Sage Gnudi & New Site Design

Sage Gnudi

“If clouds were made of cheese, and naughty, they’d be gnudi.“ Serious Eats

This year is off to a good start for Cucee! First and foremost, my blog has been redesigned!

Personally, I’ve always liked the design of CuceeSprouts. But ever since the web world went “Mobile First”, my blog started exhibiting early signs of aging. It must be all that pinching and zooming on the phone that contributed to its wrinkles and flabby skin. Cucee was definitely ready for a facelift!

Secondly, I have so many new healthy recipes coming your way this year! I have already photographed 3 and I just cannot wait to share them!

The first recipe of the year is Gnudi. Gnudi are basically nude ravioli, the creamy filling without the pasta wrapper! They are that ultimate winter comfort food that does not leave you feeling guilty later. Light, fluffy, and so tender, they melt in your mouth the moment they reach it.

Gnudi

Sage gnudi

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook

Gnudi ingredients

The sauce ingredients

Directions

  1. Make sure your Ricotta is dry. VERY DRY. If it isn’t, squeeze out as much water as you can. This insures that your gnudi do not explode in the boiling water.
  2. Beat the ricotta, grated Parmesan, a pinch of sea salt, black pepper, and a few scrapings of nutmeg.
  3. Generously cover a large tray with semolina, then roll the ricotta mixture into 1-inch balls, rolling them in the tray of semolina as you go until really well coated.
  4. Leave for 8 hours or overnight in the fridge UNCOVERED – the semolina will dehydrate the ricotta, giving the gnudi a lovely fine coating.
  5. On the day of cooking, start by making the sauce first. Melt a large knob of butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and pick in about 20 sage leaves to crisp up. Remove the crispy leaves to a plate. Leave butter in a pan but turn the heat to the lowest setting.
  6. Boil the water then lower to simmer. Cook gnudi in simmering salted water for not longer than 2 minutes. Test the first batch to get the timing right. Mine take about 2 minutes until they start to fall apart. You basically just want to warm them up.
  7. Scoop the gnudi directly from the water into the frying pan, adding a spoonful of the cooking water. When the butter and water have emulsified, take off the heat and grate over a layer of Parmesan, add just a few drops of lemon juice, then toss together. Serve in warm bowls straight away with an extra grating of nutmeg and Parmesan and the crispy sage leaves.

Wine pairing

Because Gnudi are very delicate, they deserve a wine that won’t overpower them.  This refreshing mild-boded Pinot Gris with palate-cleansing acidity is a perfect match!

Gnudi

Gnudi

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Morning Coffee Bowl

Breakfast Coffee Bowl

I like cooking from recipes, I do! Find a recipe, buy all the ingredients, pour a glass of wine and cook away. However, being a mom of two curious children who want to be a part of every after-school activity imaginable, this way of cooking no longer seems to work for me (most of the time.) So I have been doing a lot more improvising in the kitchen. And liking it :)

Some Cucee experiments never repeat again, while others turn into favorites. One of the more successful ones is my Morning Coffee Bowl.

This breakfast bowl changes frequently. It adapts. It listens: to me, to the season, to the contents of my fridge and the cupboard. Sometimes it starts with Greek yogurt. Sometimes with coconut milk. In the spring, it is all girly: red strawberries and pink raspberries. In the fall, it is colored blueberry-purple. And during holidays, it is all about cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and pumpkins. Sometimes it is chia-seed-speckled. Sometimes it is covered with chocolate nib snow. And on Monday mornings, it is is heavily laced with coffee.

Breakfast Coffee Bowl

Morning Coffee Bowl

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Mix the first 7 ingredients
  2. Gently fold frozen blueberries into the mixture
  3. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels and a little more Instant coffee granules to taste

Breakfast Coffee Bowl
Coffee pairing

Any. Coffee. Period. (Maybe with Something Natural on a side)

Breakfast Coffee Bowl

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Tarragon Lemon Summer Squash Soup

Tarragon Lemon Summer Squash Soup

Everyone has at least ONE vegetable they CANNOT stand. For whichever reason that may be… For some, it’s that “healthy” vegetable they were force-fed as a child; for others, it is the one they’ve overdone on at some point in life!

