Tag Archives: Food

Summer Menu. Or What’s Cooking?

I’m a fairly good cook. Not entirely self-proclaimed. Being a decent cook certainly has its plusses. Friends will happily accept dinner invitations, and nobody orders delivery just before meal time. But it also has its minuses. You see, I love eating out. Hubby might say It’s your birthday, let’s go out. Or maybe it’s Mother’s Day. Or a special meetup with out-of-town friends. That’s about it.

So what does a girl do? She develops an array of effective strategies to get out anyway. This week, for example, I have two lunch appointments in reputable restaurants. Cheers to that.

Happy hour 3 ud71To tell you the truth, deep inside I love cooking. But I’m not into following recipes. I find it boring. Following a recipe leaves no room for creativity. It also requires all kinds of measuring devices and detailed mathematical conversion skills. And I’m a big picture person. So that’s not for me. But don’t get me wrong, I love reading recipes from all over the world. They give me ideas.

flounder fillets ud71Anyway, last night I invented a new dish, suitably light for hot summer evenings. Filet de Flet à crabe. Or flounder fillets topped with a crab meat concoction (a heap of crab meat, one egg, olive oil mayonnaise, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs, one poblano pepper, one shallot, black pepper and salt). To be served with spicy baked zucchini, tomatoes and if preferred, some cheese-lemon sauce on the side. After 35 minutes in 400F/200C oven – bon appetite.

filet de flet UD71Everyone will survive and accolades will follow. I know.

Tonight it might be pizza. I like the artistic freedom to throw tasty toppings on a super thin crust. After so many years in Africa, my favorite is the Kilimanjaro. BBQ-alfredo-mustard sauce and extra cheese to remind us of the yellow grass on the surrounding savannah, then small heaps of thinly sliced beef fillet for mini-mountains, topped with snow of feta cheese. A few chopped green bell peppers for bushes and some pineapple chunks for lions lurking around. And mushrooms for other animals. So yummy it requires a long after-dinner walk on the savannah….or at the salt marsh.

So that’s what’s cooking at my place.

island in the bay ud71Figuratively speaking, more things are cooking in the summer heat. Like a meetup with a bird photographer/blogging friend and his family early this week, family visits, photo hikes and overseas travel to cooler latitudes. And also on the summer menu: just relaxing. Recharging mind, body and soul.

What’s cooking at your place? Literally or figuratively.

How to Clean Your Vitamins

No, this is not a pep talk on what we should and should not eat to stay healthy until we approach our 100th birthday. There is enough expert advice to go around. And it changes every other day. Those of us who still want more on that front just need to read today’s news. There’s surely going to be something new we should rush to buy or something in our pantry we now need to throw away. So I’m not going there.

My thoughts took me in a completely different direction this morning. I was in my kitchen making breakfast when I happened to drop my vitamin capsule. The orange-colored one. It rolled on the kitchen floor and finally stopped next to the pantry. I picked it up and that’s when I remembered the young baboon. I met him on one of our trips into the wild many years ago.

We were going to visit Queen Elizabeth National park in Uganda. When approaching the park, we saw a mother baboon with her offspring sitting close to the road. We stopped to greet them.

Our son was quick to open the window and throw out a small wheat biscuit. It landed on the ground next to the young baboon. He and his mother observed it suspiciously for a long time. Touch…or not to touch? After careful consideration the youngster decided to take it. For closer examination.

He rolled the biscuit in his fingers and looked at it from all angles. He smelled it. Then he started cleaning it. He blew on it. He scratched it with his fingers. He cleaned it against his hairy arm. And then blew on it again. Repeat. This cleaning ceremony took at least five minutes. Then he halved the little biscuit and gave one half to his mother. They ate their biscuit halves slowly enjoying the taste of whole wheat.

Then the mother stood up and came to thank us. Or maybe it was to get one more nutritious treat? But that was not going to happen. We shouldn’t have fed them in the first place.

