating roar from the chopper blades of every helicopter overhead, or the deep vibrations that shook the walls when each mack truck rumbled along on the street, not to mention the real aftershocks that happened on a regular basis. everyone ran in panic, or just stood there frozen, feverishly hoping that this, too, shall pass.
then i went back in april, and the scenes were still the same – everywhere were still huge piles of concrete rubble and twisted rusted metal. nearly everywhere were colorful buildings partially collapsed that still looked ready to tumble into the road, and onto people, any minute. i can't even come close to adequately describing the panorama of physical destruction that still dominates the landscape.
and almost everywhere were those blue and gray plastic tent cities (bed sheet cities for those still not as lucky to have shelter), people camped out with barely nothing, or people being moved by the government to where there was even less – to huge barren fields of gravel with no green trees or natural sources of water, under the hot haitian sun.
the streets of port au prince were choked again with colorful tap-taps, careening trucks, motorbikes, people, mounds of trash, and stray dogs – everything kicking up dust and filling the city's winding mountainous streets with a crash course just waiting to happen.
but one thing was different about the street scenes this time, and you immediately noticed it. as we drove to the office at 7am, you now saw children in bright uniforms, smartly pressed. boys with neat haircuts and girls with pigtails and braids with big plastic colorful barrettes and ties. all wearing a backpack, often too big for their little bodies, and sometimes carrying a lunch bag, too. walking with their caregiver (here in haiti you can never assume that adult is necessarily the child’s parent), or maybe walking with their older sibling, carefully navigating between all the traffic and other people, and on their way back to school.
it’s a naïve cliché to smile at the sight and sounds of small children on their way to school, brightly dressed. but here in haiti, you can’t help yourself.
because you take in this scene like a colorful breath of fresh air amongst all the panorama of gray rubble. even after i kept seeing it every morning, i kept breathing it in, and nothing could temper my feeling that things are going to be ok.
well, alright i admit that often i started thinking about the fact that in haiti only about 50% of children get to go to school, and about 85% of those lucky children must come from families with enough income to send them to private schools because the government so horribly fails at providing anything for its children. and don’t compare that statistic to the public vs. private school debate in the US, because i’m not talking about differences in the quality of instruction; in fact, many haitian private schools are sub-standard compared to public. i mean that the haitian government can’t even provide the basic physical structure of a school and fill them with teachers, and so for families there is no other “choice” than private.
so while i marveled at the children on their way to school, i understood that i was only witnessing half of the situation, and that for 50% of the other children here in haiti, their reality is much more heartbreaking and their future much less bright.
but when you’re surrounded by destruction, you’ll take that dream, even when you know it’s only half realized. i left haiti last week with those same mixed feelings (can’t wait to get back to a nice shower! but i will miss all the work and everyone i worked with!), but this time i left with an image of hope i didn’t have before. i can’t wait to see what new scenes await for me when i go back again.
the holidays were quiet at the mimis, in a new city without having many new friends yet. i don't feel quite at home, yet. my stuff is here, but it still doesn't seem like something i can really nestle into (which only makes it worse to own so much stuff). i had the small epiphany that for every other apartment we've lived in, we always made sure to paint the walls of each room before moving in. i always thought it made the rooms show off our personality, and i guess now that my walls here are pure white, a palette of color made those old apartments feel like home, too.
but i'm too lazy (and uncertain of the future) to take the time and effort to paint the walls now that we've moved in. the only way to create some sense of comfort is in our cooking. so we decided that for both christmas and new year's eve, we would stay inside, trying to recreate the warmth of home with dinners that would hopefully make us feel like there was nowhere else to be.
we originally had this idea of crab stuffed sole for christmas eve, but when we got to whole foods (sadly, we haven't found a "real" fish monger here in DC, yet. we miss blue moon!) the turbot looked unbelievably fresh, as if you could eat it as sashimi. mr. mimi's dictum is always buy the freshest looking fish, even if it isn't what you thought of making. so we bought a fillet and crusted it with some lemon breading, broiled with white wine, and garnished with capers and chives.
for new year's eve, it was the rack of lamb that was looking the freshest that afternoon and who am i to refuse a beautiful rack! i guess i'm making up for all those years i didn't eat any, but i just love lamb.we cooked this up with a port wine reduction glaze, with deep roasted garlic and rosemary. it was all so rich and delicious, for a moment there, it almost felt like home again.
milo loves lamb, too.