As for me – that evil cadevil is celery (don’t ask!) For my husband – anything squash or zucchini (big thanks to the lunch ladies at his school cafeteria (aka столовка).

For years, I have been on a hunt for that one summer squash recipe that would be welcomed at our dinner table. Mainly because I really like courgettes. I’ve sauteed, baked and breaded them… I’ve even hid them in dishes like cakes, breads, even smoothies! Nothing worked for my husband. Until now!!!

A simple brothy soup from Food52. Sauteed squash and zucchini, a touch of fresh squeezed lemon juice, some fresh tarragon leaves, a scoop of yogurt. “You do realize it is Summer Squash you are enjoying right now,” I asked my husband?

This soup really is pretty darn special. Refreshing, hydrating, light. Delicate, uncomplicated, delicious. Wonderful when served hot or Gazpacho-style. A soup that feels like summer. That care-free, school-is-out, trips-to-the-lake summer.  So, before the summer is officially over, have a bowl!

Tarragon Lemon Summer Squash Soup

Tarragon Lemon Summer Squash Soup

Loosely based on the recipe from Food52

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow squash, diced
  • 2 medium green zucchini, diced
  • 4 green onions (scallions), light green and white parts, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic clove, finely minced
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Greek yogurt (full fat or fat-free)
  • Tarragon, snipped chives, shredded Parmesan cheese, and croutons, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, sauté the squash, zucchini and onion in the butter and olive oil until onion is tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic in the last minute or so.
  2. Season with black pepper to taste, add the tarragon, then pour in the broth and lemon juice and stir.
  3. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes until the squash is tender all the way through.
  4. Serve immediately with a generous serving of yogurt (a tablespoon or more depending on how creamy you want the soup to be)
  5. Optionally, garnish with additional tarragon, chives, shredded Parmesan cheese, and croutons, if you like.

Tarragon Lemon Summer Squash Soup

Wine pairing

I don’t generally sip wine with soup, however, I did find that starting my meal with a glass of Naked Winery Viognier helped me appreciate the simple flavors of the soup.

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Baked Eggplant with Miso

Baked Eggplant with Miso

The other day, I went out to meet a friend for dinner. Last time we saw each other, I was freshly pregnant with my first. Needless to say it was time for us to catch up. We met at a tiny little Japanese restaurant out in San Francisco, in the Castro. 4 tables. 1 window. A waitress who is also a chef.

We ordered sushi, of course, homemade fresh tofu and their daily special, Walnut Miso Eggplant.

I’ve had Japanese before. I’ve had eggplant before. But never have I had an eggplant prepared like THAT. Anywhere. Of any cuisine.

I left the restaurant, already shuffling ideas in my head on how to recreate the dish. For the next few months, I tried out recipes that seemed probable, digging them out of magazines, cookbooks and websites. Nothing came even close. Either the sauce would taste too overwhelming or the eggplant would feel overly dry. I gave up.

And then, as it always happens when you least expect it, I came across this new cookbook! With yet another interpretation of the same dish. I had eggplants in the house, miso in the fridge and some time to kill. After thirty minutes of kitchen play, a glass of wine, and some background music, my search endeavor was complete. I FOUND MY RECIPE!!!! It was nothing short of perfection: the eggplant came out of the right texture, firm enough to cut with a knife yet so tender it melted in the mouth. The sauce – bold and flavorful, yet complementary, rather than overpowering.

Baked Eggplant with Miso

Adapted from Itsu the Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant, cut into ⅓ inch slices
  • 1 tsp sesame oil, for greasing
  • small bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds, preferably toasted, to sprinkle (optional)

Sauce

  • 1½ tbsp miso
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp Sake
  • 1 inch fresh root ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 spring onions, sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to to 400 °F
  2. To make the sauce, mix the miso, mirin and sake together in a large bowl to make a smooth paste. Stir in the ginger and onions.
  3. Add the eggplant slices to the bowl and coat well with the sauce.
  4. Grease a roasting tray with the oil and arrange the eggplant slices on it in a single layer so that they cook evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, or until soft and slightly brown. If the eggplant looks a little dry, add a splash of water.
  5. Serve over quinoa or brown rice, sprinkled with the cilantro, plus the sesame seeds if you want some extra crunch.

