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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Start planning that Halloween party, or get your family in the spooky spirit with these cute cookies. (Whipped, The Blog)

Halloween pumpkin cookie balls

By Whipped, The Blog / 10.26.12

Though I ate my share of Oreos growing up and though I’ve had them swirled into a flurry or two, I don’t think I have ever bought a package of them. I love baking from scratch and most of the baked goods coming out of my kitchen involve a more old school base of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. At an event last week, I was introduced to my first cookie ball and not only did the signature Oreo flavor tickle my nostalgia nerve, the decadent bites nearly unplugged my will power.

It is always fun for me when my work life and blog life collide. I had the opportunity to visit the Kraft Food Kitchens in Glenview, Ill., where I got a sneak peek behind the scenes and had the pleasure of meeting more than a dozen mom bloggers. I was invited by the hosting group to talk with the mom bloggers about food photography. I found that I also had a thing or two to learn from this group of in-the-know mom writers and product reviewers! 

Between sessions, we were served lunch prepared by the Kraft staff. Only at a blogger gathering would nearly everyone capture a photo of the spread before digging in.

The desserts were artfully presented and had a timely Halloween flair. I helped myself to a little of this and a little of that, taste testing almost everything. The Kraft crew presented some candy bar bites that were some sort of mock Butterfinger. It actually tasted so much like a Butterfinger, it left me wondering, “Why not just buy a Butterfinger?”

I was tickled by a Jello-O brain mold and admired the various pretty pudding parfaits.

But it was the Halloween Oreo Pumpkins that inspired me to ask where I could find their recipes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Kraft has an enormous website of recipes including a vast Halloween section. There are some cute ideas to get your wheels turning, especially for Halloween party planning.

As for these cookie balls? Perhaps a bag of Oreos will be visiting the Whipped kitchen.

Oreo Pumpkin Cookie Balls

6 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 package 15.25 oz Oreo peanut butter creme cookies, finely crushed (regular Oreos would be good too!)
2 packages (6 squares each) Baker’s white chocolate, melted
1 cup orange colored sugar or sprinkles
10 pretzel sticks, broken into 4 pieces each

Mix cream cheese and cookie crumbs until well blended. Shape into 40 1-inch balls.

Freeze for 10 minutes.

Dip balls in melted chocolate; roll in sugar or sprinkles to evenly coat. Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet.

Insert 1 pretzel piece into top of each for the pumpkin’s stem. Refrigerate one hour or until firm.

Related post from Whipped, The Blog: Halloween witch cookies

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Baking beets, rather than roasting them, is a faster process. After about 30-45 minutes in the oven, slip the skins off and slice them to a smaller size. (Garden of Eating)

Baked beets with herbs and butter

By Garden of Eating / 10.25.12

We got the most lovely bunch of purple beets at our last CSA pick up. I used a few by grating them raw into salads (yum!), then proceeded to ignore them in order to focus on some of the more time-sensitive veggies that needed to be dealt with quickly. Luckily, beets keep for quite a while in the fridge if you remove the greens and this batch seemed perfectly content to cool their heels in the crisper for nearly two weeks while I dealt with more pressing culinary concerns.

I typically roast beets – they're delicious that way -– but I was not feeling excited about waiting quite that long for them to cook so I decided to try baking them, instead – something I'd never tried before. With baked beets, the cooking time is sped up by putting a small amount of water in the bottom of the baking dish to steam the beets while they cook. Then you slip the skins off just as you would with roasted or boiled beets. It's a bloody-looking business but it washes right off.

I was also attracted to the simple idea of tossing the warm beets with butter, herbs, salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice. So I ran out to our little container garden and gathered up oregano, thyme, and basil and chopped them up.

The results were both quicker and less messy than roasting and deliciously flavorful and light. The baked beets are a little bit softer than roasted and the fresh herbs complement their natural sweetness while the butter makes it feel just a wee bit decadent and the salt, pepper, and lemon juice add a little brightness and jazz.

