Archive for the 'Summer' Category

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers and Eggplant

The temperatures are still on the warm side at the moment and the markets full of peppers, eggplant and zucchini. So although I am way over summer, I cook what’s in season and continue to experiment with summer veggies. The other day, I remembered a favorite dish from years back – stuffed peppers with ground beef- and decided to try a new less meaty version with quinoa. I scooped out 5 peppers, an eggplant and a left over zucchini half, chopped up the flesh and sauteed it with chili, onion and garlic. I added another zucchini, a can of whole tomatoes, a can of black beans and some fresh herbs, mixed it with the cooked quinoa and stuffed the mixture into the vegetables. Before it all went in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, I topped it up with slices of mozzarella.

Fresh tomatoes would be at least as good, but the organic ones are increasingly hard to get and therefore I went with the canned version. I didn’t use any of the tomato juice left in the can, because I didn’t want my stuffing to get too wet. See how you go, you can always add it towards the end if you feel like you need extra moisture. As for the cheese topping, any cheese you like will be fine, I just happened to have some mozzarella open. If you don’t like any cheese at all, you can easily make this recipe without or sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts over the finished dish.

In case you want to stuff bell peppers only, peel the eggplant the recipe is asking for, chop it up and saute it with the onions, garlic and chili.  This recipe also works with zucchinis. The only downside there is that they flatten out quite a bit when stuffed and baked.

And just to let you know, the vegetarian version was even better than the meaty one I had been thinking about.

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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Super Summer Salad

 

I made this salad for a dinner party last weekend assuming we’d have a typical BBQ dinner. We didn’t, we actually ate wonderful Paella, not exactly a good match to my salad. Nobody seamed to mind however and everybody dug in, young and old. We had a wonderful time sitting outside, eating this wonderful food, drinking sparkling Shiraz and enjoying good company. It really made me appreciate everything summer has to offer and even I didn’t want it to end – at least not on that night.

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Summer Vegetable Lasagna

On the one slightly cooler day in recent weeks, I succumbed to the temptation to turn the oven on again and roast some vegetables for a lasagna. I since discovered that in order to get perfectly roasted vegetables, instead of using the oven, you can grill them on the BBQ, thereby cutting down oven time by half. In my A/C less kitchen, this is a huge bonus… That said, our BBQ is quite big and I can grill all of the vegetables at once, which makes this method fairly straight forward and fast. If you have a smaller one, you can either grill everything in stages, or go back to oven roasting.

My husband was away for business and one day I channeled all my energy, opened the BBQ, which so far has been his domain 100% of the time, and scrubbed it with all my force. That same night I started to BBQ. Since then I grilled fish, shrimp, mushrooms and various vegetables fairly successfully, except for the one time I was chatting and turned the slices of eggplant into coal. Long story short, I am hooked and will make much more use of the BBQ, even if that means that I need to scrub the darn thing every once in a while.

What you need for a roasted vegetable lasagna in peak summer is what you find in great abundance at your farmers market or back yard. Zucchini, red peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. You’ll also need fresh ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, good quality pasta (I used spelt… again) and you’re almost there. No need for any herbs, the flavors of the grilled vegetables speak for themselves. The end result is deliciously summery, not too heavy and wonderfully satisfying.

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Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

We are going through gallons of ice cream and popsicles at the moment – that’s how hot it is. As a special treat on Sunday evening, I made ice cream sandwiches. Not a typical dessert in Germany, but one of the ingenious things I passionately adopted once I came across it in the States. Since oatmeal cookies are my absolute favorite, I also use them for ice cream sandwiches. Not the “Oh-So-Good Oatmeal Cookies” I wrote about in an earlier post, but the buttery kind that turn into a flat and snappy cookie when baked. The “Oh-So Good” ones are perfect to eat by themselves, but since they have a lot less butter in them, they don’t go flat when baked and hence aren’t ideal for this type of dessert.

Most recipes I scanned use 2 cups of sugar, usually a mixture of white and brown, white (all purpose) flour, 2 sticks (226g) of butter and varying amounts of dark chocolate, raisins or cranberries. I did see the need for the amount of butter, but used only 1 1/2 cups of sugar and whole spelt flour plus oatbran instead of white flour. I am sure whole wheat and oat-or wheat bran will work just as well. I chopped up one bar (3.5 oz or 100g) of 70% chocolate, but there is definitely room for more, if you like yours really chocolaty. As to the sweetness, we found ours sweet enough, but if you have a sweet tooth, just add another 1/2 cup of sugar. The cookies are quick and easy to make and if you don’t want a large batch of 30 cookies all at once, you can freeze some of the the dough and use is later. Just let it defrost until you can scoop it out and increase the baking time by a minute or two.

