starters & snacks

Okay. They say cardoon’s flavor and texture resembles artichokes. I like artichokes, a lot. But as everyone knows, they’re technically difficult to prepare. So many sharp rough leaves to remove before you get to the flavorful choke. Well, in that sense, cardoon isn’t too different, either. Cardoons don’t grow chokes. Instead you have to remove the leaves and thorns, peel the stalks, remove the stringy fiber from them, then boil the tough buggers for some 30 minutes before you’re ready to begin!

But I’m brave in the kitchen so I finally decided to endure the cardoon challenge.

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

Frankly, I have yet to decide if it was worth it. This is loads of work for a somehow mediocre flavored end result. Cardoon and artichoke plants look alike: both gorgeous with spindly long stalks and silvery green leaves. I have to agree cardoon does taste slightly like artichokes but the texture isn’t quite right, sort of like crunchy and watery celery stalks or maybe chayote. I love both celery and chayote but since I was primed for artichokes, this was a tragic disappointment.

I followed this recipe to clean and parboil my cardoon.

I started with a whole plant but by the end only ended up with about 2½ cups of the prepared veggie. I cooked them like I do artichoke hearts. This recipe is a variation of the one with mint and anchovy (without the mint since I didn’t have it) and my favorite one with lots of olives.

cardoon plant

cardoon plant

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

2½ cups cooked cardoons
4 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 tbsp capers chopped
½ green olives chopped
2 anchovy fillets
½ to 1 bunch Italian parsley chopped
1½ dry white wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half lemon
Black pepper
salt

Add 2 tbsp olive oil to a saucepan followed by garlic and anchovies. Cook at low temperature for about a minute or so. Anchovies will dissolve. Bring temp to high then add capers, olives, parsley and cardoon. Toss to combine, add white wine, cover the pan and bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper, squeeze with lemon juice and finally add remaining of olive oil. Serve as a side dish, warm or at room temperature.

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authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

by Heguiberto on January 11, 2013

This Napa cabbage kimchi turned out as authentic as the ones I eat at Korean restaurants here in San Francisco. It was fun to make and it took just 3 days before it was ready. (Three days might sound like a long time to some, but I’ve seen recipes where the kimchi had to ferment for a week or more.) I have made kimchi at home before but never used the traditional Korean gochugaru pepper. Instead I substituted jalapeño and poblano peppers, which resulted in an ultra-spicy version. This is milder.

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

This recipe, with some minor adaptations, comes from Insanity Theory written by Ellie Won, a South Korean who grew up in Australia.

Aside from the excellent recipe, she wowed me with a kimchi refrigerator! Pretty cool! It makes sense to me. My jar of kimchi only fit in the refrigerator after some serious reshuffling.

Steven served it for the first time with rice and beans cooked in the Brazilian way. I simply love mixing foods from different ethnic backgrounds. The results can be surprisingly good. I think that this is what they call fusion cuisine? A bit of this and a bit of that combined together? It certainly breaks the monotony of a meal that could otherwise be boring and monochromatic. A toast to globalization!

The recipe calls for Chinese pear, which I didn’t have. I added red radish to it and changed the proportions of chili powder, sugar and fish sauce. I also added a fresh red jalapeño pepper because… well why not?

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

1 large head Napa Cabbage cut into wedges (~6Lbs)
~1½ cups non iodized sea salt
4 cups water (1 quart)
1 heaping tbsp sweet rice flour (sticky rice)
1 &1/3 cup Gochugaru chili powder
3 tbsp fish sauce (leave it out in case you want to make it vegan) use ~ 1 tbsp salt instead
1 tbsp sugar
6 whole scallions cut into 2’’ long segments
6 cloves garlic
1 2’’ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ white or sweet onion
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and ribs removed
5 small red radishes, thinly sliced
1/3 lb daikon, sliced

key ingredients for authentic kimchi

key ingredients for authentic kimchi

Dissolve ½ cup of salt in the water. Add cabbage bottom parts in first. Make sure all leaves and base receive a coat of this brine. Drain water.

Use part or all the remainder salt to sprinkle over each leaf, including the thick white parts at the base. Put the cabbage in a bowl and let the salt dehydrate it for about 3 hours (Ellie recommends 5-6 hours or until it is floppy). Mine became floppy within 3 hours.

