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From Within A State of Confusion

From Within A State of Confusion

Life in Italy has been interesting! Last night, we had a small dinner gathering; four of us, from Istanbul, New York, London and Paris, who have been living here in Italy for different periods. Inevitably the conversation turned to a discussion of the very different outlooks here compared to where we all come from respectively. While many things may be ambiguous, one thing is very certain - food here is ah-mazing!!! It rocks my socks off everyday and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of the regional Italian food. 

And, in that spirit, today's recipe is one of my favorites. One I remembered today because today is market day and this was made on the last weekend market day I spent in NYC in September! :)

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Here is to another week!

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries

Last week was an interesting one! Between

cooking with Chef Elizabeth Falkner

and attending my first ever weekend

hackathon

focused on using technology to solve the issues in food servicing, I thought I had enough adrenalin pushing things on the menu. So, when Sunday evening rolled in, I was hardly expecting any more excitement. Yet, at about 6pm you would have seen me smiling like a mad scientist and running about with camera to capture what I was sure to be illusionary.

Well, it all started rather peacefully. Wait, let me backtrack. I have a history of being a black thumb. I have a strong propensity to kill plants. Over the last few years, I have sporadically attempted to grow herbs and other small plants in my kitchen sill. Every single one of them promptly left for a better place. I never knew why. Originally, it was not watering and then it was too much of water. Anyway, this Summer when I decided I would try again, it was only with cautious hope but abundant optimism that a new surrounding would make a difference. So, very very slowly I started populating the fire escape landing outside the window. This is urban gardening! Any 'outdoor' space is game for it.

Herbs
Squash and peas

I bought seedlings of basil, thyme and parsley and replanted them into a long pot; rosemary into another. Seeds of squash and pea in another long pot, left patiently to germinate. I did make a mistake here, which, I will tell you about shortly. Everyday in the morning, I would pull back the curtain and peek nervously to make sure, they look alive and with look longingly at the pot with the seeds to tell me they were ok. Then the basil started growing and I learned to trim and keep it growing and not let it prematurely flower. Then one day, tiny little seedling started emerging in the squash and pea pots. I was super excited. All was going well in the world!

Then came the torrential rains here. As the winds and rains lashed against my window in the night, I barely slept in trepidation of the carnage I expected to find in the balcony the next morning. As soon as dawn broke, I peeked out. Imagine my surprise, when I found that my plants were still rooted, bravely defying the forces and courageously instilling faith in me. I was absolutely gratified. That emotion is hard to describe really. After years of not being successful in the green stuff, I had not expected this much success. I am getting used to nipping to the balcony, plucking some fresh leaves and deeply inhaling their aroma before perfuming my food with their divine flavor. They even seem to taste better than the store ones.

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries
Basil + Thyme
Seedlings and Rosemary

I did have a tiny issue. The seedlings and herbs were planted in the wrong pot. In my inexperience, I choose a long container that is typically used for overhang for window sills and for pot to sit within. So, it not have drainage. My pots with plants were water logged and bloated. So, I went in with a screw driver and punched some holes. It was a shoddy job that somewhat helped I think. The soil had been loosened by the water and it was easier to stick my hand through it. Yet, I wasn't able to do much with the herb pot because the soil had been bound more with the roots of the plant. I did what I could and let it be.

Over the next few days, the excess water dried out but so was my parsley plant. It had been abundant and thriving before the storm. It was turning yellow very fast now though. Google gardeners said that was possibly water logging. I accepted my mistake and took responsibility for my idiotic choice of planter. I left it to fate to see if it could be salvaged at all or it would simply die away. I had made peace. Except, over the last two days, I saw fresh green leaves peeking through. My heart skipped and I let it be.

Yesterday, I was spending some quiet time with myself in the garden, repotting this, fixing some anchors for the peas to creep on, water the pots after yet another parching day. Whatever they say about gardening is true. It is very, very, very relaxing. Somehow, the mind shuts off. It takes you to a different zone. I didn't think it would do this and I wrote off people who said that. Last evening was the first I let myself realize how much space the activity creates within me.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

So, there I was looking at the fruits of the labor, quietly contemplating about nothing, and, in general, just being, when it struck me that I should trim the dead leaves off the parsley. In I went with my mini-shears, snipping away the brown stems when I stopped suddenly as I spied some creepy crawly things clinging to the plant, three of them with bands of yellow, green and black. I was really annoyed and ran back to my desk to find out what to do with the pesky pests. What a surprise, when I found that they were actually butterfly caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail family. Ok, it is still theoretically a pest. It is going to eat my parsley. But, the way I see it. It is another harmless and gorgeous life form I am sustaining in my tiny garden. It is validation for me. That's all. Where I thought the experiment would bear me nothing, I have two different life forms thriving!!!

I am so so so so delighted! Thats all! I just wanted to share that energy and happiness with you as we start the week!

