The Empty Nester Food Project

This past August my husband and I helped our youngest daughter move into her college dorm for her freshman year. While we did this, our older son moved by himself into his apartment for his sophomore year. And just like that we were officially “empty nesters”.

When we got home I left to the kennel immediately to pick up our two labs, Maya and Jessie. And thank goodness for them because they fill up an otherwise very empty house. The next day my husband and I were sitting by the pool, enjoying a drink, and perusing though our cookbooks.

Reading cookbooks from our 200+ collection has been a favorite pastime. It is one of the ways we discover new recipes to cook. Feeling a little sad about no longer having the children to cook for, my husband and I were wondering what we were going to do with regard to food. And that is when my husband proposed that we each pick a cookbook and cook our way through it as a fun positive distraction. I raised my glass to that!

So here is the project in a nutshell.

  1. We each pick a favorite cookbook. Curt’s Choice: “Dinner – Changing the Game” by Melissa Clark and Ariadne’s Choice: “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2014
  2. We are each responsible for selecting and cooking a new recipe for one of the weekend days.
  3. The weekend cooking yields leftovers for part of the week.
  4. I select and cook a new recipe for one day of the week.
  5. Fridays are now called “Tapas Fridays”. Tapas Fridays will not be restricted to Spanish tapas but to finger foods, snack foods, or party foods from around the world.
  6. We are using the app Evernote to journal the recipe selection, dates, and reviews.
  7. Lastly, I am using my other blog to share our food journal. The Kitchen Blackboard.

Project Update:

September marked the official beginning of our project. Our first Tapas Friday menu included a delicious puff pastry with roasted tomatoes. We accompanied the pastry with roasted parmesan-crusted zucchini rounds. Both the tomatoes and zucchini were from my husband’s garden. We accompanied our fun foods with wine and movies. The weekend’s meals are highlighted in my other blog:  The Kitchen Blackboard. We are very excited with our new project. It certainly has given us new culinary adventures to look forward to and redirected our emotions in a positive way.

Saturday Night’s Spatchcocked Chili-Rubbed Chicken with Avocado Buttermilk dressing, roasted Brussel sprouts and carrots.

Advertisements

Colombian Eggs

“Colombian Eggs” is a family favorite. To our family Colombian eggs are scrambled eggs done in a specific way. Instead of scrambling the eggs ahead of time and then cooking them, we make our Colombian eggs by heating up the pan, cracking the egg(s) into the pan, and then scrambling them as they cook. Our family enjoys two versions of Colombian eggs.

  • Version 1 – Heat a small amount of vegetable oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Let the oil/butter get really brown. Break the egg into the pan and scramble as it cooks. Add salt. Cook to desired consistency.

  • Version 2 – Colombian Eggs with Sofrito.  Sofrito is used in cuisines such as Latin American and Italian cooking. Sofrito is cooked chopped tomato and onion. You can season the sofrito with salt and pepper. If you want you can add a little cumin. It is used as a base in food preparation or as a flavor enhancer. For Colombian eggs with sofrito heat a small amount of vegetable oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Warm the sofrito. Break the egg into the pan and scramble as it cooks. Add Salt.

In Colombia you would eat your eggs with an arepa. An arepa is a patty made with ground maize dough. I accompany my Colombian Eggs with whatever is handy.

 

Korea Town, NYC

Tucked away on 32nd street between 5th Avenue and Broadway in New York City is Korea Town. This is where my best friend from college took me to lunch yesterday. Mary immigrated to the United States from South Korea when she was 13 years old. We met as freshmen in college in the basement stacks of the library. The day we met she said to me that she wanted to major in astrophysics. We laugh now when we reminisce 37 years later, because as she puts it, “That was the major of the day”. She went on to become an architect and I became an electrical engineer.

Although Mary and I have very different cultural backgrounds, we share one very important characteristic: we are both immigrants to the United States. Over the years, our friendship has offered us the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures. My friend is getting ready to move overseas so I quickly arranged a trip to see her before she leaves. After meeting me at the train station yesterday she took me to Korea Town. This visit gave me a newfound appreciation for our long-lasting and rich friendship. Our first stop was to the huge Korean food store, H-Mart, where Mary gave me a tour of all the sections.

The chili paste section

The chili paste section

The snack section

The snack section

Rice cakes that we would later enjoy in our soup.

Rice cakes that we would later enjoy in our soup.

She was in the market for Wasabi powder. However, as she approached the cashier she lit up when she saw the frozen treats freezer. She grabbed a red bean ice bar and said, “I grew up with these, let’s try this before lunch!”

Our purchases: Wasabi powder and red bean ice pop.

Our purchases: Wasabi powder and red bean ice pop.

I thought I would just take a bite but then she got a phone call and I held on to the bar while she talked, and by the time she finished her phone call I had managed to enjoy half the bar. The bar was was a mildly sweet refreshing custard with red beans interspersed throughout.

The yummy red bean ice pop.

The yummy red bean ice pop.

We then went to the Korean restaurant New Wonjo. The best part was letting my friend decide what we were having. We enjoyed a delicious spicy beef and vegetable stew called Yook Ge Jang and a milder dumpling and rice cake soup called DDUK Mandoo Guk.