I served them with a thick cucumber yogurt sauce spiked with fresh mint (have I mentioned how much I love whole milk Greek yogurt for this purpose?), grilled lamb sausages from our favorite butcher shop, and my own interpretation of one of those Near East boxed couscous mixes. I use this very tasty, fine whole wheat French couscous that we get in bulk at our local health food store, some sautéed red onion, a lot of chopped fresh herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper -- it's much better than the box.

The beets were at least as tasty the next day as leftovers, too. I will definitely be making these again.

Baked beets with herbs & butter
Serves 4-6

1 large bunch of beets (any kind), washed with tops and tails removed

 2 tablespoons butter (you could substitute olive or walnut oil if you do not eat dairy)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Big handful of fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley, oregano, etc.,), washed, dried and chopped

1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or mild vinegar like champagne or white balsamic

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the beets in a shallow baking dish and add half a cup of water to the bottom. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

2. Bake for 30-45 minutes (cooking time will depend on the size of the beets you're using), until beets are soft when poked with a fork. Remove from the oven and let sit, uncovered until cool enough to handle. Slip the skins off and remove any roots or tough pieces left over from the tops with a knife, then slice to whatever thickness and shape you desire.

3. Toss with the herbs, butter, salt, and pepper then sprinkle a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or vinegar of your choice. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Subtle pumpkin flavor is paired well with sweet Italian sausage, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, and sage. (The Runaway Spoon)

Italian sausage and pumpkin manicotti

By The Runaway Spoon / 10.24.12

As I remember it, trick-or-treating is hard work. Lots of walking, in what is invariably an uncomfortable costume, that heavy bag of candy and keeping your best manners on under all that stress.

But the promise of a seemingly endless supply of fun-size candy bars made it all worthwhile. I even liked the stripey, crunchy peanut butter Mary Janes and the peanut taffy in the orange and black wrappers. Then there was the dentist down the street, who gave the “special” neighborhood kids a toothbrush, while any other kids got granola bars.

So after a hard slog of candy hunting, it’s nice to come home to warm, comforting seasonal dinner. And what could be more perfect on Halloween than pumpkin? This creamy, cheesy casserole can be made ahead, and popped in the oven to cook while you’re out and about. The meaty sausage and melty cheese are perfect, with a subtle pumpkin flavor that will satisfy little tummies (and grown-up appetites) before the sugar rush sets in.

Creamy Italian sausage and pumpkin manicotti
Serves 6 to 8

For the manicotti:
1 (8-ounce) package manicotti pasta shells

 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, bulk or casings removed

medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

7 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese

1 cup pumpkin purée, from a 15-ounce can

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

For the pumpkin sage béchamel sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

10 fresh sage leaves, very finely chopped

3/4 cup pumpkin puree (the remainder from the manicotti recipe)

salt and pepper to taste

For the manicotti:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the manicotti according to the package instructions. Cook the manicotti about 2 minute less than the recommended cooking time. Drain the manicotti and rinse thoroughly with cold water to prevent sticking.

While the water is boiling and the manicotti is cooking, crumble the sausage into a large skillet and cook over medium high heat, breaking it up with a spatula, until it begins to brown. Add the onion and 1/2 cup of water and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the sausage is cooked through and no longer pink and the water has evaporated. Stir in the garlic and chopped sage and cook for two more minutes. Add the ricotta and pumpkin and stir until the filling is creamy and smooth. Stir in the parmesan cheese until melted. Leave the filling to cool to room temperature while you make the sauce.

For the pumpkin béchamel:

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then whisk in the flour until you have a loose, smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium until the sauce is creamy and thickened. Whisk in the nutmeg and chopped sage. Stir in the pumpkin purée until combined and cook until lightly bubbling. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:

Spread about 1/2 cup of béchamel sauce over the bottom of a greased 9 by 13-inch baking pan, to prevent the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stuff the manicotti shells with the filling and lay them over the sauce in the pan. I admit, I am a bit of a manicotti cheat – I cut the shells open with a pair of scissors, place a line of filling down the center, roll it up, and place it seam side down in the pan.  If you have some leftover filling, tuck it in around the noodles.