I used plain storebought vanilla ice cream for our sandwiches, but chocolate and other flavors will be delicious as well. Hopefully I get a chance to dig out my ice cream maker later this week and concoct some on my own.

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Spelt Pasta with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Cannellini Beans

It’s hot this week and the kids are back in school. Since they are coming home with more and more homework, my new strategy is to try and have dinner (or most of it) ready by the time they come home.  This is easy in summer, when all you really need is a substantial salad and some form of protein. I made a soba noodle salad with pan fried tofu, lentil salad with chard and my Mexican salad just in the past 4 days. For the odd night I didn’t feel like salad, I roasted some really ripe tomatoes, that were starting to look a little dated, 2 red peppers,  zucchini and yellow squashes and a whole garlic. This turned into a delicious, flavourful sauce, which I mixed with cannellini beans, fresh basil and spelt pasta. Roasting vegetables is not my favorite thing to do in an A/C free kitchen in summertime, but I just love the taste of roasted tomatoes.  A mixture of various heirloom ones would be lovely, but any ripe tomatoes, in season and locally grown are great. If you have more than what’s asked for in this recipe, go for it and roast some more. Add them to your sandwich with fresh goat’s cheese or mozarella. Hmmm, heaven.

In case you’re having the same hesitations about turning the oven on when it’s hot outside, use the grill instead, or simultaneously roast some butternut squash pieces, beetroot or chickpeas for tomorrow’s salad. I stuck in some banana bread and muffins, our all time favourite morning tea.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

I am sorry for my absence from blogging, but all of a sudden life has gotten really busy. We only have 2 weeks of the school year left, and every little box in our calendar is full with things to do. Assemblies, performances, concerts, Christmas parties and holiday preparations have taken over my life. And it’s less than 3 weeks until we leave for our annual winter holiday in Massachusetts, which can’t come soon enough, especially after last weeks 39C (103F). It was just a few degrees cooler for the company’s Thanksgiving dinner, which didn’t stop anyone from piling into a fantastic pot-luck buffet, loaded with turkeys, hams, dozens (almost!) of sweet potato casseroles and stuffings of all kinds. Not that this will prevent me from doing it all over again this Thursday, especially now that I foolishly invited some friends over. You can tell, it’s only been just over a decade since my first Thanksgiving dinner and I don’t yet have the tired look on my face like most Americans when they think of another gigantic turkey dinner and all it’s left overs. Anyway, I am getting carried away. Today’s blog is not actually about anything related to fall or winter or any holidays, but about the fabulous Chicken Tortilla Soup I made today. Something else entirely.

I have had my last cooking session for this year today. Yeah! The ladies did a marvelous job and really got to work on the tortillas. We had about 10 left over, and since they don’t really stay fresh for more than a couple of hours, I turned them into crisp tortilla strips for a Chicken-Tortilla Soup. I got to work, checking websites and blogs for inspiration, picking a few ideas here and there and combining them all in a fantastic, super-delicious soup. I used home made chicken stock from the freezer and added left over shredded chicken, slow roasted tomatoes, corn, zucchini for a little extra nutrition and a bit of left over chard. Not necessary and definitely not traditional, but handy. A sprinkle of grated cheese, some fresh coriander (cilantro) and a drizzle of lime juice rounded it all up. The spice came in form of 2 fresh red long chillies and one crumbled up dried chili. Jalapenos would work just as well, so would cayenne pepper. I am no expert on chilies and there is a total lack of variety here in Australia, so if you know your chilies, you’ll probably know which ones and how many to use. If not, start slowly. If the soup isn’t spicy enough, you can always add some more during the cooking process.

Anyway, give it a go. It’s fast, easy and totally delicious. A definite winner which I am already looking forward to cooking again.

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Tex-Mex-inspired Salad

I have to admit, my vacation in Mexico was a long time ago. 15 years in fact. I had just started a research semester at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and feeling rather lost and confused in the very different world of Texas, my best friend from Germany came to see me and whisked me off to Mexico. I don’t remember the food at all, as I was either ill or heart-broken on that trip. It turns out my boyfriend back home in Germany broke up with me on the phone while were staying on the beach in Playa del Carmen. After that it was mostly a liquid diet of margaritas and such. Shame that, as we missed out on all that lovely food. Well thankfully, my next boyfriend and now husband, who I met not much later back in Houston, is a big fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex food and he took me to some great restaurants in Austin and Houston, to make up for what I missed on holiday. Funnily enough, he also cooked for me occasionally back then. The first dinner he made was a very greasy casserole, filled with beef, beans, cheese, chilies, tortillas, tomatoes and who knows what. I had just given up vegetarianism and was smitten! The second dinner at his place was fajitas and I remember him being quite grumpy because I got talked into a beer with a friend first and arrived a bit late for dinner. I think that was the last time he cooked a whole dinner for me from start to finish. Hmmm.

