Saturday, 28 June 2014

Roasted Mustard Lime Chicken Breast

Roasted Mustard Lime Chicken Breast
There are some days when the idea of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner makes me think of calling straightaway some place with home-delivery service for a sushi / sashimi or something else (except pizza because when it arrives it is usually unpalatable, cold and chewy). But actually I am not a big fan of this kind of dinner and usually, if I don't want to cook, I prefer to make a big refreshing salad.
Whit this recipe I have found a perfect alternative. This roasted chicken breast is tasty and at the same time really easy to make and there are hardly any dishes - and also no cooker - to wash: the chicken is marinated in a sauce made with lime juice, mustard (a mix of grainy and smooth mustard), olive oil, a splash of Tabasco, thyme, a little bit of salt and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, then it is transferred into a baking dish and put into the oven for about 20 minutes. Arrange a vegetable side dish (boiled or roasted potatoes, some steamed veggies or even a simple mixed salad) and the dinner is ready.
There are other good things about this dish: first of all, aside from the chicken breast, it is made from ingredient usually available in our pantry (actually I usually keep also some chicken in my freezer); and if you don't have grainy mustard you can always use only the Dijon or viceversa, as well as lime juice can be substituted for lemon and thyme for other herbs like rosemary or parsley (the result will be slightly different of course). And also it is possible to put the chicken in the marinade in advance (it takes no longer then 10 minutes) and bake it for lunch or dinner (the longer the chicken is marinated the stronger will be the flavor). I want to specify that the mustard flavor is pretty intense in this dish, therefore you will love it if you like mustard - which I think perfectly combines with chicken; but if you prefer a milder flavor you can swap one tablespoon of mustard for the same quantity of olive oil.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins
Like for these soft "cookie-buns" with milk chocolate chunks that I published a few weeks ago, this recipe was not intended for the blog because somehow improvised with ingredients I had on hand and, most important of all, conceived just with the intention of preparing something healthy and yummy for my child's "merenda" (this is how in Italy we call kids afternoon snack). Instead of giving him simply an apple, as I often do, I wanted to use apples as the main ingredient of a more nutritious, yet light and sane, snack.  I had at home some green apples (I am not a fan of their sour taste, I don't even know why I bought them, maybe just to change: I always buy Golden apples or red apples, like Gala, but rarely Granny Smith) and also frozen mixed berries that I wanted to combine. Since I wanted to put in place this idea straightaway, I searched for help on the internet, which is perfect if you have only a little time (I love referring to cooking books or magazines, but searching for inspiration there requires much more time than putting some key-words on Google); I hope that my work on this blog could help people who like me search for a quick inspiration when deciding to cook something. Since I wanted to make something also easy to handle (my child is only two years old) I tough of making a batch of muffins with apples and berries as main ingredients.

Mixed Berries and Apple Muffins I found several inspiring recipes, but I was searching for something also healthy, that for me means possibly with no butter, very little sugar or better sugar substitutes, whole grain flours, etc. And so the final inspiration came from a recipe published on a blog that I did not know before (sallybakingaddiction), but perfectly in line with my requests. Of course I did not have on hand part of the ingredients the recipe called for, like applesauce, yogurt, blackberries (I had mixed berries instead); also I wanted to swap white whole wheat flour used in the original recipe for spelt flour (for which I have a particular affection as showed in these bread, cake, and cookies) and, as I have recently tried with great satisfaction the local laban (an Arab yogurt drink) in this raspberry laban cake, I wanted to use it again in this recipe to replace yogurt and milk. Well, the end of the story is that these muffins came out very good: super moist, packed with healthy fruits, not too sweet and really enjoyable. These berries and apple muffins are the demonstration that healthy sweets can be also very good!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Buckweath and chocolate cookies

