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Missed me? Good. I missed you, too. All the writing I’d done over the last year and a half about my love for cooking, and my dream to turn this passion into a bill-paying hobby now has come to fruition. The fact I’m here so seldom these days is due to my fully booked schedule. Yoohoo!
Last month I was working closely with my dear friend and a talented vegan chef, Melissa Costello of KarmaChow, on a project that involved cooking three meals a day for a group of 15 people over a period of three weeks. You can imagine our hands were full. However, I returned home with a roster of recipes that will serve as an inspiration to my own meals that I’ll then exhibit on these pages for you to enjoy.
Instead of a recipe, however, today I want to introduce you all to an Australian food stylist and a celebrity chef, Donna Hay. OK, some of you may not be that impressed as you and Donna go way back. Good for you! I myself, however, only discovered her last year, and, what can I say, I was head over heals for the Aussie gal and her culinary chops.
There are books, videos, an Australian TV show on food styling, and the magazine I’m a fan of. Only six or seven issues a year, which come to America with an irritating delay. Nonetheless, I am able to snatch each one every two months or so from my local Barnes & Noble. And so can you. I invite you to look through its pages for not only a gold mine of brand new recipes, but also the stylings of the dishes Donna and her team put together. Her signature color, pale blue, transcends across most of the recipes creating a casual, somewhat relaxing, and yet very elegant image. Juxtaposed against that gently humming background are vibrant reds, greens and yellows that make all dishes presented jump out of the pages. Literally! The arrangements on plates are an artistic expression in its own right. Simplicity screams through all Donna’s creations. Each element on the plate is exposed while being a coherent part of the entire dish, and yet there’s no chaos. Brilliant!
Even Oprah (I can’t believe I’m mentioning her visit to Australia once again, as if there wasn’t enough talk about it already) knew who to call when in the Aussie Land in order to have a feast of senses of her life…
It’s only fair to mention that my attitude towards Oprah is rather bitter-sweet, to put it mildly. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with BITTER-SWEET, especially when it comes to such chocolate bites sprinkled over thick slices of French Brie and topped with fresh basil chiffonade, then enclosed within two crispy slices of sourdough bread and melted in a panini maker. Aha! That’s a little secret I know from my gal, Giada De Laurentiis, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me spilling the beans.
And just like that I snuck in a recipe. A little bonus before I get down to sharing more of my own culinary tips and ideas. Check out the Australian cook extraordinaire and try something new today. Let your curiosity be stirred and your taste buds tickled. Always try to use the best, the purest, the freshest ingredients, and the pay off will be ongoing though your lasting satisfaction, infectious happiness, and vitality!
Last night I made a pot of lentil soup and added so much dill in the end that I pushed my lentils over the edge into a full on identity crisis. WHAT ARE WE? A LENTIL SOUP OR A DILL SOUP, DAMMIT! Jason loved it despite the boycott in the bowl. The rebel however continued within his intestines and made itself heard throughout the evening.
I wasn’t spared either. The anger of the lentils caught up with me this morning, and let me just say I’m glad the Earth shook in Baja two days ago, and not today. Otherwise I would have to take the responsibility. The only one I had to give personal apologies to this morning was Cosmo, who at some point lifted himself from his third nap today, gave me—let’s call it—a disappointed look, and rushed to the other room to pack his bags. I’M OUTTA HERE!
I think I’ll stick to the simple greens today.
My passion for edible weeds makes even more sense when you look into my family history. My mother back in her teenage days was a fearless daredevil. Let’s see. For a bar of chocolate she:
- climbed a 3-storey building up its lightening-rod only to be later rescued by fire marshals as she was too terrified to repel;
- walked across a cemetery at midnight, while her guy friends (“Those idiots!”) hid behind the graves only to appear in their ghostly, white bed sheets in front of my chocolate-driven teenage mother;
- wrote 24 different essays for her classmates thus fulfilling their home work; (The teacher was no fool—she got an F for cheating and an A for creativity and hard work.)
- played goats with her friend where they roamed a green meadow on all fours while grazing and chewing on juicy grass and wild flowers.
Come to think of it, all this could explain way more then merely my ecological sentiments. However, one thing must be clarified. My dear mother was growing up in post-war Poland (in the 50’s and 60’s). Hence, her chocolate bar then was your safe Toyota today, just as hard to come about.
