Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Not-Too-Guilty Sugar Fix

Let me first just take a moment here, dear readers. I just saw Adam and Chris sing with QUEEN! Weeeeeeeeeee are the CHAMPIONS! What?!!!! I'm feeling giddy! Grinning like a lunatic! Does anyone else think that Adam sounds a lot like the late, great Freddie Mercury? Don't worry, I won't spoil the ending of American Idol for any of you who have Tivo-d it. All I'll say is this ... why is the first single that every Idol has to sing after they win, so lame?!

Back to the dramedy that is my life. DH is on vacation, which, up to now, involves a lot of staying up till the wee hours and waking up embarrassingly late. Also, for some reason that defies female logic, being on vacation for him also equates to not shaving his face. Even though he knows I find him irresistable clean shaven, when he's off from work he proudly struts his scruffy stubble. Ozzy is really happy to have DH home too - follows him all over the house, mewling like the adorable kitty that he is (mostly trying to emotionally blackmail DH into giving him more food, fat cat!). Good food for DH and I is a highlight of this vacation too, of course (but we don't really have to be on vacation for that!). It's always a challenge to find new desserts that suit both mine and DH's sweet tooth. But this new dessert recipe I tried hit the right spot for us both. Not only is it one of the most gorgeous things you'll see, but it also surprised me by being dayyum good, and it's also good for you in terms of nutrients. Intrigued dahlings?

Good. So let me present to you .... *drumroll* ...
Beetroot Halwa (original recipe by the multi-talented Ramya of The Cook's Collection - check out her blog for more inspiring nummies!)
Serves 3-4

1 large beetroot (think big fist!), washed, peeled and grated
1.5 cups milk
3 cloves
3-4 green cardamom pods, bruised & split open
1/3 tin of sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp ghee
3 tbsp cashew halves


1. Heat up 1 tbsp of the ghee on medium heat. Throw in the cashew halves and stir them around till they're golden brown. Then take them out and set aside.
2. Add the rest of the ghee in the same saucepan and heat on medium. Sprinkle in the cloves and cardamom pods. Follow this right away with the grated beetroot and stir about, making sure the ghee coats everything.
3. Pour in the milk and stir to incorporate. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.
4. After 30 mins, get ready for some consistent stirring! Turn the heat up to medium-high. By now the beetroot has softened almost all the way. Keep stirring so that the milk really gets incorporated/absorbed into the beetroot.

5. Add the condensed milk and keep stirring till the mixture is thickened and gloopy (it's a word, look it up in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, thank you!), and starts leaving the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the golden cashews over the top and serve warm or at room temperature. DH has the devious plan to serve it with vanilla ice-cream!

Verdict: This dessert has such a pretty color, it's absurd! And you will love it. Even if you don't like beetroots. I mean it, because cooking it like this brings out its natural sweetness, tempered with fragrant cloves and cardamom; this makes for a stunning combination. And talk about easy! Look at that list of ingredients - I think it's the shortest one I've posted yet!
I'll be submitting this little beauty to this month's Sugar High Fridays event, where the theme is "Sweet Without The Wheat". It's hosted this time by Zilla from Climbin' The Walls.

And now ...
Will somebody please explain to me how on earth I'm supposed to leave this little baby and go away for a week?! How? HOW? *sob*

Off to Seattle tomorrow - see you on the other side, folks!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dreaming Of Sun, Surf & Cuban Food

I like surprises. Wait, let me correct myself - I like pleasant surprises. As I sit here thinking about the week-long vacation that DH and I will soon be on, I can't help but wonder what surprises I have in store for me. Because isn't that the basic point of taking a vacation, folks? To get away from the routine of your life for a few days, and let yourself be carried away by new experiences? Why yes, I do believe it is (sorry, there I go again, answering my own questions!). So I'm excited. I'm nervous. Periodically plagued with bouts of anxiety, but blessed with moments of anticipatory exhilaration. And the bizarre thing is that I'm only going to Seattle! Not exactly the most exotic, unknown locale out there. But still, it's a place where I've never been.