The spicy beef and vegetable stew.

The spicy beef and vegetable stew.

Before the soups arrived they served us an assortment of kimchi (pickled vegetables), salads, and a dry fish. We ended our meal with a yummy cold cinnamon drink. What an amazing lunch!

Dumpling and Rice Cake soup.

Dumpling and Rice Cake soup.

 

img_6335_new

Little nibbles with lunch (Top left to right: green salad, garlic snapes with red pepper, broccoli, macaroni salad, Bottom left to right: root vegetable kimchi, cabbage kimchi, and dried fish)

The rest of our visit included a visit to fabric stores in New York City’s Garment district and a 45 block walk up-town to my friend’s place. The walk took us through Central Park where we stopped to see the tribute to John Lennon in Strawberry Fields. As always, it was a wonderful visit with an old friend which gave me a renewed sense of gratitude for our friendship.

I love everything international. I relish in meeting people from around the world and learning about their cultures. I feel this adds richness to my life. My friendship with Mary has added a wonderful dimension to my life. Exposure to different cultures leads to a better understanding and ultimately acceptance of those who are different.

img_6357_new

It is my hope for my children that they also have the opportunity to make friends from around the world. It is my continued hope that the United States continues to be a haven for immigrants from around the world because we all benefit from this.

Strawberry Fields, Tribute to John Lennon in Central Park

Strawberry Fields, Tribute to John Lennon in Central Park

Maybe it was not serendipity that our walk took us through Strawberry Fields. Maybe we needed to be reminded of John Lennon’s song, Imagine.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

What, No Light Salad Dressing?

When my husband and I moved to Brussels in 1997 many things changed in our lives. There were the obvious things like switching countries, homes, job, leaving career (for me), having babies overseas, making new friends and so forth and so on.

 

The Early Days in Brussels

The Early Days in Brussels – 1998

One of the most impactful changes for us was how we viewed food and the preparation of food. Before moving to Europe, my husband and I prided ourselves in being foodies and good cooks. We enjoyed cooking and had even gone to a weeklong cooking program in Tuscany in 1996. It was in the Florence food markets that we got an appreciation for the “farm to table” concept and for learning what it was to eat foods that were in season. However, back in the states because of our busy work schedules we relied more on processed foods. During the weekdays there were many Marie Callender potpies, Prego spaghetti sauce, and Hamburger Helper. It was only on the weekends that my husband and I had the time to prepare food from scratch. We loved cooking for family and friends.

The farm to table concept in the US in the mid-nineties was more regional and not as commonly accepted as it is today. Little did we know that living in Europe would explode our palates and enlighten our attitudes about food and its preparation.

We did not set out to be food enlightened. It just happened. We found some very different cultural practices in Brussels. For starters, all stores were closed on Sunday, even food stores. Belgians spent Sundays at home with their families and not at a mall.  During the weekdays food stores closed at 6 p.m. At first we felt this was such an inconvenience but we quickly adjusted. We found ourselves cooking even more and spending time at home on the weekends. Belgium is a foodie country where people enjoy their food, wine, and beer. We had access to an amazing array of farmer’s markets. Any bread you bought was delicious freshly baked bread. There was no such thing as processed Wonder Bread or light bread. In time my husband and I gave up drinking diet sodas which had been a staple in our US diets. As any expat will tell you, you need to adjust to the local offerings. We found ourselves trying new foods. We also did a lot of traveling throughout Europe exposing us to an even greater variety of food. In 2001 both my husband and I attended The Cordon Bleu Cooking school in London. He did a cooking program and I did a pâtisserie course thus furthering our passion for cooking.

 

Two babies and Two Yellow Labs

Two babies and Two Yellow Labs

I was a successful graduate of Weight Watchers 35 years ago and have maintained my weight to this date. Before moving to Belgium, I had relied heavily on low-calorie and low-fat processed foods. I was especially dependent on light dressings. When I showed up at the Belgian supermarket I looked for the dressing section only to discover they had ONE kind. It was mustard vinaigrette and it was not even a low-fat version. Oh my, what is a girl to do!! For the first year of living in Belgium, anyone who visited us from the United States was instructed to bring light dressings and Pop-Tarts. OK, I must confess, I still like Pop-Tarts. I did try the local Belgian dressing but it was boring and I was still hung up on the calorie count. Then one day I decided to make my own vinaigrette from scratch. Sure, it was a full calorie dressing, but it was devoid of all the artificial stuff you find in a processed bottle of salad dressing and tasted much better. Gone from my salad dressing were all those unknown food additives. By 1999 I started making my own salad dressings and have never looked back. And guess what? I did not gain weight! My husband and I found ourselves making other things from scratch, like the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner because you could not find Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. We started reading labels carefully, mainly because they were in Flemish and we needed to translate them to make sure we knew what we were buying. In general, we became more mindful of our food quality and its preparation.

My husband making fresh pasta with our son.

My husband making fresh pasta with our son.

