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/

 

Spaghetti alla Nerano

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

This summer our family returned to Italy. We ventured to the Amalfi coast and stayed in the beautiful town of Positano. From Positano we took several day trips to the town of Amalfi, Ravello, and to the Island of Capri. It was during our boat trip to Capri that the captain pointed to the beaches of the town of Nerano and said that the famous pasta dish, Spaghetti alla Nerano, originated there. After circling the Island of Capri we were dropped off at the Marina Grande and from there we walked uphill to the city center of Capri. After our exhausting hike we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Al Capri Don Alfonso Café. I had the famous Spaghetti alla Nerano, a spaghetti served with a simple yet delicious zucchini sauce. It was so delicious that we were determined to replicate this dish at home.

View from our restaurant in Capri

View from our restaurant in Capri

Spaghetti alla Nerano – Spaghetti with Zucchini Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove (use 2 cloves if they are small) – minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. of zucchini (about 4 – 6 small zucchini)
  • 4 ½ to 6 oz. of Italian Provolone cheese grated. Note: Make sure it is aged hard Italian provolone cheese. Do not use soft deli provolone cheese. If you cannot find Italian Provolone substitute with Italian aged Parmesan.The amount of cheese is up to you. Our family prefers the recipe with the lower amount of cheese.
  •  Italian grated Parmesan cheese for topping.
  • 1 lb. of Spaghetti
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • A handful of fresh Basil julienned
  • Salt and Pepper

Preparation

  1. Thinly slice the zucchini using a mandoline.
  2. Start boiling water for the pasta. Make sure to generously salt the water when it comes to a boil.
  3. Add the olive oil to a separate large pot. Warm the oil and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to release flavors into the oil but do not let the garlic brown. Remove garlic from the oil and set aside.
  4. Add the sliced zucchini to the oil in layers, salting each layer separately. Sauté the zucchini until it cooks down completely._DSC2637_new
  5. Cook the spaghetti for the suggested cooking time. We cook ours 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time because we really enjoy pasta al dente. Remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water that will be used later.
  6. Separate the cooked zucchini into thirds.
    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Place 1/3 of the zucchini in a blender and add a ½ cup of pasta cooking water to blend. _DSC2647_new

  7. Combine the blended zucchini with the rest of the zucchini and add the sautéed garlic. _DSC2649_new
  8. When the spaghetti is done cooking remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
  9. Return the spaghetti to the pot with the zucchini mix. _DSC2651_newRemove from heat. Add the cheese and the butter and mix vigorously to create an emulsion. You will want a silky sauce._DSC2660_new If it is too dry then add more pasta water as necessary. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.

Note: Some recipes do not call for blending the 1/3 of the cooked zucchini. That is entirely up to you. I like the thicker sauce that the blended zucchini makes.

_DSC2664_new

Buono Appetito!

Greatest Granola in the Universe

This granola recipe is a family favorite. We cannot keep enough supply of this delicious granola in our pantry. It is indeed a sad day when we run out and have to wait for the “master granola chef”, a.k.a. Dad, to make more. The secret to making this granola is baking it for 3 hours at a low temperature. The flavors of the ingredients develop beautifully. When compared to store-bought granola, not only is our granola delicious, it is healthy (we control fat and sugar) and has no unwanted additives or preservatives.

Petrucelli Family Granola

Petrucelli Family Granola

Petrucelli Family Granola

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry oats (Quaker Old Fashioned Oats)
  • ½ lb roughly chopped pecans
  • ½ lb roughly chopped almonds
  • ½ lb roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbs butter (½ stick)
  • ⅛ cup vegetable oil (mix in walnut oil if available)
  • ⅔ cup honey
  • ⅔ cup maple syrup
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Combine oats, pecans, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.  Mix to combine.
  2. Melt butter in small saucepan. Stir in honey and maple syrup.
  3. Add vanilla to warm honey mixture, then pour over dry oatmeal mixture and stir until fully incorporated.
  4. Spread on two cookie sheet pans (18x13x1 inch/half sheet) and bake at 200°F (93°C) for 1 hour.

