Thursday, April 26, 2012

Walnut polvorones

As good as my mood was on Friday, my sinus infection got much worse on the week end, to the point that I had to resort to some (albeit pretty mild) pain killers. And I spent a lot of time under a towel with my head over a steaming bowl of water and baking soda.

But I had a busy week end planned and no intention of skipping any of the social engagements I had been looking forward to. 

First of all last week the Salone Internazionale del Mobile was held in Milan, the yearly international furniture and design fair that attracts droves of people from all over the world. The main event takes place in the Fiera outside of the city, but for years now the event has started spreading into the city. For a week the town is alive with a buzz, even more so than during the fashion weeks. Every other building host exhibits, installments or events until late into the evening that are often open to the public. It is customary to walk around town and look at what is happening in the world of design, visiting everything from the showrooms of the best known brands to collective exhibits of young, up-and-coming designers and students with their alternative take on living spaces and objects. Music plays, crowds bustle in and out of courtyards following the banners that indicate spaces dedicated to the Fuori Salone (literally Outside of the Fair), which display bizarre creations and lights to attract people like moths.

Like last year, we headed to some of the more alternative areas with the children and spent a nice morning browsing through the beautiful, often thought provoking and sometimes downright ugly creations. The designers are usually willing to talk and explain their idea, the concept behind the object they are presenting and many are more than willing to have children observe and experience their products. The University of Gothenburg, in particular, sponsored a project called Play in Progress, where young designers created furniture remembering their take on it as children. The people at the stand were only too happy to photograph and let our children slide down the coffee table/slide, draw on their double-panel cabinet, hide behind the white curtain that concealed a world of hidden animals on the reverse side and play with the colored strings attached under the dining table (a fun way to entertain kids during long, boring grown up dinners).

Another perk of the week end was my mother in law’s visit. We were all very excited to spend some time together. This also meant F and I could go out to a last-minute dinner organized by friends (who obviously don’t have kids). My dear friend S commented I must have been pretty desperate to get out considering the pain I was in. True. That is when I popped the first pain killer. No sinus infection was going to keep me home with that kind of an opportunity. We had a surprisingly good Mexican meal (for Italian standards, where Mexican is usually synonym for Tex Mex only) and two huge pitchers of passion fruit frozen margaritas… and no worries Mom, I took the medication long before my first drink so it was pretty harmless… but I did warn my dining companions that if I started acting weird they should just take me home. ;o)

Before dinner F and I took a walk in the area, whcih was almost a second home to us in our wilder days… it felt strange yet so familiar to see throngs of people out so late and it made me feel alive and happy. And lemme tell you, you know you haven’t been out for a while when the night vendors are selling Chinese crap that you have never seen before.  

I made these cookies to bring to a get-together on Sunday with a bunch of friends with kids to wish my dear friend C good luck for her labor induction (she ended up giving birth to a healthy baby girl Tuesday at dawn).

I saw these a while back on a Scarletta Bakes, a blog I adore because of the great recipes, the photography and the fact that she always has me laughing out loud. I bookmarked them because I fell in love with them the minute I saw them. They are as delicious and crumbly and buttery as they look. They are quick and simple (my favorite two words, I know, but so true) and you can make them in two steps if you are busy. Also, you cannot but help getting a little excited when you coat them with your finger tips in all that powdered sugar, making you feel like an authentic Andalusian or Mexican abuela.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Artichoke, feta and sundried tomato bruschetta

It is Friday and spirits are high.

To tell you the truth, I am dealing with my first-ever sinus infection and I feel like my whole face is a time bomb waiting to explode, but the week end is nearing, tomorrow evening F and I are going out on the town with friends and after two weeks of rain the weather should be getting better. So I am a happy gal.

This week end I am leaving you with a recipe for a delicously addictive bruschetta (pronounced brusketta, not brushetta please!) that you can easily store in your pantry for whenever the craving hits or unexpected guests ring your door bell.  Well, to be honest it is not technically bruschetta, because it does not involve garlic, fresh tomatoes and copious amounts of delicious extra virgin olive oil etc. But there certainly is a crunch and lots of flavor. You can have it with a salad for a light lunch or prepare it alongside other dishes if you are planning a brunch. You can make it bite size and serve it with drinks for an aperitivo. You can eat the leftovers with a spoon directly out of a bowl standing in front of your fridge at 3:00a.m. for all I care.  
Just make it! Have a great week end.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chocolate mousse cake (gluten free)... or chocolate mousse


Anybody out there?

Hoooooney, I'm hooooome!

Thought I was eaten by a bear in the mountains? Was snowed in (a concrete possibility given the weather we had over Easter)? Hit by an avalanche?

Sort of.

Snow? No.

Boiled eggs? Yes.

Dye, stickers, baskets? Yes.

Chocolate eggs, bunnies, chicks and any other barnyard animal you can conjure? Yes.

Bathing suits, t-shirts, snow suits, ski boots? Yes.

Diapers, dummies, bibs, baby clothes? Yes.
(no, I am not pregnant, in case you were wondering)

Work? Yes.

More work? Yes.

Kleenex? Yes.

Let's just say that after a few pretty intense and difficult months in the office involving unions and lawyers, we reached a turning point last week. Good for some, better for others, worse for a few unfortunately. It has been tough and it is over now, but it will take a while to get back to normal.

Then I had a lovely but unexpected houseguest staying with us.

