Switaly Part 1: Switzerland

I can sum up my entire Switzerland experience in one sentence:  “It’s like living in a postcard.”

For serious. I uttered that phrase to myself, to Emily, to Emily’s family, to cows, to purple mountains majesty for 3 straight days. Speaking of Emily’s family, I’d just like to mention that they’re the most warm, welcoming and hospitable group of people I’ve ever gotten the chance to visit. You’d think being in a foreign country, in the house of someone you’ve never met, trying to overcome a massive language barrier would put you a little on the wary side but that was never the case. Sitting at the dinner table listening to the conversation flip between (predominantly) German and English while eating raclette and “Glaurus pastry” was one of the best things I got to do on the trip because I felt a sense of complete immersion and inclusion – the Holy Grail of travelers.

Top 5 things I got to do in Switzerland:

  1. Hiking up the Alps a day after a springtime snowfall amongst the cows and wooden houses that have been there for centuries.
  2. Going on an after dinner, after dark stroll through the tiny town of Elm. No flashlight needed since the fresh snow on the mountain tops was glowing in the light of the full moon and you could hear the sound of the rushing river before you came upon it after winding through footpaths that are protected by arching blades of grass and wildflowers. And I’m not even trying to be poetic here. This legit happened!
  3. Big family dinner in Elm where I got to try things like raclette, glarner pastete, zieker and cognac for the first time. Plus learning that in Switzerland when you “cheers” at a table you stop everything and go around and “cheers” with every. single. person. at that table. Love it!
  4. Taking a cable car up the bottom portion of the mountain – an activity that used to scare the bejeezus out of me.
  5. Getting to drive all through the Swiss countryside thanks to Jack, Reini and Yves.
Getting the postcard vibe yet? You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Switaly Prologue: Delete till you Drop

I came back from Switaly about 3 weeks ago now, a new and happy owner of a super cool piece of antique jewelry, a cartoonish Swiss Guard figurine I’ve named Sven, a stack of vintage Roman post cards scribbled in Italian and (pregnant pause) a little over 2000 photographs with no where to upload them. Alas, my computer was filled To.The.Brim. Seriously. I considered it completely feasible that it would start vomiting computer chips at me through the CD-ROM. And it seemed no matter how many mp3’s I deleted or how many pictures I moved to my external hard drive, the poor guy was just maxed out.

So over the weeks I’ve deleted, backed up, burned, dragged n’ dropped and all together just dug out enough space to upload all these images. It took forever and I would like to personally thank the Civil Wars, the Band Perry and Gregory Page for being the only thing that kept me sane through the whole process. But now that we’re on the other side of the bridge both my computer and I are in much happier places. Me for having finally tackled a long overdue organizational project and my computer for having 20 gigs of breathing room.

Anywho…throughout the trip I had been keeping a list of different foods that I wanted to recreate when I got home and I was ready and raring to go with ideas for posts. I’ve been set back a bit in that endeavor, but back on track nonetheless. I’ve been cooking plenty and have lots to share in upcoming posts, both photographically and culinarily. Culinarily? Errrr…

How about we just look at pictures instead?

Elm, Switzerland

Where cows give you the stink eye.

Mercato Centrale, Florence

Make friends with your sausage vendors folks. Then they will let you practically stand on top of them to get a shot of their apron. Not to mention they will point out the good cheese and sausage…

Cinque Terre, Italy

Social Norm in Italy and Switzerland:  If you climb up and down a large mountain you shouldn’t drink water. You should drink beer.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Watch out, they spit.

More to come later. I’ve got to go pack.

2 Comments

Filed under Travel

Spring – My Second Most Favoritest Season of the Year

I found an appealing recipe for Cuban Black Beans and Rice a few weeks ago. It landed in my “pile” and eventually was able to make the jump from my desk to my kitchen counter. It was OK. I got it from one of the diabetes support resources I have – one of many that I get (for free! Woohoo!) – as a diabetes educator. Some are fabulous and others, like this one, make me wonder if a) anyone actually made this recipe before they published it; b) they think that people with diabetes don’t have taste buds; or c) anyone actually made this recipe before they published it. Even with some heavy tweaking on my part it was a bit “meh”. I love beans and rice recipes, though, so I’m planning on doing my own version of it in a few weeks. Gotta finish eating this batch first.