Spoon the béchamel sauce over the noodles and gently spread it out to a thin layer covering the noodles. Sprinkle the 2 cups of shredded mozzarella over the top of the manicotti.

The manicotti can be covered and refrigerated several hours or overnight at this point. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the manicotti for 40 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. If the cheese begins to brown, loosely cover the pan with foil.

Related post from The Runaway Spoon: Pumpkin cornbread

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Oct. 24 is Food Day in the United States. (

What is Food Day?

By Kendra Nordin / 10.24.12

You could argue that every day is food day, since finding your next meal is a daily problem that every person on the planet faces every day.

Food Day (Oct. 24) in the United States aims to raise awareness around issues in our food system – from growing to transportation to consumption – and create sustainable solutions for the challenges it faces. It is a grass-roots movement created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to promote healthier diets, support sustainable food systems, reduce hunger, improve the environmental standards of factory farms, and support fair working conditions for food and farm workers.

Thousands of students on more 250 college campuses in 46 states are participating in Food Day on Oct. 24. On-campus events range from cook-offs and movie screenings to public demonstrations and local food banquets. Food Day is being co-coordinated by Real Food Challenge, the largest national student organization committed to building a just and sustainable food economy, and CSPI.

CSPI has also created away for you to participate right there as you sit at your computer. Take their "Do You Eat Real?" quiz at to become more aware of the food you put on your plate and the impact it has on the environment around you.

Or use their dinner party kit, complete with games, trivia, and recipes from notable foodies (such as, Rick Bayless, Mark Bittman, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper) to invite friends and family to think beyond their dinner plate.

To join or find out about a Food Day activity happening near you, go to and type in your zipcode.

This dish combines flavors of French cooking, but with the comforting feel of Chinese food. Use roasted, peeled chestnuts found at most grocery stores. (Blue Kitchen)

Pork, chestnut, kale stir fry over soba noodles

By Blue Kitchen / 10.24.12

We’ve often talked about our love for Chinese food, which for us is the ultimate in comfort food. In the last year or so, our adventures have led us away from our friendly old favorites in the kitchen, but some recent enjoyable dinners in Chinatown, and a memory of past pleasures, put it front and center for us again.

This dish came together due to a fortuitous combination of impulse purchases, pantry staples, and a memory of other Octobers. Please note that in this recipe, I am talking about true chestnuts, from chestnut trees – not water chestnuts, which are the corms of an aquatic sedge. Think walking down the rue de Rivoli, at just this time of year. It’s evening, there’s a bit of chill in the air, the street is thronged with people, and you are dawdling along in your light wool coat, glancing into the gleaming windows and the faces of strangers, holding a paper cone of hot, roasted chestnuts you just bought from a street vendor and wondering where you’ll go for dinner.

This dish nods to Paris in the fall, but it primarily pays a visit to Asia, with aromatic ginger and garlic, spiciness from chili paste and hot bean paste, the warm, naturally sweet taste of soba noodles and everything stir-fried together.

When you’re in a mood that is part Arrondissement, part Chengdu, this just might help. It would make a very nice fall dinner. In the ancestral versions of this, the noodles are first boiled, then drained and fried in the same pot in which you make the pork, but this time I found it easier to sauté them separately until they were lightly gold, then introduce the two parts during plating.