Then we left for the mountains and, although really nice, it as usual involved way too many eggs and suitcases.

I came back to the tail of the office drama, and an extra pretty big work project on the side.

And a horrendous cold, the kind you get once every 18 months that leaves you in a wheezing, oozing, coughing, lump on the floor.
Oh and then, minor detail, I had my best friend's baby shower on Saturday.

So, yes, I was hit by an avalanche of sorts.

I still have a bit of a cold, we had a really lovely time in the mountains and I shocked my friend out of her maternity compression socks when a few out-of-towners showed up at her surprise baby shower. And let me add that, even if many of us didn't know each other, we did not need the tahini, peanut butter, Nutella and green curry paste filled diapers or the toilet paper to break the ice.

So all is well that ends well.

Once again, Nigella Lawson saved the day when it came to making some goodies for the shower.

I used her cut-out biscuit recipe to make pink glazed bear and rocking horse shaped cookies.*

I also made her chocolate mousse cake, because you can't put 12 girls in a room and not make something chocolate, right?

I loved this recipe the minute I read it for three reasons:

1) I had tons of Easter chocolate that I was dying to use up.

2) I loved that you can get two desserts out of one recipe: if you bake it with a water bath you get this lovely cake, but if you simply put the chocolate mixture in the fridge to set, it is a luscious chocolate mousse. I went for the cake because for obvious reasons, I didn't want to serve raw eggs.

3) Two of my guests were gluten intolerant and this made for a perfect dessert.

It is quick to prepare and quite forgiving: I overbeat the egg whites and added in the milk chocolate later without a hitch.

* the horses were finished with strawberry sugar a dear friend/family member makes along with a whole range of amazing sugars and salts. She just sent me an incredible sample box and some recipes to try them with, so you will be hearing more of her. People of NYC, I will let you know where you can buy her products asap. They are absolutely out of this world, the most incredible and enticing flavors, colors and combinations you could imagine.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

No-knead whole wheat ciabatta... and more

You may have noticed I am not partial to food fads.

I do not bake macarons (there is an element of fear, I admit it, but there is also only so much foot talk I can stand - unless you are Dr. Seuss ).

I have never dreamed of making cake pops (yawn again).

I only really bake cupcakes for the kids and not very often at that.

I don't make Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter treats ahead of time to post about because honestly I am just too distracted with life to get my act together on time. But hey, you never know, maybe next year.

I don't cook things involving Gs (green, Guinness) for St. Patrick's day or hearts, pink and red for Valentine's Day.

I will admit I am intrigued by little-house-in-the-prairie-like endeavours such as curing meat, making my own cheese, yogurt or  sourdough bread. But these are just more things that require planning, focus and time. And that is why I finally gave in to another food fad, the mother of all food fads actually: no knead bread.

Ever since my bread machine broke quite a while back, I have been thinking of making my own bread. Then came the never ending blog posts about no-knead bread and then came my beloved Le Creuset. I knew I would make it at some point, but I just couldn't get myself to become the twentieth food blogger that week to write about the same thing. I knew I would bore you and myself to tears. I had to let it sit a while before getting excited about it again.

Well, apparently the time had come because when I was roasting the eggplant for my last recipe on the week end, I knew I wanted to make some fabulously crusty bread to eat it with. I had the time, a whole night ahead of me. Perfect.

I used whole wheat but you can use a mix or white flour of course.

And thus, this lovely loaf was born, with really no effort at all. The next time I will have my kids make it, honestly. It is that easy. You just need time and patience.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baba ghanoush or...

When the wisteria outside of my kitchen window starts blooming, I know spring is finally here.

I invariably start craving more vegetables and healthier and lighter meals.

Spring is a time to enjoy the longer evenings, sipping white wine in front of open windows with friends. Or to stare up at the clear blue skies from your picnic blanket before the hot stickiness and mosquitoes of the metropolitan summer hit full force.

Dips are the ideal addition to this kind of gathering, delicious concoctions to smear on bread, scoop up with crunchy vegetables and chips or eat with a spoon directly out of the bowl once the guests have gone (if you are actually lucky enough to have leftovers).

Oh, and of course dips are my kind of thing right now: the less I chew these days the better.

This is a Levantine classic, along with other favorites like hummus. It calls for the same traditional base: garlic, tahini and lemon juice. There infinite versions: you can add cumin, vinegar or herbs like mint or parsley. You can dress it with a mix of olive oil and pomegranate concentrate/molasses or just drizzle it with some olive oil and paprika. In some countries it is eaten as a starter or a meze, while in others - like Egypt - it is a side dish.

Not only are the versions infinite, but also its spelling, local variations and translations. 

- Spelling: Baba ghanoush, Baba ghannouj, Baba ganoush, Babaganoush, Baba ganush, Baba ghannoug, Babba ghannoj, Abu gannoush (Abu being another word for Daddy, like Baba)

- Translations: spoiled Daddy, cuddly Daddy, cuddling Daddy

- Variations: Blagadoush (Ethiopia), Baingan ka bhurta (India and Pakistan), Salata de vinete (Romania), Kyopolou (Bulgaria), Melitzanosalata (Greece), Patlican salatasi (Turkey)

I could probably start an endless debate by asking what the right way to spell it, make it or translate it is. I won’t, although I will be more than happy to read your five cents in the comments.

Make it however you want to, spell it however you like, it is so easy and good, you probably won’t go out and buy it anymore.