Baked Eggplant with Miso

Drink Pairing

Don’t get me started on this. Japanese food goes with Sake. Period. IF I am feeling particularly adventurous, I will pour myself some potato Shochu (a Japanese hard liquor, comparable to vodka, that I recently discovered when traveling Japan.)

Baked Eggplant with Miso

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Poppy Seed Cake

Poppy Seed Cake

This cake is like a little black dress: you can dress it up or down. A nice thick slice with a cup ‘o’ tea on a weekday morning. Or a thinner toasted slice, with a dollop of coconut whipped cream and handful of sliced strawberries on a weekend – with a glass of sweet bubbly.

Baking the Poppy Seed Cake

Deborah Madison’s Poppy Seed Cake

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Ingredients

Directions

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the poppy seeds and the hot milk. Set aside until needed. Heat the oven to 375ᵒF. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high until firm but moist peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a small mixing bowl. Using the same bowl as for the egg whites, but now using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, then beat in the egg yolks, adding one at a time and beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed.
  4. Drain the milk from the poppy seeds, discarding the milk. Add the buttermilk and the drained poppy seeds to the batter. Beat until well combined, then again scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture to the batter, in thirds. Again scrape the bowl with the rubber spatula, making sure it’s all well mixed. Fold in about a quarter of the beaten egg whites with the spatula, then fold in the rest, mixing gently until just combined.
  5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula. Bake until golden and firm, with the sides just beginning to pull away from the pan, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Carefully run a sharp, thin knife along the sides of the cake, just against the pan, then gently remove the rim and allow the cake to cool to room temperature before slicing.

Coffee Pairing

If you are a coffee drinker like me, please do me a favor and have a slice of this cake with a cup of this coffee or this tea.

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Strawberries in Minted Honey Syrup

syrup

I start my day with a hot cup of Peet’s. Every day.

I sip on freshly squeezed lemonade with my kids on the warm summer afternoons. Or bubbly Pellegrino.

I drink red wine (the bolder variety) at dinner on non-gym nights, or with friends on weekends. Sometimes on gym nights as well.

I reach for an Old Fashioned when it is just that “kind of day.”

And cozy up in front of my favorite show when the house goes quiet at night, with a glass of strawberries in minted honey syrup.

syrup

Strawberries in Minted Honey Syrup

Adapted from The Nourished Kitchen

This syrup is pretty addicting but what is more addicting are the strawberries. Refreshing, mildly sweet, and slightly minty, they taste like a dessert (with none of that guilty feeling). I usually drink the beverage as-is but sometimes I dilute it with a splash of bubbly water.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 pints organic strawberries
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint (about 6 springs)

Directions

  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the honey and whisk it into the water until it dissolves fully. Continue simmering over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature. You do not want to “cook” the strawberries in hot syrup.
  2. Hull the strawberries, cut them in half, and set them in a bowl. Pluck the leaves off the stems of mint, tear them with your hands and drop them into the bowl with the strawberries. Pour the cooled honey syrup over the strawberries and mint, then cover with bowl and transfer it t the fridge. Allow the berries to marinate for a day, and then serve them with their syrup.

Note: It keeps fresh for up to a week in a refrigerator

syrup

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Black Swan Pavlova

Pavlova

My life is full of meringue memories.

Slow Sunday mornings, no school, my favorite childhood TV program on, a plate of freshly baked snow-white vanilla meringues next to whichever fruit is in season. Sheer happiness.

11 years old. My friends crowding over a cassette player I just received from my “American” grandma, listening to the sounds of the forbidden West, snacking on the creme-colored cinnamon meringue.

Passover dinner 2013. My family of four gathered around the holiday table. Wine, tea, strawberries and, of course, crispy meringues.

Pavlova

Black Swan Pavlova

This year tiny crispy meringues have been upsized and fancified to the ethereal and magnificent Pavlova.

The original recipe calls for whipped cream, however you can make this dessert Parve by replacing it with Coconut Whipped Cream or healthy by using creamed bananas instead. See below for these modifications and additional simplifications!