Pork chestnut kale stir fry with fried soba noodles
Serves 4

1 pound pork, cut into 2-inch-long ribbons (I used boneless pork chops)

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoons ginger, crushed and minced

2 to 4 tablespoons chili paste (to taste)

A 6- or 7-ounce package of roasted, peeled chestnuts, cut or broken in half (see Kitchen Notes)

8 to 10 stalks of kale, ribs removed and the leaves torn into small pieces

12 to 14 ounces dry soba noodles

canola oil

4 scallions, roots trimmed, cut into rings

Marinade for the pork:

2 tablespoons soy sauce (reduced sodium preferred)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon dry sherry [*editor's note: the sherry may be left out with little affect on the marinade]


2 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 cup water

1 cup chicken stock or broth

1 tablespoon hot bean paste

4 tablespoons dry sherry [*editor's note: the sherry may be substituted with 4 extra tablespoons of soy sauce]

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoon cornstarch

Cut the pork into ribbons about 2 inches long. Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the pork, stir to mix everything and set the pork in a cool place. It should marinate for about 15 minutes.

While it is marinating, prepare the remaining ingredients. Put a pot of water on to boil, to cook the soba noodles. Combine the ginger and garlic in a small ramekin. Measure out the chili paste in another ramekin. Prepare the roasted chestnuts and tear up the kale. Mix the sauce ingredients in their own bowl.

When the pot of water comes to a boil, add the soba noodles and cook until al dente (probably about 6 or 7 minutes). Drain and rinse well in hot water.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil. Add the drained noodles, stir and toss them so they are coated with the oil, then continue sautéing them. The goal is to make them nicely, lightly golden.

Drain the pork and discard marinade. In another nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil oil to medium and add the ginger and garlic. Sauté for 90 seconds, then add the pork ribbons and turn the heat up a little. Cook, stirring and turning the pork ribbons, until they are no longer pink. Don’t worry if the ginger and garlic darken – they will taste good.

When the pork loses its pink color, add the chili paste. Toss and stir to spread it thoroughly. The amount you add depends on how spicy you want this dish to be. I ended up adding 4 tablespoons, which was twice as much as I expected to add but, in the end, it did not seem that hot. It depends on your palate and how fiery your chili paste seems on the day.

At this point, add the chestnuts and gently stir everything together. Turn the heat down.

Meanwhile, you are also keeping an eye on the noodles in the other skillet. Golden, not crispy, is your mantra.

When the noodles look sufficiently golden, turn the heat low under that pan. Give everything in the pork pan a light stir. Then add the kale, stir all together, and pour the sauce over all. Immediately start stirring and scooping everything together. It will start thickening immediately – keep the liquid moving so it does not stick. If it seems too thick or if you would like greater volume, top up with a mix of soy and stock.

When the kale wilts but is still bright green, this is ready. Serve by plating the noodles and dishing the pork on top; or stir everything together in one pan to incorporate it all. Sprinkle with the scallions and then serve.

Kitchen Notes

Make it vegetarian. For the sauce, omit the chicken stock and substitute additional 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1/2 cup water. Instead of pork, use extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes and marinated without the cornstarch. And when choosing tofu, select a good quality brand and not the cheap stuff. Avoid the kind in the cardboard box – spend a few more cents for a far better result. Sauté the tofu until it is golden on all sides; after that, handle with care so it doesn’t break up.

Packaged chestnuts. Roasted, peeled chestnuts are now widely available. We used Trader Joe’s, which come roasted and vacuum packed from France. Asian and international markets often carry roasted, vacuum packed chestnuts from China. I like this product because I have never been very good at handling fresh chestnuts, what with the cross-cuts and the peeling and the high temperatures and all – I am always afraid I am going to chop off a hand (mine). So this product is welcome at our house. It’s not exactly fresh roasted, bought from a cheerful North African vendor over by the Rue des Halles, in a cone made from a bit of Le Monde, but it’s pretty darn good.

Related post from Blue Kitchen: Chinese sesame asparagus salad

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President Barack Obama orders a fast food hamburger in Washington, May 29, 2009. (Gerald Herbert/AP/File)

After last night's debate, which candidate would you eat a burger with?