Rinse cabbage thoroughly in running water to remove excess salt. Squeeze it to remove as much water as possible. Place it in a colander and allow it to drain for another 15 to 20 minutes.

During the cabbage dehydration process, make a ‘pudding’ or ‘glue’ by mixing rice powder with ½ cup of water and cooking it on low heat, whisking nonstop until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Towards the last 10 minutes before draining is complete, add jalapeño chili, onion, ginger, garlic, and daikon to your food processor. Whiz into a pulp. Mix this pulp with the rice ‘glue’ along with gochugaru pepper, sugar and fish sauce.

Using a spatula spread the kimichi paste uniformly on both sides of each of the leaves. Put the cabbage in and jar, cover and let it rest in a dark, cool place for about 3 days. Be careful when opening it as gases that build up during fermentation will be under pressure. When ready the flavors will have married and you will sense a slight fizzyness, At this point refrigerate and enjoy.

As your kimchi continues to age in the fridge the flavors become more pungent. If it gets too intense to eat by itself, you can turn the kimchi into soups or make a yummy kimchi fried rice.

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I like the taste of the French/Italian/Spanish dish brandade. Usually made with salt cod, potatoes, dairy and spices, everything gets whipped together then baked in the oven till golden and delicious. Here’s a traditional brandade recipe from the New York Times.

Steven’s been after me about making this for a while. I won’t say how long. I keep promising I am going to but every time I gather the ingredients together I get distracted with other ideas. It isn’t quite “an issue” but… well, let’s just say that it’s high time that I pull this dish together.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

My inspiration comes from the aforementioned traditional recipe and from my Dungeness crab casquinha de siri.

This is a crowd-pleaser that is perfect either as an elegant appetizer with crackers or slices of French baguette, or, like we had it, as a main course with a side of Israeli couscous and a mango and black bean salad to make a substantial meal.

Salt cod needs to be soaked in cold water for 24 to 48 hours with a few water changes to remove excess salt. I have some instructions on how to de-salt and pre-cook it here.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

2/3 lb prepared cod fish pieces (skinless and boneless)
2 Yukon gold potatoes, about 1lb, boiled and pureed (no lumps)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp onion, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
½ tsp sweet paprika
4 peeled tomatoes (from a can this time of year) chopped
1-2 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 red Jalapeño pepper, minced, seeds and ribs discarded
4 tbsp light coconut milk
2 to 3 tbsp fine bread crumbs
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Ramekins (I used four medium sized ones)

Place cod pieces in the food processor and whiz for few seconds to break it down to small uniform bits but not into a paste.

Heat olive oil in a non stick pan, add onion and Jalapeño. Sauté until soft, add garlic and continue cooking for few more seconds until aromatic. Add tomatoes and let them break apart in the heat. Add cod, paprika, parsley, salt, pepper, coconut milk and mix everything together to warm through. Add potato and about one tablespoon bread crumbs. Mix to incorporate everything. Texture should look like that of a potato puree.

Fill your ramekins with the salt cod mix, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, top with a sprinkle of bread crumbs, and then grated parmesan cheese. Broil to give the crust a golden color (remember you’ve already cooked everything on the stove). Remove from oven a serve.

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Steven gave me Yotham Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Jerusalem as a sort of date-night surprise gift. I’m psyched about it since his previous book, Plenty, was a total success at home. We cooked most of the recipes from the first with hardly any failures. I’m just starting in on Jerusalem but have high hopes.

Ottolenghi-inspired baba ghanoush

Ottolenghi-inspired baba ghanoush

In both books eggplant-related recipes shine. I love eggplant. Have you tried Ottolenghi’s incredible roasted eggplant with pomegranate molasses from Plenty? That one in particular is amazing. But I’m a restless chef and thus I always look for new approaches for my beloved aubergine. This caught my attention because here Ottolenghi takes a classic and adds a little twist—Greek yogurt. The yogurt lends extra creaminess to the dish plus a bit of a mild tart flavor. Exciting!

I am really looking forward to exploring Jerusalem over the next weeks and months.

Ottolenghi-inspired baba ghanoush

2 large eggplants
2 tbsp Greek Yogurt
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped fine
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
Pomegranate seeds

Put eggplant in a shallow baking pan and broil until they collapse and the skin is blackened/burned—about a half hour or so. Remove from oven and let cool. Using a fork remove the flesh and transfer to a colander so juices can drain.