Anyways, my battered insides are fully functional again and asking for a fresh, non-lentil food supply. Come and check out my refrigerator to see what we’re having for lunch:
- Mixed greens (duh)
- Shredded white cabbage
- Micro greens
- Fresh dill
- Fresh basil
- Half of an avocado
- Green Apple
- Walnuts (toasted)
Brilliant. Let’s quickly whisk simple vinaigrette: extra virgin olive oil (3 parts), apple cider vinegar (1 part), Dijon mustard (1 tsp), honey (1 tbsp), and a reasonable amount of sea salt and pepper. Taste, approve, and pour over all the GREEN MEADOW of your bowl. Please, make sure you chop the stuff before tossing into the dish, OK? We are making a GREEN APPLE SALAD after all.
Happy grazing everybody. I have lunch plans with my fellow goat. BBBLLEEEAAATT!
Valentine’s, shmalentines. If he loves you, you better not let him get away with a lousy bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates once a year. I’m saying “HE” as I have a “HE”. Your SHE is to express her love for you just as spontaneously and uncontrollably as my HE. And he does. Jason doesn’t buy me flowers for any specific occasions. He shows up at the threshold of our home with a fragrant bomb of fresh flowers whenever I reach the darkest depth of despair. (In other words, I’m feeling low.)
We also have established a versatile set of I-love-yous: for Good Morning and Good Bye; Thank you, Baby, I-love-you; on the phone: I’ll talk to you later, I-love-you; when experiencing sudden ebb of chest-expanding feelings unrelated to moon phases: I LOVE YOU! And last but not least, at night, after wishing each other sweet dreams back and forth three times and in 2 languages, he whispers into my ear with a perfect Polish accent: KOCHAM CIE [pronounced: koh-hahm tchyeh, more or less].
Love has settled like dust in every corner of our house. It oozes out of every steaming pot of food I make, it comforts our bare feet as we walk on our vacuumed carpets, it forgives the dances in the nude, it folds loads of laundry, and it tries really hard to ignore the soundtrack of cheerful and very confident farts in the background after one of those healthy meals. Love is always in the AIR. How timely for Sade to release a brand new album after close to a decade!
See, we don’t really feel the need to exchange Valentine’s cards. We both feel loved twentyfourseven on any given calendar day. It just so happened that we spent the Valentine’s Day this year in one of the most romantic destinations in the US – Napa Valley.
Jason was summoned to San Francisco for work this past weekend, and I simply tagged along. There was no Valentine’s Day plotting involved, no romance a’la carte.
As he was done with his duties on Sunday, we rented a car and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to visit both Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
It seems as the time stops up north. The Sun and Earth are still happily married and continue to bear their offspring across the golden fields and rolling hills. We stood on the side of a road and witnessed their bond, inhaled the love heavily sprayed in the air by ubiquitous blooming flowers, heard the birds exchange their KOCHAM CIE’s in their own tongue, and we were silent.
Now, do you still need a Valentine’s card? Or maybe that’s just us. I did, however, make a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE for my coworkers, with a drizzle of RASPBERRY SAUCE. Oh, heavens! Chocolate and fresh raspberries together truly is a marriage made in heaven, or in the garden if you must. The sweet but tart flavor of the sauce strikes against the depth of the chocolate comfort, thus sending a ticklish shiver down one’s spine. If there is food with orgasmic qualities, this dessert certainly represents that group honorably.
Let me walk you through the few steps the cake requires. If you are organized, you will have made the cake and cleaned up the kitchen within one short hour. I use only organic ingredients. If they are not easily available in your area, at least choose the best quality items. It is worth it.
- 5 egg yolks
- 5 egg whites
- 1 stick of butter
- 5 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
- 1/2 tsp instant coffee
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Draw a 9” circle on a sheet of parchment paper and cut it out. Spray the bottom of a 9” round baking sheet with a non-stick spray, place the parchment paper in, and spray once again on its surface. Put aside. Preheat your oven to 325°.
In a double boiler melt together chocolate and butter; then add coffee, cardamom, and vanilla, mix well and don’t let it boil. As soon as the mixture is liquid and coherent, take it off the heat and let it cool until the rest of your cake components are ready.
In a large bowl beat together egg whites, using a hand-held mixer, and slowly add half of your sugar and salt. When the egg whites create soft peaks, they’re done. In a separate, smaller bowl beat the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until they form a creamy and tick cream, and sugar is mostly dissolved.
Gently combine the egg yolks and the egg whites together, and slowly start adding your melted chocolate mixture in the eggs. Using a spatula gently fold everything together until it is a coherent chocolaty mass. Do not stir. Do not violently mix it. Simply fold all the elements together, patiently, with love, in one direction. It may take you about 5 minutes.