By Stir It Up! Editor / 10.23.12

The presidential debate on foreign policy held last night in Boca Raton, Fla., has been largely declared a tie. In other words, no glaring gaffes, a congeniality that was missing from the second debate, and well articulated debate agendas. There's nothing like a good race that comes down to a dead-heat tie on the homestretch. So for the undecideds in this country, who will surely once again decide the 2012 election, set aside your comparative analysis for a moment and ask yourself this question: Which candidate would you rather have a hamburger with?

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Smashburger, a "better burger" restaurant, polled 2,094 US adults and found that nearly 3 in 5, or 59 percent, would most like to eat a hamburger with President Barack Obama.

We can assume that vegetarians were automatically disqualified from the poll, or perhaps they politely hung up on the pollster. And we'll try not to deduce that Mitt Romney's choice of a veggie burger before the last debate had any bearings on the results of this hamburger poll.

More scrutiny of the results reveals that of the 59 percent who favor sharing a meal with President Obama:

  • 64 percent hail from the Midwest, 55 percent from the South, 61 percent from the Northeast and 59 percent from the West. 
  • Younger adults chose President Obama over their older counterparts, 64 percent of 18-to-34 year olds vs. 54 percent of those 55 years and older. 
  • 66 percent of women 18 to 34 years old and 45 to 54 years old, respectively, would most want to have a hamburger with President Obama over 51 percent of women ages 55 and older. 

Two in 5, or 41 percent, want to grab a burger with Governor Mitt Romney.

  • Of the 41 percent36 percent are from the Midwest, 45 percent from the South, 39 percent from the Northeast and 41 percent from the West. 
  • 46 percent of adults 55 and older selected presidential candidate Governor Romney over 36 percent of younger adults ages 18 to 34. 
  • Similarly, 49 percent of women 55 and older most want to have a hamburger with presidential candidate Governor Romney over 34 percent of women 18 to 34 years old and 45 to 54 year olds, respectively. 

The survey also found that Bill Clinton is the former US President Americans would most want to have a hamburger with, at 22 percent. Other desirable burger buddies from the past include Abraham Lincoln (15 percent), John F. Kennedy (14 percent), Ronald Reagan (14 percent), Thomas Jefferson (5 percent), George Washington (5 percent), and Theodore Roosevelt (5 percent), George W. Bush (4 percent) and Jimmy Carter (4 percent).

What does this hamburger poll reveal about America's next president? Absolutely nothing. But it tells you that President Obama is the preferred date for women voters at the local burger bar.

Pippa Middleton at the U.S. Open tennis tournament last month in New York. Ms. Middleton's new book offers recipes and party tips for the single, urban woman. Martha Stewart, she is not. But that's OK. ((AP Photo/Darron Cummings) )

Pippa Middleton book: How good are these royal recipes?

By Kendra Nordin / 10.23.12

Kate Middleton's younger sister Pippa, the one who "stole the show" as the maid of honor at the Royal Wedding in the spring of 2011, wants to help you throw a party.

Pippa's new book, "Celebrate," features seasonal themed parties with fashionable photos full of rosy cheeked children enjoying themselves and, of course, the perfect tresses and dimpled smile of the author herself. London's Daily Mail online offers a sneak peak at her Halloween and Bonfire Night chapters, and their accompanying recipes

"The book is designed to be a comprehensive guide to home entertaining, based on my experience in my family’s party business Party Pieces, and work for London-based events company Table Talk," writes Pippa in the introduction of "Celebrate." "It is a useful and practical journey into British-themed occasions and I hope it offers welcome inspiration and ideas, most of which needn’t leave you alarmingly out of pocket."

A quick perusal of the opening chapters of "Celebrate" shows that Pippa knows her audience. The ones who trail her every move in the tabloids (some estimate she is photographed up to 400 times a day by paparazzi), follow her fashion trends, and gossip about her social life. Essentially, celebrity chasers with the attention span of a gnat. 

IN PICTURES: Pippa Middleton, the fashionista

Pippa's recipes directly reflect who she is and where she is in her life – a young, single, urban woman with a background in party planning who happens to be experiencing unprecedented global attention. The recipes in "Celebrate" are simple and yet they are more creative than just pouring out a bag of chips and popping open a jar of salsa. Think: Witches' fingers cheese straws for Halloween and red and orange stuffed peppers for Bonfire night.