Buckwheat and chocolate cookies

I like to use non-wheat flours when I bake. With a different flour a recipe can completely change: the texture, the taste, the smell and the color also. And for a more intense and rich flavor I like whole grain flours instead of refined ones (and they are healthier too). One of my favorite grain is spelt (even if my blog is very young I have already published a spelt apple cake and a no-knead bread where spelt flour is used) but I love also rye, barley, and buckwheat which is not a grain but a pseudo-cereal from which it is possible to produce a flour suitable also in a gluten-free diet. I like buckwheat's deep dark color, its intense flavor and nutty taste and I use it sometimes also to make bread.
In these buckwheat and chocolate cookies I used a combination of buckwheat flour, whole grain spelt flour (for an even nuttier taste), and cocoa powder (for enhancing the color and the chocolate flavor) to make a very original and unusual version of chocolate chip cookies. Since whole grain flours tend to produce a dough on the dry side, I used brown sugar to increase moisture. For flavoring, I added vanilla extract and a pinch of cinnamon that can be substituted for other spices (for example cardamom or nutmeg) or even nothing). Swapping spelt flour for a gluten-free one (like rice or almond or corn or other of your preference) makes these cookies completely gluten-free.
They go well with a cup of tea, especially if flavored (cardamom, cinnamon, ...), with coffee or with a glass of milk, then they are perfect for an afternoon tea but also as a guilt-free sweet treat.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Raspberry laban cake

Raspberry laban cake

That breakfast is one the most important meals of the day is well-known: after the night rest our body needs to fuel for engaging in morning activities and performing well, and so it is recommended that everybody, and especially children, takes a balanced mix of nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibers, vitamins and minerals).
This is, in a nutshell, the theory. In practice, at least in my case, what I prefer to eat in the morning is something sweet, and my child (two years old) has a sweet tooth too. For this reason I like to have in hand every day some home-made cake or tarte or cookies to eat for breakfast with  milk, tea and coffee (the baby has of course only the milk). And, as I have already said when published these soft cookies, I always try to make something as healthy and light as possible (a little or no butter, not too much sugar, etc.) but at the same time tasty. This time I wanted to make a cake with fruit, raspberries in particular, because I had bought some packs for another dessert (coming soon because it is really worth trying!!!!); and I also wanted to try one local product I had never tried before: laban which is an Arab yogurt drink (but similar drinks are used also in other Middle Eastern countries), usually drunk to replenish all the water and salts the body need in the hot weather of these countries. It is thicker than milk but more liquid than yogurt and with a sour taste; I wanted to use it instead of any of them or maybe buttermilk, not easy to find here. I had noticed on the Gourmet magazine website a cake with raspberries and buttermilk and took inspiration from that recipe to make mine (I used much less sugar, self-raising flour instead of the regular one plus leaveners, less butter, no eggs, more fruit and, of course, laban). And the cake came out very good, soft, moist and light; it is really easy and fast to make, also kids can help and enjoy, and it is perfect both for breakfast, an afternoon tea and - why not?- as a light dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a lukewarm crème anglaise.
Just one comment: I don't like very sweet cakes so I am always careful with sugar, but in this case, if using raspberries, which are a bit sour, it is possible to use more sugar than me for having a sweeter result, and to add vanilla extract or swap lemon zests for it. Also raspberries can be replaced with other berries or fruits of your preference.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Asian style strip steak (with peppers, onion and ginger-soy sauce)

Asian style strip steak (with peppers, onion and ginger-soy sauce)
I don't eat (and don't cook either) a lot of meat. There is no ethic or ideological or merely dietetic motivation behind this; and not even the fact that I don't like meat, in fact I love it (of course only if it is quality meat, but this is true for any kind of food). The reason is simply that I rarely long for having some meat and probably I could live without it (while I cannot stay one day without eating some kind of vegetable). And the weird thing is that when I crave for meat I want something raw or very close to: and so if I prepare meat at home, most of the times it is something not requiring slow cooking or roasting. When I lived in Turin (where local beef breed - Fassone - has a high quality, tender and flavorful meat) I used to prepare a mix of tartares with different seasonings or a simple tagliata. Now that I live in Dubai I like to experiment "fusion" recipes where Italian flavors I am used to combine with ingredients and ways of cooking coming from different culinary traditions, and the recipe I want to share is a perfect example of this idea: the meat is rapidly stir - fried (something similar to what we call "straccetti"), but before is marinated in a ginger-soy sauce-sesame oil- garlic-chili mixture which gives an oriental deep flavor, and is paired with onions and peppers cooked in the same sauce; and everything in cooked in a wok (which I really like because it permits to make very tasty and perfectly seared food limiting the quantity of fat used).
I admit that the dish is not the most photogenic in the world - especially if pictured when prepared for a family dinner, as I did - but it gives a lot of satisfaction; and, not less important, is fast and easy to make.
I have not done yet, but I think it would be perfect for being eaten with chopsticks.