Place eggplant flesh in a bowl, add fresh garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently mix with a fork to slightly mash it. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve as a side dish (we had ours with fish & caper kebabs) or as an appetizer with pita bread.

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Steven’s been complaining about my cooking lately. Well, maybe not complaining exactly but pointing out a bit clearly that we’ve been in a breakfast rut for a while—bread and coffee, bread and coffee, bread and coffee. Perhaps we’ve both been a little bored with this monotonous refrain. We do eat whole wheat, which is very healthy. He has his with jam and nut butter; I have mine with Earth Balance. Sometimes though what starts out as a virtue can become a culinary straightjacket.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

Breakfast food is normally loaded with cholesterol so we try to stay away from eggs, cheese and butter as much as possible. Plus during the week, we have virtually no time to cook in the morning. Both of us want to maximize sleep so we get up and leave for work in about thirty minutes. That includes showering, taking out Clarence, getting ready and sharing a little breakie together. So forget cooking!

Granola is a Northern California stereotype and certainly I’ve seen more than one hiker whip out a pouch of the stuff or a few bars in the middle of the woods. Despite the silliness, just like Martha says, “it is a good thing.”

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown and David Lebovits. I think they adapted their recipes from someone else because they seem fairly similar. You can vary the ingredients to customize your granola or improvise and just toss in whatever’s at hand in the pantry.

I had originally intended to use maple syrup like that other granola I wrote about years ago but realized at the last second that we’d run out. The date and pomegranate molasses were wonderful substitutes.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

5 cups organic rolled oats
2 cups chopped pecans
½ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup cashew nuts, chopped
½ cup Brazil nuts, chopped
½ cup dried grated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup raisins (or a mix of dried fruits)

2 tbsp walnut oil
1/3 cup rice bran syrup
¼ cup date molasses
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
½ cup warm water

Pre-heat the oven to 300F.

With exception of the raisins, place all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix and set aside.

Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over dry ingredients. Use your hands so it gets absorbed evenly. Spread the granola on two large baking trays and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Stir granola with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool a bit then add raisins and toss to combine. Let cool completely. Transfer to an air tight container and have it for breakfast with some soy milk, or on a hike to somewhere gorgeous.

do you feel the call of the wild

do you feel the call of the wild?

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Sweet potato’s great! Don’t you love it? I do. I’ve made it seasoned with shoyu and toasted sesame oil, which is amazing. They’re lovely simply oven baked, too.

my somewhat blurry yet fabulous version of roasted white sweet potato in garlic and ginger

my somewhat blurry yet fabulous version of roasted white sweet potato in garlic and ginger

Somehow, I’m disappointed to see so few stories on our blog about this humble tuber. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new culinary trend for us at weirdcombos.

This recipe couldn’t be simpler (though I’ve read some food blog advice somewhere that strongly discouraged describing things as “simple” “quick” or “easy,” as all that’s very subjective, isn’t it?). And it packs a lot of flavor: you have the sweetness of the potatoes, the spiciness of ginger and garlic all stitched together with just plain sea salt. You can serve this for the holidays. Thanksgiving is already right around the corner.

well, aren't you four the sweetest little things

well, aren’t you four the sweetest little things!

roasted white sweet potato in garlic and ginger

4 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch thick rounds
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup vegetable broth

Pre heat over to 350F.

Toss sweet potato slices with salt, ginger, garlic and olive oil. Lay them in a loaf pan. Pour vegetable broth over potato. Cover with tin foil and bake to 20 to 30 minutes or until soft. Remove foil towards the end for a slight caramel color.

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Wow it’s been a while since I wrote regularly for weirdcombinations.  This is my first week “back.”  I miss it and I miss visiting my blogger friends’ blogs.  The reason for the hiatus is that it got super busy at work, plus I had to travel down to Brazil, also for work, in late August through mid-September.  The schedule was crazy while I was there but I made room to see some of my family, which was fantastic.  I hadn’t been back home for about 3 years.  Now it’s been three weeks since my return to San Francisco and things are just starting to slow down.  Whew!!

yellow crook squash and Italian zucchini tart with feta and olives

yellow crook squash and Italian zucchini tart with feta and olives

Part of the problem is that on the very same day I arrived back, I cut one of my fingers very badly on a piece of broken glass from a jar of guava jam while opening my suitcase.  Ugh!  It was a huge mess—glass, guava and blood.  Things might have been better had I not felt completely jetlagged on top of it all.  On the positive side, I’m healing up fine and fortunately, I “smuggled” in several more jars of guava.  It’s a good thing that I’m greedy!