After this charming demonstration in cleanliness, I couldn’t be angry at our son. I just told him not to do it again. But I can never forget this young baboon’s efforts to ensure his food was eatable and clean. And I’m sure he hadn’t read the latest advice on food hygiene.

So I followed his instructions and cleaned my vitamin. Repeat.

Kushari and the Thousand Crunches

When you have back to back meetings the whole day, live on coffee and don’t get a lunch break, what do you do? I know what I do. I have a nice dinner! If this happens on a business trip, I have a perfect excuse to have even a nicer dinner. In a nice restaurant. This was the case practically every day during my latest trip to Cairo.

Cairo Nile at night edited

So now I pay for those late meals…Don’t get me wrong, money-wise I already paid for them, but the calories are still on the credit card. I eat salads and force myself to the gym to reduce my debt little by little. But it was worth it. Let me explain.

The first evening I was so jet-lagged from the 24 hour trip and 7 hour time difference, that I just wanted to eat fast, anything would do. It seemed like colleagues were feeling the same way so we ended up in the hotel cafeteria for a quick meal quite late at night. I had some pasta and slept like a baby for a full 7 hours. You know, waking up every two hours thinking it was morning already.

The second evening, after a full day of work and more than half a dozen small cups of strong Arabic coffee, we decided to explore some Egyptian food in a famous restaurant nearby, Abou El Sid. Walking into the restaurant was like being moved into the glorious era around 1950s. The ambience was spectacular with the antique rugs and furniture, intricate tiling and beautiful light fixtures.

Lightning lamps in Egyptian restaurant Cairo

The menu was both in Arabic and English. After a nice selection of appetizers that we shared, I wanted to try traditional Egyptian food. Looking at the menu – and listening to a friend who spends a lot of time in Egypt, I selected the Kushari (also spelled Koshari or Kosheri), sometimes dubbed as the Egyptian national dish. Under the name of the dish on the menu it said “feel like a real Egyptian”, so my choice was clear.

Kushari (2)

Kushari is a vegetarian dish of rice, pasta, onions, chick peas, lentils and bulgur wheat, topped by a spicy tomato sauce. It was truly delicious! My portion was XL as is customary in Egypt. So like a real Egyptian, I left some on my plate. And didn’t have much room for the delicious desserts brought to the table, just had to taste…

The next day I tried Indian food in a restaurant close by. It was excellent, just as one would get in a first-rate Indian restaurant anywhere in the world.

The following night it was time to try something different: colleagues and I decided to meet some friends at the Cairo Fish Market Restaurant located on the Nile on the Giza side of the river.

This restaurant offers an excellent selection of fresh seafood. You just go and point out the fish or whatever sea creature you want to have, and tell the waiter how you want it prepared. The rest follows “automatically”, all the side dishes come to the table: spicy rice, different types of potatoes, a variety of spicy sauces, salads, a huge bowl of lemons in little squeeze bags, and the traditional, delicious pita bread.

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And then it is just to enjoy, both the plentiful, delicious food and the views of the Nile outside the windows. It was a wonderful and enjoyable dinner sharing many different sea food dishes with colleagues and friends.

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The next day was my last in town and I ended up eating a delicious Indian meal again with colleagues, late at night before leaving for the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

These food adventures were worth every single crunch and plenty of miles on the treadmill. I hope you enjoyed these (completely calorie-free) dining adventures.

Hey, Where’s My Turkey?

Gratitude is one of the most powerful means of attracting positive energy and good things to our lives. So I try to remember to be thankful all year long for all I’ve received and all I’ve been able to give others. But in the little northern corner of the earth where I was born and raised, we did not celebrate Thanksgiving holiday in the same way it’s done in the US and Canada. That makes me an implant into this strong tradition.

As you may guess, there’s been many trials and tribulations over the years in adapting to this tradition, particularly in regard to the center piece at the dinner table, Mr. Turkey. He’s not always been very cooperative, to say the least.