So instead of a recipe I’m posting pictures from a recent tromp around the trails this past weekend. My friend Abby and I went on a walk last week and passed by some gorgeous, green landscapes and I swore I would get back there with my camera before the scene changed. Spring is so fickle I always feel like you have to be a little carpe diem with it. If it’s going to be 70-something degrees tonight, then we’re going to do fire pit tonight. If it’s not supposed to rain this morning, then I’m going for a run this morning. If you see a shot you want to take, well then you better figure out a way in your schedule to get back out there now, because in a few days it’s going to be a whole other animal (or vegetable or mineral)…just like the overnight temps have dropped into the 40s and the clouds are choosing to dump rain on us for the next…ten…days.

So, so fickle.

That’s why I love the fall. Fall doesn’t give up until Winter utterly beats the crap out of it.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Apple Cobbler Pie – A Slice of Serendipity

At one point in time Friday afternoon this post was intended to be about strawberry rhubarb pie. But as I was foraging through the produce section of the grocery store alas, no rhubarb. I have 4 lbs of strawberries in my fridge, but no rhubarb. No rhubarb for about a month per Mr. Grocery Man. We’ll see. I have a lot of faith in my farmers market.

So here I am, standing, crestfallen amongst the swiss chard and parsley and I’ve got to come up with a new game plan because I promised some people a pie tonight and I will deliver. So I think it through. I love blackberry pie, but blackberry season is still a few months away and I’m not willing to fork out $15 for 3 pints of berries – not now at least. Apple pie always works but that’s such a fall dish, and there’s no doubt we’re in the full swing of spring around here. Except…except there was this idea I had for an apple pie this past fall. I wanted to combine a typical apple pie filling with a walnut-laced cobbler crust. Like a cross between the caramelized top of a pecan pie and your typical crumble topping. I had never fully hashed out the recipe’s details in my head but this was clearly fated to be the day I figured it out. When the stars align and you hear God sayeth, “Make apple pie,” well then you make apple pie!

look at all those flecks of butter!

And I’m totally content with the results. My friend Nick gave the pie a 14 out of 10. Not too shabby I guess. Plus Saturday is turning out to be a rainy day with no hope of getting out of the low 50s. Sounds like apple pie weather to me. Definitely not strawberry rhubarb pie weather. 

Thank goodness they were out of rhubarb…

APPLE COBBLER PIE

Ingredients

Crust (adapted from Tartine)

  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup ice cold water
  • 1½ cups + 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 11 Tbsp cold unsalted butter (1 stick + 3 Tbsp) cut into 1″ thick chunks
Apple Filling
  • 2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼” thick slices
  • scant ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¹/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
Cobbler Topping
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 Tbsp cold butter, in ½” dice
Directions
  1. In a small bowl, combine salt and cold water. Keep cold until ready to use. In food processor, add flour and cut butter and pulse until mixture looks sandy and butter pieces are no larger than pea sized. Slowly drizzle in the salt water as you continue to pulse the food processor. Continue to pulse until batter stays clumped together after pinching between fingers. You may need to add a more cold water if the dough is not sticking but take care to only add 1-2 tsp at a time; it should not feel wet.
  2. With your hands, form the dough into a disk about 6″ around and 2″ thick. Wrap in saran wrap and let chill for 2 hrs in fridge.
  3. While dough is chilling, work on peeling and cutting up apples. Then, in large bowl, combine apples, sugar, flour, spices and vanilla until apples are well coated. Set aside.
  4. In medium sized bowl, combine topping ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, oats, walnuts and diced butter). Use your hands to work the butter into the rest of the mix. Set aside.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°F and move rack to middle of oven.
  6. Retrieve dough from fridge. Lightly flour your countertop and rolling pin, remove dough from saran wrap and sprinkle flour on top. Roll out dough until it’s in a 12″ round, approximately 1/8″ thick. Check underneath of dough to make sure it hasn’t stuck to countertop. Transfer dough to pie pan. To do this I like to fold the dough in half gently, move it to the pie pan and unfold. Turn the excess crust down into the pan and crimp the edges with your fingers.
  7. Arrange the apple slices into the pie crust in concentric circles so that the apples lay tightly on top of each other and there are minimal gaps. Resist the urge to just dump the apples into the crust. Do not resist the urge to steal a couple of slices for yourself  – for quality assurance. Make sure to leave about a centimeter of space between the top of the apples and the top of the fluted crust in order to contain the cobbler topping. You might have apple slices left over. If so, store them in an air tight container in your fridge and add them in with oatmeal or greek yogurt for a super yummy breakfast.
  8. Spread out cobbler topping over apples. Use your hands to gently press the topping together and into the apples, but don’t smush!
  9. Place pie on middle rack of oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until you can see apple filling bubbling along sides and topping is crispy, but not burnt. If the crust is browning too quickly, tent a piece of foil over the pie.
  10. Let pie cool for at least 45 minutes to allow juices to reabsorb a bit. Convince yourself that since it has fruit, nuts and oats it’s an appropriate breakfast choices for tomorrow morning.