When the mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared baking pan and put in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes and then remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
It’s best when chilled overnight in a refrigerator and served either with fresh strawberries or my RASPBERRY SAUCE:
Thaw out a bag of frozen raspberries, place them in a small saucepan and add 3-4 tbsp of raw cane sugar (depending on the size of the package). Mix with a wooden spoon, throw in a few springs of fresh mint and let it simmer together for 10-15 minutes. About 5 minutes before it’s finished ad a few drizzles of good balsamic vinegar (1-1.5 tbsp) and mix again. When done, pour the raspberries with all the juices through a sieve to remove all seeds and obtain a perfectly smooth and silky RASPBERRY SAUCE.
I have this ridiculously decadent recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies that Jason won’t let me make… dammit!
He simply doesn’t trust himself around anything chocolate, especially if it’s merged with peanut butter (or even sat next to it for that matter), as he knows both his poise and self-control would instantly strip naked and offer themselves in exchange for the aforementioned delight.
Unfortunately, it puts me in a very awkward situation on days like today when, after 48 hours of mood swings due to estrogen overdose I’m stuck in the wall teeth first… In desperate times nothing can stop me from satisfying my various PMS cravings, plaster included. One day it’s calcium, then iron, and most commonly magnesium. When the levels of the latter deplete, my mind goes blank for a split of a second, and when I recover my senses I realize the control panel in my head has turned on the red emergency light that flashes: CHOCOLATE.
NOTHING will prevent me from finding a piece of chocolate and holding on to it with the whole might of my jaws, like a rat that escaped from a sinking ship clenching to a raft with all that it’s got – nails, tails, teeth, harpoons, anchors, etc. Nothing, not even the stack of brand new jeans (two sizes down from the last pair I purchased mind you!) recently piled up in my closet, will stop me from satisfying THE craving.
Those jeans will stick around and I’m determined to use them as long as they fully cover my ass. One day their status will become a reminder of my “pre-pregnancy weight”. (Thanks, Heather, for your post. I’m learning so much ahead of time!) On those days I’ll be desperate to get the chocolate OUT of the grasp of my jaws, and lock it away in a chocolate jail with no option for a bail out.
Until then, however, play that funky music, white boy! Give me some of that rich and bittersweet chocolaty bite that will melt on my tongue and coat it with sheer satisfaction. I know my heart rate will rise, shivers will run down my spine, and I’ll salivate releasing serotonins that will ultimately take me to the peak of that mountain called O. Meanwhile, perfectly oblivious to all of it, Jason will continue to put out various work related fires instead of going on this hike with me… if you know what I mean.
How might I satiate this craving when the house is chocolate proof and the closest thing to sweets I can find is a half empty jar of Dijon mustard in the refrigerator? My eyes hopelessly slide down the carton of eggs, pickles, sliced turkey, my cheese-less pesto… EGGS! I got it! Suddenly it all comes together and I know what steps to take to get me to my Happy Ending!
The answer is… KOGEL-MOGEL. I’m going back to my roots again. Kogel-Mogel is – I assure you – a real word and not an Agi-ism. It is a Polish name for a kind of mousse we used to make back in the day when sweets were scarce, and all one could find on shelves in a grocery store was vinegar. Yes, it was a very different world from everything you know.
To make Kogel-Mogel you need at least one egg, 2-3 tsp of sugar, and as much of cocoa powder, plus a mug and a teaspoon to mix it all with. If you’re lazy, or want to get fancy, go ahead and grab your handheld mixer – life is hard enough as it is. Now, separate the egg white from the yolk. Save the egg white for later in a closed container inside of your refrigerator. You can use it tomorrow for the Scrambled Eggs with Roasted Acorn Squash for example, or merengues, or whatever else you want.
Drop the egg yolk into the prearranged mug, add the sugar and whip it together using the mixer. It will take a couple of minutes until the sugar is fully incorporated, thus making the egg yolk fluffy and thick at the same time. It will at least double if not triple in volume. Now turn off the mixer and add your cocoa powder (70% and organic is my preference). Whip it again for 30 seconds and YOU ARE DONE, my friend!
Go ahead and lick the mixing whisk… clean it good. You don’t have much in that mug, so take your time and dress your tongue with small servings of the chocolate mousse you’ve just made. Delight in it. Close your eyes, open your mouth and feel the pleasure with all your senses. Start climbing that mountain, and don’t look back. The world will pause and observe with envy as you get higher and higher. Forget the world, let go, breathe, relax, moan, and be free… Experience the O.