It's got me thinking about some other wonderful vacations DH and I have taken together. For instance, Key West was full of pleasant surprises. Especially when it came to their food scene. I'm telling you dear readers, I had some of the best food ever during that week we were there. There are so many restaurants I can talk about, but one that really stands out is El Siboney. DH and I had our very first taste of Cuban cuisine there. And no other restaurant we've been to since has lived up to that first tastebud-stunning experience. I remember it all so clearly too. The piping hot tostones, the cafe con leche, the grilled garlic chicken, the creamy flan, the guave cheesecake, and most of all, the ropa vieja. Man. Oh. Man. Ropa Vieja (pronounced ro-pa vee-ay-ha) is a Cuban beef stew (and literally translates to "old clothes") where the shredded meat is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. I was ecstatic when I found Caitlin's recipe on her blog, The Alchemist Chef. I've followed her recipe pretty closely, and each time I make it, the taste takes me right back to our warm, sunny days in Key West. *day-dreaming of azure seas, tropical trees, and Hemingway's cats*

Ropa Vieja (Cuban Beef Stew)
Serves 6-8

Click here for the printable version

2-3 lbs skirt or flank steak
8 cups water
2 large carrots, chopped
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
6-8 cloves of garlic, cut into quarters
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine all the above ingredients in a large stew pot. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid, and cook for two hours, or until meat falls apart easily using a fork. Remove meat from liquid and cool. Strain liquid from pot, and retain it. Discard vegetables and everything else that remains in the strainer.

1 green bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 orange bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 Vidalia onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups leftover braising liquid (see above)
14 oz can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped Spanish olives stuffed with pimento
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2. Clean and dry original stew pot. Heat up oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, green bell pepper and garlic, then saute for 7-10 mins.

3. While peppers and onions are cooking, shred the meat.

4. Add tomatoes to stew pot. Simmer 10 mins. Then add all the meat, cumin, paprika, oregano and the braising liquid. Bring to a simmer again. Then cover and cook for 1 hour.

5. Add rest of the bell pepper and cook for another 30 mins.

6. Add chopped olives and cook for a further 15 mins.

7. Serve with crusty bread or over saffron rice. This stew tastes even better the next day, and stores well in the fridge for 3-5 days. Or you can always freeze it.

Verdict: A really hearty, comforting, filling stew. I personally like eating it with crusty white bread to sop up all the flavorful juices. But you can also use this as a great filling for tacos, or slap it on a kaiser roll to make cuban sloppy joes. DH couldn't stop singing its praises when I made this recipe for the first time, and he still gets pretty excited when he sees me cooking it again. It's perfect for all the meat-lovers in your life, because not only do they feel satisfied, but you're also sneaking in a lot of vegetables without them complaining about it.

Back to Seattle. It will actually be my first time in the Pacific Northwest. I'll finally get to see some real mountains after a very long time. Not the dinky hills they call 'mountains' here in the Northeast. Pfffffffft. No offense my fellow New Yorkers, but you know I speak true.

If some of you are wondering, "Uhhh Seattle for vacation? Really?!", here's the thing. If you've been following my blog (bless you, kind hearts!), then you'll remember that my first criteria was that this year I had to plan a budget vacation. See? Making more sense to you already, huh? I had narrowed it down to Arizona and Washington state. And although Arizona was soooooooo tempting (I could kill for some real warmth right now - it's effin' 11 degrees C out here!), Washington state won out by a hair for three main reasons: 1) Budget 2) Mountains 3) DH. The first two are self-explanatory. The third, and perhaps most compelling reason, is DH. More specifically, DH's reaction when I told him that we should go to Arizona. I believe it went something like, "WHAT?? *whiny voice* you want to take me to the middle of a desert for my one vacation of the year?". I think I've told you this about DH, but the boy likes, nay loves, the cold. So we're going to Seattle and Mount Rainier. In May. *shaking my head*

I must say though, I am looking forward to spending a few days isolated from the world, in a cozy cabin at the foot of Mt. Rainier, soaking in a hot tub till I get all pruny - romantic, no?! I can only hope. And I figure my take-away from the whole experience will, at the very least, be some awesome food. I've only heard good things about Seattle's food scene. So if any of you are from the area and have some fabulous foodie recommendations, please enlighten me! I'm all ears. And where did Anthony Bourdain go when he travelled there, do any of you remember? I almost always listen to Anthony.