2 Comments

Filed under Dessert, Sweets and Such

Fish Tacos and Dedications

I would like to dedicate this post to anyone who, like me, sometimes just wants to look at the pictures more than read the text.

If you’re actually interested in the fish tacos (which were great), go here.

P.S. Spring is awesome.

1 Comment

Filed under Lunch/Dinner, Main Dish, Uncategorized

Spring Vegetable Salad with Couscous – with our without your hair on fire

There are a lot of things I love about this dish – its color, its simplicity, its ability to satisfy my craving for summer produce when spring is juuuuuust starting to bud. But most of all I love how quick you can (quite literally) throw it together.

I made this about a week ago when I had to go from work to grocery store to home to stove to table and back out the door again in about an hour. I am a huge advocate for cooking real, whole foods at home. Is it easier for me since I don’t have kids? Probably. Does that mean we’re all destined for a life of hamburger helper? No, absolutely not. It’s simply overcoming the learning curve of knowing what foods cook faster than others. For example, this would probably taste good with brown rice too, but that takes 50 minutes to cook. Israeli couscous takes all of 15. After that, proteins usually eat up the most time in the cooking process but you can eat this with a poached egg, broiled white fish or a can of black beans tossed in with the veggie salad – all of which take 15 minutes or less.

And the photography? Well, I was hungry and in a hurry so I fired off about 15 shots before I sat down and dug in – all with enough time to actually savor the dish. Mmmm.

Spring Veggie Salad

Makes enough for 2 as main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups Israeli couscous
  • 3 cups broth (veggie or chicken)
  • ½ small bunch of asparagus with last 3″ chopped off
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 golden beet, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces
  • 1 small bunch green onions, chopped (minus the white ends unless you prefer a stronger onion taste)
  • 1 small cucumber, cut into ½” dice
  • 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions:

  1. As you run in the door, pull out small (2 quart) sauce pot and lid. Begin cooking couscous per package directions, except replace water with broth and when it tells you to get the water boiling first, ignore that – that’s for people with time. Instead, set stove timer to remind yourself to check the couscous for doneness about 1-2 minutes before the package recommendations since you’ll be distracted chopping vegetables.
  2. Get protein cooking if needed. Remember, leftovers from previous night could work well, too.
  3. Turn broiler on to start warming up the oven. Arrange (read:  throw, helter-skelter) asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil plus a pinch of salt and some ground pepper. Roll the asparagus between the cookie sheet and the palm of your hand to coat with olive oil. Put in oven and check once you hear it sizzling for about a minute (4-5 minutes total depending on the thickness of the asparagus stalks). Broil asparagus to your desired doneness (just tender to cooked through with crispy tips), giving the baking sheet a good shake if needed to turn the stalks.
  4. Pull out your cutting board and favorite knife and start chopping vegetables, tossing them into a large tupperware container as you get each completed. You didn’t forget about your couscous did you?
  5. In small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. The basil and onion add a lot of flavor to this salad, but feel free to add other ingredients/seasonings like garlic, brown mustard or a bit of sugar.
  6. Add dressing to large container of chopped veggies, onion and basil. Cover and shake that puppy like nobody’s business – a.k.a. “until well coated”. Don’t forget to add in your drained and rinsed black beans if you’re using those. You can also add in the couscous if you want it mixed together all as one.
  7. Bring together asparagus + protein + salad onto plate/bowl/trough and enjoy.