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries
Seedlings - Squash and pea

Do you have a garden story? Do share! I am all about hearing learning more and also let me know if you have suggestions for what else I can grow in small spaces.

Before I go, I have a recipe here too. One for a simple and hearty meal that is very versatile. At the very basics, it is a grain, sausage, herb and fruit dish. The types of these four ingredients can vary with the season from light and refreshing like now to hearty and meaty in the colder months. Also, a lot of the flavor comes from the pesto used in the dish. It doesn't have to be the traditional basil one. Use whatever you have made. I had on hand one I had made using avocado, radish leaves and a little basil. It just needs to have some green/herb component, fat (oil) and a little nuts. It is quick enough for a weeknight dinner (under 40 minutes!) and undeniably satisfying.

Before you go,

Check out my recap on a recent cooking class with a recipe for BAKED CHICKEN ROULADE WITH FENNEL, PARSLEY AND CHEDDAR.


Pesto Rice with Braised Sausage and Blueberries

{This recipe serves 2. Simply scale for more people}

1 cup brown or wild rice or barley

2-1/2 cups broth

1/2 cup white wine

3 T fresh pesto

2-3 sausages, meat, chicken or seafood

handful of blueberries (or sliced peaches, ripe cherries)

2 sprigs of thyme

basil to garnish

Drizzle a little oil in a pan and place the sausages in one layer. Pour the wine over and bake for 30 minutes at 400F until cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice in the broth. Leave it on the slightly wetter side, risotto consistency. Trace the pesto through the rice.

Then, divide the rice into bowls. Top with sliced sausage and garnish with blueberries (or other fruit) and touch of fresh basil or parsley or purslane.

Serve immediately.

Poached Egg, Spicy Sausage and Grits with Porcini Mushroom and Wine Reduction - Daring Cooks

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I love weekend meals. For the simple fact that you can make even a simple meal special with a little bit of thought and not a lot of elaboration! :) This last week has been a very packed one. With the weekend looking even busier, I woke up Saturday morning with thoughts of a simple, soul-touching meal.

Then I remembered that I had yet to make my Daring Cooks entry. Fortunately, it was one that I could tackle last minute and yet work into my plans for the day. Poaching eggs is tricky but doable and I had done it before. In fact, my last post included one.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

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My real challenge this time was to figure out how to take it to the next level. I have to say, I love hollandaise but I really had no plans for using up all those egg whites that making the sauce would generate. Besides, it didn't quite fit my easy but hearty lunch idea.

So, I fell back to one of my favorites; Grits! I mean, how much more soul can one want??! :D, especially with generous additions of goat cheese. To balance its creaminess, I layered spicy sausages and then topped it with a poached egg. To make it more fun, I made a porcini mushroom, wine and stock reduction that lent a smooth finish to the dish.

I love breaking the delicate white of a poached egg and watching the yolk gracefully oozing out onto the grits. And, of the flavors! of the creamy yolk with the lighter grits cut by the sharp spice of the sausage. It was the perfect lunch on a Saturday afternoon that was to be followed by much hectic chaos! :)

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Apples all the way - Beef Roulade with Apple Parsley Root Puree

Beef Roulade

My! Is it raining apples around here or what?! For the last few weeks, I have been receiving a generous portion of apples from my CSA. Now, I have enough at home to have my own farm! No, I am not kidding. Although, I grew up with the famous adage "An apple a day....", I am not much of an apple-in-the-fruit-form eating person.

I had to come with with ways of consuming the fruit before they went beyond the point of salvage. They are gorgeous fruit and it would be a sin to let them go. So, I made Apple Angel Cake that made my neighbors happy and an apple tart. I also made jars of apple sauce.

After a bit, we got rather tired of all the sugar and I racked my brains to come up with savory uses for the fruit. One brainwave resulted in a Salad with water cress, slivered apples, shaved celery and prosciutto with goat cheese and a lemon dressing.

Beef Roulade close up

A few days back, I was in the mood for something more elaborate. I toyed with the idea of stuffing meat with fruit. Not novelle, but the idea captured my fancy. For the protein, I chose beef, just because I hadn't eaten it in a while. :) Hence, was hatched the scheme for a Beef Roulade.

Btw, did you know, they sell pounded out beef in the super market? I was thinking I would have to use my own muscle when I found a cut called Brasciola (which is also the name of an Italian dish) that was just perfect for my purpose.

Beef Roulade 1

I wrapped the meat around goat cheese, apples and chorizo and baked it for just a bit and served with a refreshing Apple and Parsley Root Puree, drizzled with spicy bechemel sauce. It was lovely!

The apples add moisture and infuse flavor and chorizo makes sure that the dish isn't too sweet while adding it's own punch of flavor. The cut of meat is not very flavorful by itself, but works as a good vehicle to deliver the flavors of the stuffing.