Adapted from One Pot Wonders

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites at room temperature
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup ready-to-use whipped cream or one of the following: homemade dairy, coconut or banana whipped cream  (recipes for the homemade versions below)
  • 1 cup of mixed berries and fruit (ideas: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, red or black currants, halved cherries, halved grapes). I made mine with strawberries, blueberries and red grapes
  • 4 passion fruit

Directions

  • Heat the oven to 300F. Add the egg whites to the mixer. Start the machine slowly, increasing the speed as the whites froth. Add the cream of tartar, continuing at the top speed until you have firm peaks. Add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture is glossy and stiff. Turn the mixer off.
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread the meringue in a shape you want, with the sides slightly higher than the center. Bake for 30 minutes, reduce to 220F and cook for an hour until crisp and cracked on the outside, half cooked and soft inside. If the meringue starts to brown, turn off the oven and leave it to finish cooking as the oven cools.
  • Leave to cook in the closed oven. Carefully peel the parchment paper off the meringue and transfer to a serving plate. Spoon cream of choice into the middle; the meringue may split or crack but that is part of its charm. Tumble the fruit into the middle of the Pavlova and scrape the passion fruit seeds and juice over the top.

Whipped Cream (dairy)

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Place a metal mixing bowl and metal whisk into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes
  2. Place the sugar into the mixing bowl and add the whipping cream. Whisk just until the cream reaches stiff peaks

Whipped Coconut Cream (parve)

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Open a can of coconut milk and scoop out the top layer into a mixer bowl
  2. Mix on high speed for 15-20 seconds, just until the mixture turns to liquid
  3. Add the powdered sugar and mix on high speed for 1-2 minutes, until light and creamy

Whipped creamless banana cream (healthy, parve)

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Add bananas and vanilla to the food processor
  2. Puree for about 3 minutes. The bananas should get increasingly smooth and creamy

Lastly, Pavlova and regular Meringue is not that hard to make but if you are scared, check out these tips from Food52. And if you are new to whipping cream, here is a good tutorial for you

Pavlova

Pavlova

 

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Homemade Matzo

My kitchen often feels like a chemistry lab: bottles of acid, cans of base,  containers of coloring agents… Almost like back in college except that I enjoy my home lab a lot more.

This new kitchen experiment is pretty basic. Mix flour, water and oil, roll out the dough, rush into the oven and…. try not to finish all the matzo at once (been there, done that. Not a pretty sight. Had to live on fiber and water for the next few days.)

Just FYI, homemade matzo tastes nothing like the boxed variety. It is also a bit thicker (unless you use the pasta machine to flatten the dough) but both me and my kids prefer the texture. In fact, I am now being asked to stack our snack cabinet with matzo on regular basis. We use it as crackers with brie, hummus, pate and dips.

Matzo

Adapted from The Mile End Cookbook

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 F and place a pizza stone on the bottom rack
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients until they come together to form dough. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more flour.
  3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Flatten each piece slightly and roll as thinly as possible with a rolling pin.
  4. Use a form to prick holes in the surface of the dough. For slated matzo, brush or spray the dough surface with water and sprinkle with salt
  5. Carefully slide the pieces of dough onto the pizza stone. Bake until the surface of the matzo is golden brown and bubbly, 30 secs to 2 mins, depending on your oven. Using tongs, flip the matzo and continue to bake until the other side is browned and lightly blistered.

Drink pairing

Tea (if you are under 21) or anything stronger, like this Pinot, that I have served time and time again and have already blogged about in my Latkes post

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Infusing Vodka

Vodka

I spent the first half of my childhood in Moldova, a tiny republic of the former Soviet Union, rich with fruit, vegetables and wine. It is the Napa of the Eastern Europe!

Life in Moldova was simple. Eat seasonally, drink year-round. During summertime, my mom would bring home mountains of produce and my dad would can it for the winter. My grandpa would pick the grapes off the vines outside our home and my grandma would make enough wine to last until the next pick. Sometimes, for a special occasion, she would also infuse Vodka.

I’ve always been intrigued with wine making and alcohol infusion but never really had a chance to try it myself. Until I received a book from a publisher with a page full of interesting flavored vodka ideas. I knew it was time for experimentation.