I know it’s all supposed to be super healthy-healthy in here, and I’ve been selling you on the premise of keeping our culinary experience well balanced. It’s not that this time will be much different. It’s not that I want to spin you around and flip my whole belief system over night on you BUT: A GIRL NEEDS A CAKE sometimes, too. And today is the day.
I stick to my guns, however, even when I bake. I am on a quest to prove anyone who thinks that a sweet slice of a baked delight is bad for you WRONG. I’m feeling feisty today so don’t come too close, cuz I’ll fight for my right for one more bite (pun intended) and I WILL bite. Bam!
I propose my Almond-Meal Cake with Balsamic Reduction for the weekend. I found a recipe, tested it, tasted it, then tested it on Jason, adjusted it so it fits Agi’s criteria of health and Hallelujah! First of all, the original recipe called for corn meal. However what you are getting from me is an Almond-Meal Cake. Another “improvement” was substituting white flour for a whole-wheat kind. I also used organic butter (the only kind in my refrigerator) and cut down the amount used. Moreover, I chose raw cane sugar over the white processed crap and also reduced it by half. Finally, the eggs I used were organic and came from cage-free and happy chicks.
I’ll make a deal with you, a very sweet one. Along with the cake recipe I’ll share another DOLCE treat, a fruity kind, to keep it all BALANCED. And remember, you do not need to eat the whole cake all at once. That would not be healthy-healthy, not in the least. There’s nothing wrong, however, with a slice here and there to accompany your cup of coffee, or a decaf-skim-extra-hot-green-chai latte.
Enough talk. Roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty. For the ALMOND MEAL CAKE WITH MINT you need to combine dry ingredients first:
- 1/2 cup of fine ground almond meal
- 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of baking powder (aluminum free)
Mix it all in a medium bowl.
Now the wet ingredients:
- 3/4 of a stick of butter (at room temperature)
- 3/4 cup of raw cane sugar
- 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl, add vanilla and mix again.
Next – eggs. Add 2 whole eggs into the wet mix and incorporate with the butter and sugar well. You need 4 more yolks (no whites) to add them separately while mixing each one first with the rest of the wet ingredients.
You’re almost done, but not quite. For that extra aroma add:
- 1 tbsp of lemon zest
- 1 tbsp of minced fresh mint (aha!)
- 1/2 a cup of light sour cream.
Mix all the wet ingredients together. Slowly add the dry mix into the wet mix in 3 batches, making sure to incorporate all elements well.
Pour the batter into a round baking pan, previously greased with butter and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the cake for 35 – 45 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). The cake is done when you dip a toothpick in the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.
In a small pan, mix a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar with a 1/2 cup (or less) cane sugar. Add a sprig or two of fresh mint. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. It will get thicker as it cools. While still hot, pour a teaspoon worth of the reduction over a slice of your cake. Open mouth. Stick out tongue. Pop a piece inside. Smash against the roof of your mouth. HEAVEN!
When you decide to conquer this recipe, I advise you to gather a few good people around and keep them close to your kitchen, just to ensure you don’t devour the entire desert on your own. It’s dangerous, it’s that good!
To satisfy your sweet tooth on all the other days, simply choose fresh fruit and turn the volume up. I’ll give you an example of one of my FRUIT SALADS. Just today I got fresh honeydew at the store and decided to turn it into an after-dinner desert. Since Jason’s parents are in town visiting their son and his woman (moi), I am making an extra effort. (More about that later.)
I cut the fruit in bite size chunks. Then I quartered a few strawberries. All went into a big bowl, topped with a handful of blueberries. (I loved the color combination. It really tickled my esthetic gene.) I sprinkled about a tablespoon of cane sugar over the fruit, added maybe a tablespoon of lemon juice and its zest, minced fresh mint, and topped it all with 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract. Mixed well, I packed in a closed container, and stored it in our refrigerator for a couple of hours.
The lemon juice and the sugar helps the fruit to release juice that will later mix with the other guys. It will coat the fruit chunks with a layer of ambrosial nectar. Mint will accent the flavor and also serve as decoration. It’s a MUST TRY desert. You’re in for a big surprise.
I’m out of here for today. We’re taking J’s folks to the wine country tomorrow for a little vino tasting. I better get my beauty sleep before the trip!