Oh! And, yesterday, I made this, an Apple and Red Grape Cobbler. Yes, I know. A bit of sweet again and but not by much. And, it's gluten free! :)

Apple & Red Grape (gluten free) Cobbler

For more apple recipes, click here



Beef Roulade

1/2 lb thinly sliced beef, Brasciola cut
2 oz goat cheese, room temperature
1 Macintosh apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 chorizo link, casing removed (you can also use hot Italian sausages)
1/2 medium onion
1 clove of garlic
salt, pepper and oil as needed

Heat some oil in a pan, saute the onions and garlic until soft. Add the sausage meat and saute over low until cooked completely. Set aside to cool for a bit.

Meanwhile, arrange the beef in one layer and season both sides with salt and pepper. Spread the goat cheese over the beef evenly and arrange the apple slices over it. Next, spread the cooled chorizo mixture.

Starting from the end closest to you, roll the beef tightly to form a roulade. Tuck in any stuffing that may have oozed out. Gently transfer to an oiled oven-proof dish. Bake at 400F for 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on it as it cooks really fast.

Remove from pan, slice and place over apple-parley root puree. Garnish with fresh parsley and drizzle Bechamel sauce and serve.



Apple and Parsley Root Puree

1 small ripe mackintosh apple, peeled, cored, cubed
1 root of parsley, cleaned and boiled
1 T cream

Whip everything together to a puree. Season with salt and pepper as needed



Bechamel Sauce

Recipe here. I used the oil from the sausage as the fat for the roux.


For more apple recipes, click here

Filipino Chorizo Croquetas for Kulinarya Cooking Club

Filipino Croquetas

Finger food = Happiness. Really, nothing like dipping a nice deep fried tidbit into sauce, biting into the succulent sauce drenched part, savoring the warmth and flavor and repeating the process without a care for double dipping etiquette ;-). But, the best part is licking your fingers when the plate is cleaned out and reliving the flavors in those tiny remnants... :)

This weekend, I threw caution and all morbid thoughts of the weighing scale to the winds and unwound at home with plates of nice fried food. Some spicy Indian and some intensely Spanish influenced but with the Asian twist. And, in just perfect timing for this month's Kulinarya theme which was to make Filipino-Spanish dishes. Thanks to Ziggy from My Filipino Kitchen and AC from Acdee for this wonderful theme.

Filipino Croquetas top view

I have to say, when I first saw the theme I was bit stumped. I had decided that I didn't want to make sweet dishes for this challenge and that left me with a lot of research to do and much looking around and learning about the cuisine, which, I suspect was the intention of the theme-givers! :)

I shortlisted quite a few dishes. I mean the list of Spanish influenced dishes in Filipino cuisine is long indeed. That is just the ones that perhaps are more common and don't have very Filipinised names. I wonder at how many savor on behind the cloak of ethnic names!

Filipino Croquetas 1

Anyway, after musing much over AdoboEstofadoBicol Express and so many more mouthwatering dishes, I finally settled on making the Filipino version of Spanish Croquettes. My reasons were two fold - one I was already itching towards making something fried after almost a year of abstinence on that regard and two - we had tasted bacalau croquettes in Brazil and loved them despite my abhorrence of dried fish.

So, in a quest to relive memories, satiate desire and fulfill a challenge, I made my version of

Filipino Chorizo Croquetas! The Filipino version is distinctive in using a mix of potatoes and meat for the filling rather than the Béchamel sauce used in Spanish versions. My interpretation uses both taters and sauce in the filling. It's a simple to make and a delight to keep on eating :))


Filipino Chorizo Croquetas

2-3 medium yukon potatoes, boiled

2 chorizo links, casing removed

1/2 large spanish onion, diced fine

2 cloves of garlic, mined

3 T Béchamel sauce

(I used the sausage renderings for the fat to add flavor)

1 cup bread crumbs

salt, pepper and oil as needed

Oil for frying

 

In a little oil, saute the onions and garlic until softened. Add the ground chorizo and cook until done. Season appropriately. Let cool until you can work with it.

Meanwhile, mash the boiled potatoes into small chunks. Add the cooled meat mixture to it and incorporate well. It will be a flaky mixture. Add the Béchamel sauce and about 3 tablespoons cup of breadcrumbs and combine well. The mixture will still be slightly wet.

Heat the oil in the frying pan to 350F. When ready, shape the croqueta filling into cylinders and roll in bread crumbs to coat completely. Fry in oil until golden brown all over.

Serve with spiced Béchamel sauce and ketchup!


Kulinarya was started by a group of Filipino foodies living in Sydney, who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colourful cuisine.

Each month we will showcase a new dish. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino Food as we do.

If you’re interested in joining the Kulinarya Cooking Club, please leave a comment in this post. Also, check out the  KCC Facebook page for news, updates and to browse through what everyone in the club created this month.

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Share your creations tagging @ashafsk on Instagram and hashtag #MadeFromFSK