    Stirring the granola

    Stirring the granola

  5. Remove from oven and stir well. This helps prevent clumps. Raise temperature to 225°F (107°C) and bake for an additional hour.
  6. Remove from oven and stir again. Raise temperature to 250°F (121°C) and bake for one final hour (3 hours in total).
  7. Allow granola to cool down completely. Store at room temperature in air-tight container.
  8.  ENJOY!  (~1/2 cup per serving)

Chinese Chicken Salad

I recently made this delicious Chinese chicken salad for my book club luncheon and it was a real crowd pleaser. The original inspiration came from Ina Garten’s recipe but I have made some adjustments to the recipe and added some explanations to make it easier. The original recipe called for using 8 split breasts and served 12. I reduced the chicken, kept the same amount of vegetables, and I think it serves more like 16 and possibly even more. Of course it all depends on your serving size and whether you will have accompanying dishes. The recipe can be cut in half or even down to a third for a family of four. But don’t worry if you have left overs, the flavors are almost more delicious the next day.

Vegetables for the Chinese Chicken Salad

Vegetables for the Chinese Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 cups of cooked shredded chicken (this is about 4 lbs of uncooked chicken breasts or about 6 chicken breast halves)
  • 1 lb of asparagus, ends removed
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
  • 4 scallions (white and green parts) sliced
  • 2 Tbs toasted white sesame seeds (you can buy the seeds that are already toasted, or buy the regular ones and toast them in a non-stick skillet over the stove.

For the Dressing

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • cup soy sauce (I prefer reduced sodium soy sauce)
  • 3 Tbs sesame seed oil
  • 1 – 2 Tbs honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp (about 1 inch) ginger, peeled and grated or minced
  • 1 Tbs toasted white sesame seeds
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper

Preparation

I like to shred my chicken finely. This makes it easier for eating and allows for more of chicken to be coated in the dressing.

Bring water to a boil and blanch the asparagus. If the spears are thin then maybe cook them for 2 minutes if they are thicker try 3 minutes. You want them to retain some crispness. As soon as they are cooked put them in an ice bath (a bowl full of ice and cold water) and drain. This will stop the cooking process and help the asparagus retain its beautiful green color.  Once the asparagus is cooked cut in thirds. In Asian cuisine, a lot of foods are cut on the diagonal, but if you just want a straight line that works as well. I cut my veggies on straight lines for this version of the salad. Now this is key, cut the red pepper to match the size of your asparagus spears as closely as you can. In a salad or a dish you want the different foods to be similar in sizes.

Combine the chicken, asparagus, and red pepper in a large bowl. Now it’s time to make the dressing. Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing. Pour over the chicken/vegetable mix. Add the scallions and sesame seeds. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

This salad comes out looking very pretty with its bright vegetable colors. It can be served cold or at room temperature. I prefer room temperature. You can have the salad on a roll or accompany it with Asian noodles or couscous.

Enjoy!

Chinese Chicken Salad

Chinese Chicken Salad

Tía Mary’s Korean Korokkes (Croquettes)

Korean Korokkes

Korean Korokkes

Mary is my best friend from college. Mary, born in Korea, came to the United States when she was 12 years old. We took physics and drafting classes together at Queens College in New York City circa 1980. In 1984, I started my first job at GE in Schenectady, NY and she transferred to RPI only a few miles away in Troy, NY. We skied every weekend and hosted parties together.

Friends Cooking Together

Friends Cooking Together in 2008

She made her delicious Korean Korokkes or croquettes for one of our many social events. They were a huge success. We continued our friendship over the years. In 2008, Tia Mary (tia means aunt in Spanish), as my children have come to call her, made her Korean Korokkes again, but this time for our family. Tia Mary’s Korean Korokkes would become an instant hit with my children. So when Mary planned a recent visit, the first request from my children was for Tia Mary’s Korean Croquettes. And so a new food tradition was born in our family, cooking Korean Korokkes with our dear friend Tia Mary. With today’s healthy food trends, these croquettes would be frowned upon because they are fried. But my philosophy with food is everything can be enjoyed in moderation.