"Celebrate" includes a nod toward British traditions, too, with Toad-in-the-hole casserole and parkin, "a hearty, comforting ginger cake made with oatmeal and black treacle, parkin originated in the north of England and is customarily eaten on Bonfire Night."

Simple, from someone still finding her mark, is not always a bad approach. 

With photos of happy children playing games like pumpkin bowling and eating doughnuts hanging on strings from the limbs of trees, it's tempting to think "Celebrate" is the perfect babysitter's cookbook, a fashionable Mary Poppins, if you will. But Pippa quickly saves her reputation as London's "It Girl" with her recipes for adult cocktails. So let's upgrade that ranking to a helpful dorm party book for people not quite ready to let go of childhood. Or maybe a party guide for frazzled young parents who've let the living room go to seed with LEGOs.

Presentation is half the battle at any party table. An appealing looking dish with simple decorations can make guests feel like you've stepped it up a bit for them, and they'll appreciate it. A little bit of effort can turn just another get together with friends in front of the telly into a more festive occasion, and that appears to be what "Celebrate" aims to help its readers achieve.

Pippa and her autumnal offerings – so far – is being roasted by the media as an effort to cash in on her new found fame, a veritable insult to the public with its lollypop studded pumpkins and tomato soup with floating chunks of cheese. Really? Domestic maven Martha Stewart has run the critics' gauntlet for years for being too complex and too perfect.

And so what if "Celebrate" gives a detailed explanation of how to play the school game conkers? Let Pippa be who she is, the public obviously can't get enough of her, and pass me a piece of parkin cake.

Break out that cast-iron skillet and the broiler setting on your oven. Crack four eggs directly in the skillet, over the kale and squash, then broil the whole dish until everything bubbles. (In Praise of Leftovers)

Broiled eggs with kale and roasted squash

By In Praise of Leftovers / 10.22.12

With the arrival of fall came rivers of rain out my window. I think Puget Sounders are a little relieved after having been through 80 days without rain this summer. So much sun was too good to be true. Now we can go back to feeling sorry for ourselves and coming up with every conceivable use for pumpkins.

I got the most beautiful Kabocha (or Japanese Pumpkin) squash at Joe's Garden before it closed for the season. I peeled and thinly sliced it, drizzled it with olive oil and salt, and roasted the slices at 425 degrees F. until they were tender, about 12 minutes. I then used it for a million things, including a galette and these eggs.

And that's what I recommend for those inhospitable squash, sitting in your pantry or on your porch and staring you down. If you roast it up (there's a good method here) and put it in the fridge, all of the sudden it will be in your eggs, squished between bread with cheese and grilled, or tossed into pasta. 

Broiled eggs with kale and roasted Kabocha
Serves 2

Turn broiler on. Sauté several handfuls of washed and chopped kale in an ovenproof skillet with olive oil and a little garlic and salt. Cook until halfway wilted.

Add a handful of your roasted squash and a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of grated lemon zest. Stir.

Crack four eggs over the top of the kale and squash mixture, and top with feta, sharp cheddar, or other cheese. Add some chopped fresh herbs if you want (parlsey, rosemary, thyme, or cilantro.) Cook until eggs are set a bit, then transfer to to the broiler.

Broil until everything is bubbling and eggs are cooked to your liking. Cut around eggs with a small spatula and serve, or just eat right out of the pan by yourself or with your friend or sweetie.

Related post from In Praise of Leftovers: Cornmeal biscuits with ham and cheddar 

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Unusual flavors, like lime leaves and sambal oelek- an Indonesian chile-based sauce- give this eggplant dish a touch of tropical flavor. (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

Meatless Monday: Indonesian spicy eggplant

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 10.22.12

This year, Indonesia celebrates 67 years of independence from the Dutch who colonized them for 350 years.