During the first Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, just a few months after moving here, Mr. Turkey was missing in action in our home. I didn’t realize that he is an invited guest, no matter what. So I made a nice steak dinner. What a mistake! Our son who was in the fifth grade at the time couldn’t believe his eyes – no turkey on the table! He had already picked up this tradition from all his friends, whose mothers had been preparing their turkey the previous night. He was visibly disappointed and I felt really bad. The next day he went to his best friend’s house and had turkey…and I promised we’d have a turkey the following year.

The following year came and to make good on my promise, I bought a huge frozen turkey well in advance. I was extremely busy at work and travelled a lot, so I didn’t take the time to read the instructions. Early on Thanksgiving morning, I took it out to allow a couple of hours for thawing. But the bird didn’t want to be thawed! By the time I had planned to put it into the oven, its skin was just about free from frost. It was solid frozen!

I made all the mistakes described in the turkey cooking books! To cut the long story short, we had a Thanksgiving dinner that night with the turkey on the table. It was about 9 p.m. and the poor turkey was…very dry. Our son was hungry and very kind, he just poured a lot of gravy and ketchup on the turkey. My hubby quietly asked me if it was supposed to be that dry. What did I know? I remember we managed to eat about half of the bird by the time the weekend was over. Luckily I had not invited any friends over to taste my first ever baked whole turkey.

Then, of course, little by little I became a master of the turkey cooking art, and we enjoyed a well prepared turkey for many years. Until one year much later…Our son was away in college and flew home for Thanksgiving. As all mothers know, it’s so wonderful to have them home again! That particular year, I had found a nice whole smoked turkey that would only need to be heated up just before dinner time. It was small, like 6-7 pounds, but it would only be the three of us that year, so that should be fine.

On the night before Thanksgiving, our son went out with a group of his closest friends, all of whom we knew well, and told me that they would be coming back later in the evening to play pool in our basement, like they had done so often in the past. I had prepared the turkey and left it in the kitchen fridge on a plate, so when the guys came back home, our son asked me if they could make some cold sandwiches of the turkey later on. I said why not as it would be only the three of us eating it the next day, and I had plenty of other stuff prepared as well.

In the morning, I came down to the kitchen to make coffee. Everything was nice and tidy, no sign of the guys making sandwiches, no dishes in the sink. Nice, I thought, they are all in college and have finally learned to take care of things. Then I looked into the fridge. No turkey! We had another large fridge as a reserve in the storage area so I ran there. And there it was! The plate with the turkey bones, nicely covered in aluminium foil. It still had the wings. I had to laugh!

Later that morning, our son said he was sorry they ate so much, the turkey had been too delicious! I couldn’t be angry, just went back to my grocery store. I could no longer find a whole smoked turkey so I settled on two large smoked breasts, put them creatively on both sides of the breast bone and heated it all up for dinner.  With some imagination it looked like a turkey. And it was just fine!

A few years ago I met the exactly same group of our son’s friends. They were all grown up now, out of college, and stood there in the church as handsome groomsmen at his wedding. I smiled again, reminded of the disappearing act of the smoked turkey!

I’m all adapted now. And giving thanks for everything in my life, including the turkeys, past, present and future. Gratefully signing off for about a week in the northern wilderness – with no internet connectivity. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating this wonderful holiday later in the week!

Baked Tilapia Anyone?

We learned to love Nile Tilapia when we lived in Uganda. This fish was the only one we could get guaranteed fresh every day. Now of course we have a huge variety of fresh fish and other sea food right here at our doorstep, and we can only get farm raised tilapia, but I still buy it every now and then. Normally I would just pan fry it (parmesan crusted!) and serve with small potatoes and a cold dill-based mayo-sour cream sauce, but last night I decided to prepare it in the oven. This is a recipe I created many years ago, but had not tried recently. It’s truly simple to make and guaranteed delicious! Here’s how I threw it all together.