Monday, 9 June 2014

No-knead pizza baguette

No-knead pizza baguette
I have already said that I like recipes for no-knead breads, because they enable anybody, even those - like me- who do not possess neither a stand mixer nor strong arms, to make fragrant, airy and delicious bread on his own.
The recipe I want to share today is not properly a bread - at least as bread is considered  in Italy, that is something that goes along with food, like rice in Asian cuisine - but more an aperitif, perfect to stimulate the appetite, or even a snack for an afternoon craving for something good. Pair them with a glass of cold sparkling wine or even a pint of beer and nobody will resist.
If you are not able to serve them as soon as they come out from the oven, these baguette can be warmed up and will be fragrant and soft as just baked (it is also possible to freeze them and thaw them when needed).

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Light chocolate mousse with shiny cocoa glaze

Light chocolate mousse with shiny cocoa glaze

I think that any special dinner, be it a birthday or anniversary for one member of the family, a formal occasion, a dinner with guests, or even the simple wish of having a special meal, deserves to be closed with a dessert; but I don't mean some scoops of ice-cream or an industrial cake well presented on a beautiful plate. I mean a real dessert, home-made with the same care reserved to all the other courses of the dinner. In fact, since dessert comes at the end of a meal, sometimes we don't give it the right attention, thinking that after many other good things it may be superfluous; but it is not: a good dessert, at the end of a special dinner, is the piece necessary to complete the puzzle. But of course it must be coherent with the rest of dinner, as well as all the dinner must be conceived so that guests can enjoy all the courses and do not arrive at the end feeling too full to have also a dessert. If a four layer chocolate cake with butter-cream frosting comes to the table after an assortment of appetizers, followed by grilled sausages and ribs, stuffed roasted turkey with french fries and mixed sauces, one cannot expect that guests crave nothing else but a generous slice of it!
Today I want to present a dessert which I consider perfect for several occasions: from a romantic dinner, to a formal invitation, to a buffet dinner. It is a chocolate dessert, but comes in the form of a light mousse with no eggs or butter and is served cold (so it can be successfully served also in summertime); and, not less important, it is also very beautiful, served as individual mini-desserts coated in an elegant shiny glaze.
I admit that they require a little work, but they are easy to make and with a little bit of organization you will be rewarded by your guests compliments (who for sure will not believe that you made everything by yourself). Actually, it is possible to save a little time making one big mousse cake instead of individual ones: same ingredients, same technique, only less molds to fill. In any form you decide to make it, this dessert is worth trying, especially if you and your family / guests love chocolate.
I know, the recipe is very long, but trust me it takes longer to read than to make.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with dried cherries

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with dried cherries

I have always at least one good reason to make cookies, and to try new ones. I have already tested many recipes, even more are waiting to be prepared and for sure there many others that I have not discovered yet. And I am happy of this. Because I love to make cookies: preparing cookies let me relax, sharing them with my family or guest gives me satisfaction and enjoying them makes me happy.
Today's cookies are a combination of flavors and textures: whole wheat flour gives a particular rustic taste, oat flakes add a crunchy texture, the sweetness of cherries is perfectly balanced by dark chocolate. For a richer version it is possible to add to the dough pecans or walnuts or other nuts you like.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta

I admit I have periodic - let me say - affairs with some food. I explain better: I sometimes become smitten with a particular ingredient, or even a dish, and then I prepare it with a very high frequency, not every day but maybe at least once a week, often in the same way (I precise I am the kind of person who doesn't like monotony at the table). So I had the period of "paccheri", and most of the pasta recipes I prepared was made with paccheri; then came the period of "pappa al pomodoro" (a typical dish of the Tuscan cuisine made with tomatoes and bread, which is as simple as delicious) and now that I recall it I think I could get back in love; then I had the "ratatouille" period: how many dishes had a ratatouille as a side, when not the leading role, at that time! There were also sword fish, ginger, anchovies, shrimps, bottarga (an Italian specialty made from fish eggs, salted and dried, mostly produced in Sardinia), scallops, sesame, barley (with which I used to make "orzotto", a dish prepared like a risotto but using barley instead of rice), spaghetti and more.
Now it is the bulgur time. Bulgur is a quite recent discovery for me; before I used to prepare couscous, that I like very much too, and since in shops bulgur and couscous are usually displayed on the same shelves, I noticed it and, being always very curious to try something new, I decided to buy. I loved it since the first time I prepared it; for sure I make it much more often then I make pasta (I admit, even if I am one-hundred percent Italian, I do not need to eat pasta every day, not because I do not like it but because I think that many other things are good too, so I prefer to vary and make every day something different).
I prepared it in several way and this is my favorite: easy to make, full of colors and flavors, healthy, light and tasty, it is perfect for summer. It can also be prepared in advance and served at room temperature, therefore it is a good solution for several occasion: a family lunch or dinner, a buffet supper, an outdoor picnic, the lunch-box.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Soft "cookie-buns" with milk chocolate chunks: an idea for kids breakfast and snack

Soft "cookie-buns" with milk chocolate chunks

In my original intention this recipe should have not been published on the blog, because it was an experiment, a real experiment that only the family should have tried. I had to make something for my kid's breakfast, and I wanted that it was first of all healthy, then easy and fast, but also tasty (sometimes healthy things are not really appetizing, especially for kids). With this goal in my mind I put together a mix of flours (all-purpose and whole grain spelt), some unrefined cane sugar, a good amount of plain yogurt (in order to eliminate any kind of oil or butter), one egg to keep everything together, baking powder to add softness and milk chocolate and vanilla to balance the yogurt sourness. What came out was something in the middle between a cookie and a soft bread, not too sweet, airy and really enjoyable; it's difficult to believe it does not contain any butter.
A very satisfying result both for me and my kid: he was happy to eat them and me to have achieved all of my objectives. So I changed my mind and decided to share the recipe: I thought that maybe there are many other moms wishing to make something easy, fast, healthy and yummy for their children (and - why not - also for themselves) and this recipe is perfect.
Moreover it is very versatile: you can change the filling depending on what is available in your pantry and decide to use chocolate or nuts or dried fruit or a mix of all; you can also modify the size, choosing a small or a bigger one, with a different result in terms of tenderness (be careful to adapt baking time to the selected size); or finally you can shape the dough into balls or into small hot-dog buns or whatever your fantasy suggests.
After deciding to share the recipe the most difficult task was to find an adequate name for the final "product": it is not properly a cookies, but not even a brioche (that would require a much longer rising time) not even a bread. After some thinking I coined the name "cookie-buns" because they remind me at the same time a cookie and a bun. If anyone finds a better name I will be very happy to re-name them.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Raspberry Thumbprints

Raspberry Thumbprints cookies

I bake a lot of cookies! Cookies for breakfast, cookies for coffee, cookies for my kid, cookies for an after-dinner treat - usually these fall into the chocolate cookies category - and sometimes, cookies for making baking experiments. Cookies are perfect for the last scope. In fact usually they are quite easy and fast to prepare (and thanks to the outside temperature here in Dubai I do not even have to wait long for butter to get soft), made with ingredients generally available at home and, let's say, "easier" to eat than for example a cake or a tarte: who can refuse a two-bite dessert? I know, there also some giant cookies that are much more challenging than a layered cake, but I consider them an exception.
Today's cookies are exactly an experiment inspired by a recipe, seen on Martha Stewart's website, for thumbprint cookies whose ingredients included cornmeal. Since I love the crunchy texture given by this flour (some regional Italian cookies made with cornmeal are in my opinion delicious) I wanted to try; I also loved the presence in the dough of orange zest which gives a fresh hint.
The original recipe called for cranberries in the filling jam: not being cranberries available here, I used raspberries which I like and paired perfectly with the base (but I think that also strawberries would work well). I made few adjustment and the result was even better than expected: crunchy on the outside thanks to the sugar crust, with a crumby and nutty interior texture due to the presence of cornmeal; the slightly acidity of raspberry filling perfectly balanced by the sugar crust; all perfumed by the orange flavor. Delicious!