I made this wonderful tart a few days before I left for Brazil.  I used our home-grown yellow crook squash and Italian zucchini.  Then it was the height of squash season and we had a superabundance of these precious things.   The season for zuchs is almost over now but I’m sure that they’re still available somewhere.  This is a beautiful and elegant, thin and delicate tart, despite the bold flavors that Kalamata olives and feta cheese impart.

yellow crook squash and Italian zucchini tart with feta and olives

3 to 4 yellow and green squashes, sliced thinly in the mandolin (keep colors separated in two small bowls)
1 cup good French feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp fresh thyme
½ tsp fresh oregano
8 to 10 sheets of filo dough at room temperature
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Sprinkles of crushed red pepper
1 cookie tray 12”x17”, lined with foil
Cooking brush

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Toss individual bowls of squash with salt, black and red pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.

Brush bottom of tray with olive oil. Lay the first filo sheet over tray then brush with more olive oil.  Lay the second over, brush with more olive oil. Repeat process until all sheets are used. Lay on row of zucchini and then yellow squash on top of filo, to create an attractive pattern, sprinkle with fresh oregano and thyme. Brush the edges of the tart with more olive oil. Place tart in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until squash is cooked but not mushy and the edges lightly browned.  Remove from oven then scatter the olives and feta cheese.  And since I’m a hog for olive oil…. add a drizzle of olive on top too.

It’s great to be back but I already miss everybody in Brazil.  Where is that Star Trek style transporter device when you need it?  Beam me up, Scotty!  Please :)

me with two of my sisters relaxing on the beach in the Brazilian winter

me with two of my sisters relaxing on the beach in the Brazilian winter: nice!!!

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These are not fish fingers or mozzarella sticks but the idea is similar. Instead of frying, I baked my zucchini fingers, for my own health ;) This is a really fun and tasty way to use up all that summer squash that seems to grow like weeds in your garden. Next year, maybe only a few squash plants rather than the six we grew this summer. I never thought it could happen, but I’ve actually gotten zucchini-fatigue.

oven roasted zucchini fingers

oven roasted zucchini fingers

I served these lovely treats with a tomato dipping sauce (don’t get me started on the overabundance of tomatoes from our garden plot—clearly nine plants is a bit much for two people) using the same recipe for pizza sauce found here.

oven roasted zucchini fingers

3 zucchinis cut into finger sized segments
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
Crushed red pepper
1 egg
1 egg white
2 tbsp water
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic minced
3 tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Pre heat over to 375F.

Place egg, egg white and water in a bowl, add a sprinkle of salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix together bread crumbs, black pepper, garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese.

Dip zucchini fingers in egg wash then roll them over bread crumb mix. Return to egg wash and roll them in breadcrumbs a second time. Repeat for remaining zucchini fingers. Lay them on a cookie tray ½ inch apart. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove and serve with a spicy tomato dipping sauce (recipe follows).

spicy tomato dipping sauce

28oz can unseasoned peeled tomatoes, chopped with juices
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp tomato paste
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp black pepper
crushed red pepper to taste
1 dry chile de arbol
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp red wine vinegar

Simmer all ingredients but vinegar and 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 35 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Add reserved olive oil and vinegar, stir and set aside.

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Shiitake mushrooms & fromage blanc on toast

August 13, 2012

Sometimes the most memorable dining experiences are when you cook with friends. Dinner yesterday was a treat: our friend, John, and I made it together. This delicious shiitake mushroom on toast was his contribution. I was mentally taking notes while watching him preparing it. The dish came together in almost no time and it tasted […]

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shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

July 9, 2012

Polenta is a popular staple back home in Brazil. I grew up eating lots of it and never got bored. My mother cooked it on her fire wood stove in an iron pan. It had to cook forever! So she would use a wooden spoon to stir it occasionally while she prepared other delicious dishes […]

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