My daughter helping Tia Mary in 2008

My daughter helping Tia Mary in 2008

My daughter working side  by side with Tia Mary

My daughter working side by side with Tia Mary in October 2013

Tía Mary’s Korean Korokkes

Note about equipment: We fry our croquettes in a deep fryer however you can also fry them in a regular pan filled with enough canola oil to cover the croquettes.

Makes approximately 58 croquettes (2 ¼ inch by 1 ¼ inch croquettes shaped like logs)

Ingredients

  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1 lb of ground meat
  • 1 lb or 3 medium yellow onions finely chopped (2 ¾ cup to 3 cups of chopped onion)
  • 3 lbs of potatoes peeled, cooked, and mashed
  • 4 – 6 Tbs flour (or more as needed) in a container for dredging the croquettes
  • 2 – 3 eggs beaten and placed in a container for dipping
  • Breadcrumbs in a container for rolling the croquettes
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Tonkatsu sauce for dipping. Tonkatsu is a sweet and spicy Japanese sauce. Bull-Dog is a popular Japanese brand available in stores or on-line

_DSC7112_new

Preparation

  • Heat oil in deep fryer or pan to 350°– 375° Fahrenheit
  • Sauté the onions until well cooked but not brown. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Brown the meat. Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mash the potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste
  • Combine onions, meat, and potatoes. Adjust salt and pepper.
  • Set up an assembly line as follows: Bowl with meat and potato mix, container with   flour, bowl with beaten eggs, container with breadcrumbs, and empty tray.

    Form croquette and dredge in flour

    Form croquette and dredge in flour

  • Form a croquette by shaping into a small log approximately 2 ¼ inch long by 1 ¼ inch thick.
  • Dredge the croquette in the flour. Shake off excess flour.
  • Dip the croquette in the egg mixture.
  • Roll the croquette in the bread crumb mixture and set aside on tray.
  • Assemble the rest of the croquettes.

    Dip croquette in egg mixture and roll in breadcrumbs.

    Dip croquette in egg mixture and roll in breadcrumbs.

  • Start frying croquettes a few at a time. Do not crowd croquettes in pan or deep fryer. Drain on paper towel.
  • Complete frying all of the croquettes.
Korean Korokkes Assembly Line

Korean Korokkes Assembly Line

Serve korokkes warm or room temperature with Tonkatsu dipping sauce

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

Additional Comments:

The Korean Croquettes freeze very well. When ready to eat, defrost. Reheat about 8 at a time by microwaving for 1 minute then placing them in a toaster oven set at 400° as needed.

For homemade Tonkatsu sauce visit:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/09/tonkatsu-sauce-japanese-barbecue-recipe.html

http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Tonkatsu-Sauce

Frisoles Colombianos con Arroz, Chorizo, y Aguacate

Easy Colombian Beans with Rice, Chorizo, and Avocado

Serves 4

Frisoles with Rice, Chorizo, and Avocado

Frisoles with Rice, Chorizo, and Avocado

How about impressing your friends with a delicious and easy to make Colombian dinner. Frisoles or fríjoles are a very typical meal in the state of Antioquia where my city Medellin is located. Frisoles is the food of the mountains, the food of the people, and the food of comfort. If you find yourself in Medellin, rest assured that there is a pot of pressure-cooked beans in every kitchen on a daily basis. These beans may have been made for lunch but they reheat beautifully for dinner or for the next day’s breakfast. Lunch tends to be the main meal served in Colombia. Lunch will consist of a “la sopa y el seco”, translating to the soup and the “dry”. The dry portion can consist of either meat and rice or potatoes with vegetables or a salad. Beans can be served as the soup portion of the lunch. But like many Antioqueños, I love to mix my beans with my seco.