5 Comments

Filed under Great Grains, Lunch/Dinner, Main Dish

Sesame Soba Noodle Saturday

I’m always amazed at what I can get done with an open Saturday. Yesterday, after a brief stop-over at work, I came home and threw together a bowl of this:

After which I did some investigative work in this cute town:

Came home and had a nice siesta on the couch while watching an episode (or two) of this.

Then strolled over to the grocery store to pick up a few missing items to make this for dinner.

Poured myself a glass of this while unpacking the groceries.

And finally got around to watching this while baking a loaf of this, which I plan to work through for breakfast all week.

That’s seven “this’s” (or would it be “these”?) I got done yesterday. Go Saturday.

It was a great day overall, but I definitely want to share with you the recipe for my lunch yesterday, Sesame Soba Noodles. You can check out the unmodified recipe from one of my tried and true, go-to recipe sites. This recipe is actually going to be in her brand new, soon-to-be-released cookbook, Super Natural Every Day.  Yet another cookbook to add to my “if I had a million dollars” wish list. I have it on my imaginary cookbook bookshelf just between this and this. And because I imagine cookbooks as social books, I’d just have to buy this and this and this. To keep them company of course. Until that time comes though, I’ll just continue to be a good foster parent to all the library’s cookbooks. They need love too you know.

As for the noodles, I want to add a few notes. One, I agree with Heidi 100%, this makes excellent leftovers. Which is good considering it makes enough to be a main course for 4 people. And since it’s a cold dish I’m actually considering taking some on my long haul over to the EU in a couple of months. Two, you see that tofu? Totally not the golden brown deliciousness it could have been. Why? Because I’m lazy. Don’t be like me kids. Before cooking the tofu, slice it up and layer it between a few sheets of paper towels and a heavy plate to help drain the water. Wet tofu doesn’t crisp, it steams. Three, do be like me and add some veggies. Broccoli, asparagus, shredded beets or carrots would all be good with this. Steam ’em up and toss ’em in! Four, I really love Asian flavors – from Thai curries to Vietnamese pho, so I’ve slowly acquired a lot of those less-than-typical ingredients, but not all. So I’ve noted the substitutions I made. Hope you enjoy!

Sesame Soba Noodles

Serves 4 as a main course, 6+ as a side dish

Ingredients

  • ~1 1/2 Tbsp walnuts (instead of pine nuts)
  • ~1 1/2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
  • ~ 2 Tbsp sesame seeds (black or white)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp natural cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (because I think it tastes more like soy than salt)
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey (instead of mirin)
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil (invest! There’s no substitute)
  • 2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar (white wine vinegar works in a pinch)
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper – or more to your preferences
  • salt
  • 12 oz soba noodles
  • 18 oz extra firm tofu (drained, drained, drained!) and cut into 2″ x 1/4″ chunks.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large bunch green onion, sliced

Directions

  1. Start some water boiling on the back burner in a large pot for your soba noodles. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat, tossing often. Once they are fragrant and toasted, toss in the sesame seeds and let toast for ~1 minute. If you’re using white sesame seeds you should see them change to a golden color, if you’re using black you’ll have to go by scent alone.
  2. Transfer the seeds and nuts to a mortar and grind until it’s the consistency of coarse sand. You’re mostly trying to break down the walnuts and sunflower seeds. Mix in the sugar, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, vinegar and cayenne pepper. Remember to test and adjust to your taste! Set aside.
  3. At this point your water should be boiling. Add in the soba noodles and cook per package directions. **I highly recommend testing a couple of noodles 3/4 of the way into their cooking time, regardless of what the directions say. As soon as they are tender, drain into a colander and douse with cold water until the noodles are cold to stop them from cooking any further. 1 minute too long can turn your noodles to mush.** Reserve ~ 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the noodle water.
  4. While your noodles are cooking, steam veggie of your choice (2-3 cups).
  5. Toss the tofu into your large skillet and drizzle with ~ 2 Tbsp olive oil and salt to taste. Cook on medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides.
  6. Reserve ~1 Tbsp of your sauce and to the rest add ~1/4 cup of your noodle water until it’s thinned to your liking. In a large bowl, gently toss the noodles with your sauce, tofu and ~ 2/3 of the onion. Alternatively you can add in the veggie too, or serve on the side.
  7. Dish into bowls and garnish with remaining onion and sesame paste.

4 Comments

Filed under Lunch/Dinner, Main Dish