So I decided to spotlight a simple Indonesian dish that slips into the fall lineup effortlessly, its main ingredients comprising eggplant, tomatoes, and red bell pepper. Terong belado, or spicy eggplant, is usually eaten hot with rice. In fact, the basic tomato-red pepper sauce is oh-so versatile. To make this dish with egg, called telor belado, fry whole hard-cooked eggs and toss them in the same sauce. Other ideas: drape the sauce over grilled meats, or stir it into potato salad.

Fortunately, a glossy purple eggplant and a rainbow pint of cherry tomatoes miraculously appeared in my vegetable box the week I decided to make this dish. My mum prefers the long, slender Chinese eggplants as she thinks the Western eggplant has skin that’s tough as leather. But I know better, she’s just used to them. We’re all creatures of habit.

If you’re still unsure about this beautiful dish redolent with the floral notes of kaffir lime leaves and the sassy sweetness of sun-ripened tomatoes, think of it as a ratatouille with a touch of the tropics.

Indonesian spicy eggplant (Terong Belado)

 Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 large Western eggplant, or 3 Chinese eggplants

3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

2 cloves garlic

2 Asian shallots, roughly chopped (1/3 cup)

1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 large tomato, chopped

1 teaspoon sambal oelek, or to taste [editor's note: sambal oelek is a chile-based sauce]

kaffir lime leaves

1 small white or yellow onion, chopped (3/4 cup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cut the eggplant into 3- by-3/4-inch strips. Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half. Cut each half into three horizontal layers. Keep them stacked and slice down the vertical into four strips. Cut the strips into half crosswise.

Swirl 2 tablespoons of oil into a large skillet or wok. When the oil shimmers, add the eggplant and sauté until the skin wrinkles and the flesh turns translucent and browns, about 5 to 6 minutes. Or do as my mum does and steam it. (You can cover the eggplant with damp paper towels and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes.) Remove to a plate and set aside.

In a small food processor, pulse the garlic, shallots, bell pepper, and tomatoes briefly until they form a paste that looks like oatmeal. It will be a little watery but you want confetti sized bits to remain. We’re not making gazpacho here!

In the same skillet or wok, swirl in the last tablespoon of oil, and heat over high heat. When it shimmers, add the paste, sambal, and lime leaves. Fry until you can smell the red pepper and lime leaves, 4 to 5 minutes, and most of the juices have evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium, mix in the chopped onion, and simmer briefly. Add the salt and sugar and taste. The balance of flavors depends on how sweet your pepper and tomatoes are. Adjust if necessary.

Simmer for another 2 minutes until the onion is cooked but still crunchy. Add the eggplant strips and let them roll around in the sauce until well coated.

Serve hot with rice as part of a multi-course meal, or let cool to room temperature.

Related post from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Last chance tomatoes in a Burmese-style salad

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"My Berlin Kitchen" by food blogger Luisa Weiss grew out of her food blog, The Wednesday Chef. (Whipped, The Blog)

A conversation with Luisa Weiss, The Wednesday Chef

By Whipped, The Blog / 10.21.12

In 2007, while visiting my friend Mav, she suggested that I start a blog. “What would I blog about?” I questioned. “Food, of course” she replied. Before I left the comfort of her Maine apartment, the name Whipped had popped into my head and I had begun searching the blogosphere to get my feet wet.

I clicked here and there, drawn in by photos, personable voices and recipes. So many delectable recipes. Some of my early favorites and regular reads were Pinch My Salt, Orangette, and The Wednesday Chef. It was such a new phenomenon to form a relationship with someone you never met. Sometimes e-mails were exchanged, we added links to each other’s sites and occasionally I wondered if we would ever meet in person. 

I’ve always had a particular affinity for Luisa who writes the blog The Wednesday Chef. As her many followers agree, Luisa’s honest, conversational voice is easy to read. She has a way of expressing and exploring her vulnerabilities that contradictorily leads you to admire her strength. There are some similarities in our lives that always led me to believe we were kindred spirits.