As it turns out, infusing vodka with flavor is a piece of cake (although it goes better with a pickle.) Buy your favorite brand, drop in the flavoring agent, and perform probably the most difficult step in the process – wait a few days.

After that, enjoy a low calorie/full flavor mood enhancer. Sip it on the rocks, since the taste of the alcohol is mellowed out by the smoothness of the flavoring agent, or mix it into a drink for a greater deeper flavor.

На Здоровье

Vodka

Infusing Vodka

Adapted from A Taste of Russia

I decided to go with 4 different flavoring agents and played around a little with the infusion time. I felt that keeping the aromatics in the spirits a little bit longer (1 week vs 24 hrs) produced most flavorsome infusions.

Garlic-and-Dill Vodka/Чесночная

Place 1 clove of garlic, slightly crushed, 1 sprig of fresh dill and 3 white peppercorns in 1 pint of plain vodka. Infuse at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain. A small bit of dill may be left in the vodka, if desired.

Great on its own.

Herb Vodka/Травник

Place a few sprigs of tarragon (or any other favorite herb,) in 1 pint of plain vodka and infuse at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain. A small bit of the herb may be left in the vodka.

Great mixed in a Tarragon Vodka with Oro Blanco Grapefruit Juice or Miss Vicki.

Lemon or Orange Vodka/Лимоновка or Оранжевая

Remove the rind from 1/2 large lemon or 1 orange in a single strip, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. Infuse in 1 pint of plain vodka at room temperature for 24 hours. (Do not leave the peel in longer, or the vodka will turn bitter.)

Great on its own or mixed in a Cold Comfort Martini or a Blueberry Lemonade

Horseradish vodka/Хреновая Водка

Place a 2-inch peeled piece of horseradish in 1 pint of plain vodka and infuse at room temperature for 48 hours. Strain, then add a couple of springs of dill.

Infusing vodka with fresh horseradish lends extra spice to many of your favorite vodka drinks, especially Bloody Mary. But it is also great on its own. Vodka Cheers! If you want to try other flavors, listed in the book (anise, apricot, black-current, cherry, coriander, pepper, saffron, tea or buffalo grass vodka), get your own copy of A Taste of Russia. Vodka

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Quick Scallion Kimchee

Quick Scallion Kimchee (Kimchi)

No personal anecdotes to share this time. Just One Really Good Recipe, from One Good Dish.

You know that the cookbook is good when you frantically bookmark recipe after recipe until you cover most of the pages (or run out of post-it’s.) So, I am temporarily putting all of my other cookbooks on hold until I go through at least some of my bookmarks from One Good Dish.

Quick Scallion Kimchee was one of the first recipes I tried and it is definitely a keeper! This simple-to-make condiment compliments just about anything that is not granola, however, it feels most natural in the company of the following delicacies:

  • Roasted teriyaki salmon
  • Grilled vegetables (inside a sandwich or on their own)
  • A bowl of cooked quinoa
  • A fish taco
  • An avocado toast
  • A breakfast omelette
  • Roasted potatoes, smoked salmon and creme fraiche
  • A Reuben sandwich

Quick Scallion Kimchee (Kimchi)

Quick Scallion Kimchee (Kimchi)

Adapted from One Good Dish

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Trim the scallions and cut into 3-inch lengths. Put them in a glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix together the garlic, sugar, ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, fish sauce, and rice vinegar. Add to the scallions and toss well to coat.
  3. Lay a plate over the bowl and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Or, for a stronger-tasting kimchee, let ripen for up to 72 hours. It will keep for a month, refrigerated.

Wine Pairing

I balked at the very idea of finding a perfect alcohol pairing for this condiment. Then I began researching. I tried a couple of things on my own, like my most favorite brand of Sake. I also went to the local wine shop and asked for suggestions. And I googled my way around the internet as well. Through a number of tastings, I finally came across a stellar match – a spicy E. Guigal 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Quick Scallion Kimchee (Kimchi)

If you want to try your hand at a more traditional Kimchi, go back to the recipe I posted a few months back, from the ever-so-popular  The Kimchi Cookbook.

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