Global Cuisine

huevossaladI think Mexican food is one of my all time favorites.  Growing up in Southern California, the availability of "good" Mexican food was not hard to find, it was everywhere.  I have so many old favorite places that served everything from Tex-Mex cuisine to more authentic regional Mexican cooking.  I do miss those places.  Badly.

This particular dish is a take on Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs), a classic Mexican breakfast dish usually consisting of fried eggs served on top of corn tortillas with a chili-based salsa and avocado.  It's an awesome way to start the day!

But I have to say this salad also has many of my favorite ingredients...black beans, green salsa, chips and cheese.  The tomatillo or green salsa gives so much flavor.  I have always preferred a green salsa over red anyway.  The broiling of the chips also gives them that extra-toasty crunch which is just makes it all worth the trouble.

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kofta.jpg The flavors and spices of Middle Eastern foods, especially the grilled kebabs and koftas, are some of the most interesting and unique, with influence stretching from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean. Koftas, grilled ground meat patties, can be found in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, And Central Europe. A few years back I enjoyed some wonderful lamb koftas at a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Ever since then I've kept the idea in the back of my mind of creating my own recipe. Inspired also by the Hungarian fasírt my mother makes, I wanted to create a recipe that combined spices from the various regions: paprika from Hungary and coriander, cumin, and turmeric from India.

My mother's fasírt combines beef and pork and only uses the simplest spices, whereas koftas are generally made out of beef or lamb and use the most pungent spices. These koftas can be shaped into patties or meatballs, but I thread them onto skewers, one of the more interesting methods of cooking them. They can be fried in oil, but grilling them is healthier and lends more flavor. In South Asia, koftas are seared first and then stewed in curry. This recipe can be adapted to suit many tastes and preparations. The idea of meat on a stick is so novel that it's worth making, especially for kids.

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newoliveoil.jpgNovember is a glorious time in Umbria. The grape harvest has been recently completed, the olive harvest is underway and all the stores and restaurants are trumpeting vino novello and olio nuovo. I was at my local butcher and I asked him the difference between nuovo and novello,because as far as I could figure out, they both meant “new”.

A spirited discussion ensued among the small crowd of customers waiting in line for prosciutto, the end result of which was that there is no difference between the two words, but no one would be caught dead saying olio novella or vino nuovo.

If you did, they would think you were a German.

Olio nuovo does not travel. If anyone tries to sell it to you at Dean and Deluca or Eataly, sneer at them and say that you have to be there to get the experience of new oil, just pressed today. By “there” I mean the hills of central Umbria where truly fine olive oil is pressed from the local fruit. I know this because we have been picking that fruit for the last two weeks and will be for the next three.

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jamieIf you have as many chef crushes as I do, here’s some good news: you don’t have to break up with your favorite chefs in order to lose weight, you just have to redefine your relationships…

And here’s a Jamie Oliver “recipe re-do” to prove the point:  Skinny Steak with Mushrooms, Bok Choy and Gingered Tamari Sauce.

From the moment Jamie burst on the scene–with dishes that were both simple and sophisticated, and a style of cooking that was casual and fun–I was a fan; never questioning his recipes, I just cooked. But now, 30+ pounds lighter and with an eye on the health of everyone in my family, I do question the ingredients and instructions for every recipe I make and, though I still adore Jamie and his dishes, I happily alter them.

Found in Happy Days with the Naked Chef, the original version of this quick and easy recipe calls for one 8-ounce sirloin steak per person. Without getting into the other health risks of eating too much red meat, it’s just an awful lot of fat and calories…32 grams of fat, to be exact, and roughly 500 calories–about a third of the calories I need in an entire day… And I’m not talking about the fat and calories in the whole meal,  just the portion of the plate that’s protein!

By reducing that super-sized portion of beef and using meat-mimicking magic mushrooms to fill out the plate you can still enjoy the taste and sensation of a beef dinner but with half the fat, cholesterol and calories.

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kofka-kebabsIt’s been a very, very short summer. I am not at all happy that 2 of my 3 kids are returning to school this Tuesday. WTF…it’s mid August! Packing lunches, getting up early(not a problem for me, but for them-YES), and routine is all part of this weeks drill.

Honestly speaking, I barely cooked this summer. It felt great to take a break, yet with school two days away it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen. Shopping, prepping, and organizing has filled my weekend. Cookies and brownies are made and frozen (perfect snack for the lunch box), farmers market organic fruits are flash frozen (great for morning smoothies), salad dressings are made and bottled, veggies are washed, meat and chicken are grilled (for easy sandwiches or simply served on their own), and the meal planning has begun!

Spending 30 or so minutes each morning on prep will allow me to get these nutritous and balanced meals on the table each night. Tonight’s dinner is one of my favorites. Combining all the ingredients in the morning allows the meat to marinate all day. Shaped into balls, skewered, and grilled, this is one of those perfect 30 minute meals.

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