As you may know from my previous cooking posts, I cook creatively from the ingredients I find in the fridge, so here’s what I had (for two people – you can scale it up by counting one large fillet per person and adding more wine, cream & cheese to the sauce):

3 small/medium-sized tilapia fillets

little less than 1/2 pint/2 dl cream

about 1/2 bag (4 oz/110 g) shredded part-skim mozzarella/Philadelphia cheese ( you can also use shredded swiss/Philadelphia mix or any light swiss cheese spread, like Laughing Cow wedges)

2 leeks

about 1/2 glass of white wine, and

spices.

First I preheated the oven to 350F/175C. Then seasoned the tilapia fillets with lemon pepper and lemon & herbs spices (add salt if needed), put them into an oven dish,  sprinkled over the leeks (cut in small pieces), poured in the white wine to almost cover the fish, and “pre-baked” the fish under lid for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, I prepared the cheese-cream sauce. I mixed 2 table spoons of flour (vary depending on how thick sauce you want) with olive oil, added the cream before the flour browned and then mixed in the cheese slowly. I let it all simmer together for a couple of minutes (you can add salt and pepper to taste if desired, I didn’t). The sauce should be very thick at this point.

When the tilapia had pre-baked, I took some of the liquid/wine and added it to the sauce to achieve desired consistency, and discarded most of the rest. Make sure you don’t leave too much wine around the fish – it doesn’t need to swim any more!  Next, I poured the sauce over the fillets and baked for an additional 25 minutes so that the cheese was lightly browned on the top.

You can serve this dish with wild or brown rice or small potatoes, sautéed asparagus and a fresh salad. I happened to have a few previously boiled small potatoes so I put them into the oven to heat up and sprinkled some of the shredded cheese on the top.

Very simple and yummy tilapia dinner. Enjoy!

A Free Meal on the Fly

It was one of those days. I was running around the whole morning to finalize my work papers and to pack my bags. Cool weather clothes, boots, laptop, Kindle, adapters, papers – you name it. I was also checking that everything was in order at home for the next one week, and explained to my dog that I had to go to work again. He doesn’t think I’m working when I do it in my home office, so for him mom needs to go to work means several days without me. And needing to rely on dad for his treats and walks.

He definitely doesn’t like the prospect of me not coming home every evening so I always need to spend some quality time with him before leaving. All this was going on in the morning and I had to be at the airport around lunch time to catch my early afternoon flight, first of three for the next 24 hours. So I forgot to eat.

After going through the necessary hassles at the airport, I found myself – now really hungry – in a concourse that didn’t have my airline’s club. But it had a nice gourmet restaurant. Fancy looking and only a few customers eating lunch and sipping their wine.

As I had almost an hour to spare before boarding, I decided it was not good for my figure to eat several bags of potato chips or pretzels onboard.  So I went in and ordered a proper lunch, grilled chicken salad and a glass of crispy white to go with it.

It was very tasty! Really enjoyable. I was just finishing my salad when a small house fly came around. I was afraid that, as usual, it would land in my not-yet-empty wine glass. I didn’t want to share my wine with anyone, so I caught the fly in-flight. The poor little landed on the white rim of my large salad plate. And there he was sitting. Still very normal-looking but …well, dead. No danger to my wine or anyone.

About ten minutes before my boarding time the waitress came to remove my plate. I asked for my check and handed over my card. I waited and waited. Now I was in a hurry. Finally a male waiter approached my table with the check.  I saw his name plate in the corner of my eye and observed that he was actually the manager on duty. I was already getting up, prepared to run to my gate, when he put the tab on the table and said he was sorry about the fly. I said it was ok and quickly signed the check, put the copy in my pocket, gave a few dollars as tip that I had calculated in advance, and ran out.

Sitting in the plane, I looked at the check. It was for nine dollars and six cents. The price of my glass of wine with tax. And I realized I had gotten a free meal on the fly! I thought about the fly with gratitude the next day when I had to pay over 10 Euros for my cappuccino. It all balances out sooner or later, right?