When I cook my beans I make them in a thicker broth and serve them together with rice and meat on a plate. In this recipe I serve them with chorizo. There are two ways of making this bean recipe. You can use either canned beans or pressure-cooked beans. Canned beans is an easier and quicker option. These are generally a good option depending on the brand. You may find some brands a little tougher than others, which will require that you cook them longer on the stove. In this recipe, I use canned beans and make a vegetarian version of the frisoles. Alternatively, I promise you that it is very easy to pressure cook beans. I like to pressure cook pinto beans with beef stew meat and other seasonings for an outstanding meal.

Ingredients

DSC_5385 - Version 2_new

  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 cup diced red or green pepper (1 small pepper)
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion (1 medium or ½ of large onion)
  • 1 glove of garlic passed through a garlic press or minced
  • 1 cup diced tomato (fresh or half of a 14 oz can) Use more tomato if you want
  • 2 – 14 to 16 oz. cans of beans with their liquid (pinto or borlotti)
  • ½ cup to 1 cup of water
  • ½ cup to 1 cup of chopped cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • ½ to 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher or regular salt
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • Black pepper to taste

Preparation

You begin by making the “sofrito”, a tomato sauce used as a base in Latin American and Caribbean cooking. In some instances the sofrito is made by pureeing raw vegetables and seasonings and then adding the puree to a recipe. I chose not to puree my sofrito in this case. I like the added texture of the vegetables in the beans.

DSC_5390_new

Making the sofrito

  • Heat the oil in a large pot
  • Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes
  • Add the pepper and cook for 2- 3 additional minutes
  • Add the tomato and cook until most of the liquid disappears, about 5 – 10 additional minutes.
  • Add the cans of beans with their liquid
  • Add the water (can add more if you like the beans to have more of a soup consistency)
  • Add salt, cumin, oregano, and black pepper.

    Add Beans and seasonings

    Add Beans and seasonings

  • Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on low heat for 10 – 15 minutes or until beans are tender and the liquid is thickened.
  • Add cilantro
  • Adjust salt and pepper

    Ready to Serve

    Ready to Serve

You are ready to serve. Accompany the beans with chorizo, rice, and avocado slices.

Buen Provecho!

Additional Comments:

Rice: I like to serve this recipe with yellow rice however white rice is perfectly fine and probably more typical in Colombia. I use long grain white rice. To make yellow rice, the purist would use saffron, which is an expensive spice and imparts its unique flavor. However, I make the poor man’s yellow rice using turmeric powder which is less expensive than saffron. Turmeric does not impart a flavor, but gives its beautiful golden color to the food it is used in and offers added health benefits.

Chorizo: Chorizo can be either a fresh sausage that needs cooking or a cured sausage that can be eaten as is.  If you live in London there is only one chorizo brand to be purchased, and that is the fresh chorizo sold by Brindisa at Borough Market. It is by far the best quality fresh chorizo I have purchased and prepared in my life. If you live in the states you’ll have some varying options available to you but it is also very dependent on geography. Here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I find most chorizos are extremely fatty, tough, and chewy. That said, my quest for excellent chorizo is still on going. I have in my refrigerator a brand I bought at Whole Foods recently. I’ll let you know how that is.  I may have to resort to making my own chorizo!

Arepas: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention arepas. Any Antioqueño would tell me I’m crazy for serving beans without arepas. Arepas are flat breads made with freshly ground maize but today there are “instant” arepa flours that you can purchase in the stores (Masarepa and P.A.N.) There are many ways to serve arepas, as an accompaniment to a dish or on their own. Arepas are also great for stuffing. This is definitely a fun topic for a future blog.

Avocados: see my posting on guacamole to learn more about avocados

https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/guacamole-a-family-affair/

To read my favorite Colombian food blogger’s site:

http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/

For more on the pressure cooked Colombian beans:

http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/cazuelita-de-frijoles-colombian-beans-cazuela