For the past months, I have anxiously awaited Luisa’s new book, My Berlin Kitchen. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy. For a week, I was short on sleep, staying up late to fit in just one or two more chapters.

In her new memoir, Luisa’s approachable style is intact but I think that her writing is even better. She guides us through the chapters of her life, sharing an unusual multi-cultural childhood and the story of a heart-swelling romance. In between, you’ll find heartache, triumph, sadness and discovery. At the end of each chapter, Luisa treats the reader to a recipe that is closely tied to the writing.

Truly, I can’t remember a book that I’ve read in recent years that gave me such warm feelings. Somehow, her stories make you feel hopeful and positive about the human condition, even with its hurdles and heartache.  I wrote to Luisa to congratulate her and share my excitement about her book. She was gracious enough to entertain some of my interview questions:

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. In your book, you don’t talk much about your breakfast preferences. Does it change depending on what country you are in?
 It does change! When I’m in the States, I eat cereal, because no one does cereal better than Americans do. Grape Nuts, Cheerios, Autumn Harvest, oh man, I love a good bowl of cold cereal. It’s one of the things I miss the most, foodwise, about living in the US. In Italy, I follow my mother’s lead and eat cookies for breakfast, dipped in my hot cup of tea. I don’t love cookies for breakfast – I can never shake the niggling feeling that I’ve started the day off on the wrong foot, but it’s only a few times a year, so I try to live a little. In Germany, it’s a few slices of dark, seeded bread with butter and honey or jam. And a bowl of nice, sour yogurt. Delicious.

Which cooking tool do you have the biggest love affair with? You know, the one that feels almost sensual in your hands, the one with which you couldn’t barely live without.
 I edited a few of Alton Brown’s cookbooks in my old job and as a thank you after finishing one of them, Alton sent me a Santoku knife from his knife line. I’d never used a Santoku before, I thought they were sort of a “trendy” knife that I wouldn’t have much use for, but, boy, was I in for a surprise. The knife has become the most important thing in my kitchen, along with a square lipped plastic cutting board that I’m obsessed with. The knife is the perfect size for my small hands, is incredibly sharp, has a wonderful warm wooden handle, chops and slices and dices like a dream. It really feels like an extension of my hands when I use it. No other knife comes close.

You speak three languages fluently? Or, more? What language do you speak with your husband?
 I actually speak four: English, German, Italian, and French. My husband and I speak German together, though he’s always telling me to speak more English with him, which I rarely do. Old habits die hard, I guess. But I’m in charge of teaching our son English, so now that Hugo’s around, I do speak a lot more English at home.

You grew up stretched between different cultures and countries. Have you thought about how you will expose your son to all of his rich heritage while offering him the sense of home and wholeness that you missed?
 I have thought about it a lot, actually! First of all, I hope his dad and I stay together, as I think that being happy parents is the most important part of providing stability and happiness for a child. Beyond that, I think it’s just a matter of making him realize through our actions every day that he is adored and beloved by us, whether we’re home in our apartment in Berlin or at my mother’s house in Italy or visiting my dad in the States. He’ll obviously be a well-traveled kid, but I hope he never associates the sadness that I feel when I travel – I want him to feel limitless excitement when he gets to the airport, not the sort of stomach-churning anxiety that I’ve never been able to shake, even all these years later.

What do you crave when you are sick? Your ultimate comfort food.
 I don’t have much of an appetite when I’m sick! A bowl of Cheerios with cold milk will usually do – but now that I can’t have those anymore, it’s a bowl of pastina in broth. That’s what my mother used to make me when I was sick as a kid.

Would you rather give up cheese or chocolate for the rest of your life?
 Man, that’s a hard question! I can’t imagine never putting Parmigiano on my spaghetti again. But I think I eat a piece of chocolate almost every day. So. Cheese? Gah! No! Chocolate? Eep!

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