Anyway, now you know all about my link to Mexican or probably more correctly, Tex-Mex food. What I call Mexican food these days in my own kitchen is probably not exactly what you can get in Mexico, but it’s close enough to Tex-Mex food, with a little less cheese in it may be. We love tacos with any filling, fajitas, burritos, salsas in all consistencies and colors and definitely quesadillas. I used to bring a stack of packages with Whole Foods whole wheat tortillas back from the States and stuck them straight into my freezer. They lasted for about 6 months, and everybody was envious of my tightly managed supply. Now of course I learned how to make my own corn tortillas but still, I am sure I’ll get some more the next time we go back. It’s such a great thing to have ready in the freezer for a quick dinner. That and Amy’s pizza… sigh.

Last night I made this salad, which I have made for years now. It’s a variation of a salad/salsa I came across so frequently back in Houston, and it’s so healthy and lovely in the summer time. Whenever I can get the first organic corn, peppers and tomatoes, it’s time for this salad. It goes really well with any fish or meat and makes a great taco filling. 

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Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

This one is for all my friends in the Northern Hemisphere, who are currently inundated with zucchinis and need help finding new ways to reduce their supply. Zucchinis have long been a staple in baked goods such as delicious zucchini bread, but the combination with chocolate is fairly new – at least to me. I made them 6 months ago for the first time and no one in my family could tell they had zucchini in it, which is a good thing. They are much more open to bananas and cranberries. I have made them ever since and get a total kick out of the surprise on people’s faces when they find out that they are loaded with vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and agave syrup. I admit, the combination sounds a bit scary and way too healthy for a treat like a muffin. But that’s what I am here for, to find new ways to combine the tasty with the healthy and make it delicious. I used agave syrup as a sweetener, which has a neutral taste and won’t give you the sugar high you will get from regular sugar. I packed in 2 medium zucchinis, grating them extra fine in the food processor and squeezing out the liquid with my hands. The flour is once again spelt and buckwheat, but any other will do without the need for adjustment. I used extra virgin olive oil, which might come as a bit of a surprise to you, but it’s my favorite oil and I try and use it whenever I include vegetables in my baking. You won’t notice the taste difference, I promise! Right at the end, I couldn’t resist and added 3.5 oz. of 70% chocolate, chopped into small pieces. Heaven!

Makes 12

Ingredients

2 small to medium zucchinis, finely grated and some excess liquid squeezed out

1 bar (100g or 3.5 oz.) of good quality 70% chocolate, cut into small pieces or a generous 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole spelt flour
  • 1 cup white spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

Method

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

In medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients.

In large mixing bowl, mix together wet ingredients.

Add half of dry ingredients to wet mix and gently combine. Mix in grated zucchini and stir until incorporated. Add chocolate. Gently fold in remaining half of dry ingredients. Don’t overmix!

Divide batter into 12 muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes.

Berry and Almond Scrunch

I first ate this dessert in London’s “Food For Thought” restaurant 20 years ago and I liked it so much that I had to eat it whenever I was in London. About 10 years later, I discovered there was a “Food For Thought” cookbook. Luckily it contains the Scrunch recipe, which I have made ever since, especially during summer. My favorite fruit combination is strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, but if you only have strawberries, that’s also fine. Sometimes I combine the berries with chunks of ripe mango, mmmm. It is loved by all and makes for delicious breakfast if you should be so lucky to have some left over. I adapted the recipe slightly over the years and use drained whole or low-fat yogurt instead of the yogurt/whipped cream mixture the original recipe asks for. After draining the yogurt for at least 5 hours or over night (see pictures below), I add some freshly squeezed orange juice and maple syrup and stir it all together. It comes out very creamy and you would never miss the whipped cream. Enjoy!

Berry and Almond Scrunch

Serves 10

Base                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           300 g rolled oats
150 g whole wheat/spelt flour
100 g butter cut into pieces
100 g brown sugar

Melt butter and set aside to cool. Mix dry ingredients, pour in melted butter and combine well. Press evenly into baking tray or 2 cake pans and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Bake for 15-20 min until light golden. Let cool and cut/break into 1 inch pieces.

Cover base with washed and halfed strawberries ( about 3 punnets) or other fruit or your choice.

Glaze                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mix juice of 1 orange and 3 tablespoons of strawberry or other jam in small pan and heat till jam is dissolved; let cool down and drizzle over berries

Yogurt Topping   

1 1/2 kg whole or low-fat milk yoghurtdrained over cheesecloth lined colander for several hours, or greek style yoghurt (which is thick already and doesn’t require draining)
Juice of 1 orange
Maple syrup or honey
to taste (about 4 tablespoons)
Mix until smooth and pour over fruit.
Top with 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until use.