In Brussels, I had become a full-time parent, which allowed me to cook more during the weekdays. However, the reality was that with 2 small babies 18 months apart, 2 labs, and a husband who traveled frequently, I felt somewhat overwhelmed and was not as creative with cooking as I had hoped to be. Furthermore our children were picky eaters and I found myself cooking two meals every night, one for the children and one for the adults. Expeditious cooking was the name of the game. In some ways I fell into the trap of feeding my children what they preferred because it was easier: Kraft macaroni-n-cheese, white sauce pasta, and frozen chicken nuggets. I continued experimenting with food and over time my children’s palates evolved. It took until 2007, when the children were 10 and 9, for me to finally be able to prepare one meal for the whole family. In general as a family we started  preparing more food from scratch.

What started out as the need to make certain foods from scratch because they were not available turned into making food from scratch because it was the healthiest and most delicious way to prepare it. I still have a little voice in my head that keeps me on track with my weight. My husband and I prepare food without cutting corners. We may occasionally cut back a little on the butter and cream but we try to stay true to the recipes. We do balance our meals and eat in moderation (well except for Thanksgiving). I love my chocolate cakes as you will read in the link below. We know that we have to exercise to stay in shape. In many ways, exercising is our motivation to continue cooking and enjoying delicious food.

_dsc8210_new

 

My homemade dressing

When you make homemade dressing the key is to reach emulsification. Emulsification is when the oil and the vinegar blend into one liquid. There are two ways to achieve emulsification. One is to use the correct ratios between oil and vinegar. Typically, the ratio is 1 part vinegar or other acid such as lemon to 3 parts oil. A second way to enhance emulsification is to use an emulsifying agent such as mustard. There a hundreds of recipes on-line but below I give you my guidelines for my mustard vinaigrette. Buy yourself a salad dressing container that will allow you to blend the ingredients well and store the remaining dressing in the refrigerator.

Classic mustard vinaigrette:

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • cup red wine vinegar
  • About a tsp. of Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper: several turns on the grinder
  • 1 Tbs. of dried Herbes de Provence
  • 1 Tbs. of honey (the honey softens the flavor of the vinegar)
  • 1 Tbs. of Dijon Mustard

Variations on this recipe: You can use olive oil or grape seed oil. When I use olive oil I like to use balsamic vinegar. You can also add freshly cut herbs or shallots. Have fun with it and try different ingredients.

Why I like to Run: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/why-i-like-to-run/

My Yogurt Lunch

_dsc3467_new

Here is one of my favorite lunches to have at home:

  • Greatest Granola in the Universe (see link below)
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Banana
  • Flaxseed meal
  • Chia seeds

Combine the ingredients and enjoy!

Greatest Granola in the Universe: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/greatest-granola-in-the-universe/

 

Chocolate con Churros

dscn3084_new

A Spanish-American friend in college used to boast about Spain’s famous “Chocolate con Churros”, and how he would dip the delicious deep-fried dough pastry into the thick hot chocolate. Although I have been to Spain multiple times the opportunity to try “Chocolate con Churros” would finally come when I visited Seville. And it was all that my friend said it would be, it was heavenly!

dscn3085_new

Our family went to Bar El Comercio, a family run business since 1904, specializing in “Chocolate con Churros” and serving other drinks and snacks. The “Chocolate con Churros” is only available in the morning and mid afternoon when the kettle of oil is sizzling hot and each order of churros is made fresh. Since we did not know how big the servings would be we decided to order 3 portions for 2 adults and 2 children. To our surprise the servings of churros were huge and we could barely finish our delicious snack. The “chocolate” was not what we know as hot chocolate, but instead was a beautifully thick fondue-like creamy chocolate in which to dip the churro pieces in. My mouth waters just thinking about that afternoon.

 

dscn3090_new

Some fun history about Bar El Comercio

http://barelcomercio.com/index.htm

For a good article about Churros see Serious Eats:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/04/spanish-churros-con-chocolate.html

 

Nine Mouth-Watering Reasons to Visit Italy

Image-1 (1)_new

Photo courtesy of Clara Petrucelli.

(Top row, left to right)

Penne Rigate all’Arrabiata – Penne in a spicy tomato sauce with crushed red pepper flakes.

Fettuccini Porcini – Fettuccini with Porcini mushrooms.

Rigatoncini all’Amatriciana – Small rigatoni with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato. This pasta originates from the town of Amatrice. One of the towns in Italy hit recently by the earthquake.

(Second Row, left to right)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – One of Rome’s signature dishes made with eggs, cheese (pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper.

Fettuccini al Ragu – Pasta with a meat based sauce.

Pappardelle Cacio e Pepe with goat cheese – Pasta with “cheese and pepper”, Pecorino Romano and black pepper.

(Third Row, left to right)

Gnocchi alla Pomodoro – Small dumplings made with a dough of potato, flour, and egg served in a tomato sauce.

Ravioli Capresi – One of Island of Capri’s signature dishes. Ravioli, filled with caciotta (artisan cheese), Parmesan cheese, and marjoram served in a tomato sauce.

Penne all’Amatriciana – Pasta with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato.