Thursday, February 16, 2012

Saffron couscous with chicken and veggies

I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Temperatures have been higher in the past few days and it looks like tomorrow we might break 40. What a dream. The thing is, I have all these really cute spring clothes I want to wear, but the weather hasn't really been warm enough for any of them. And that's not the only problem. I had also gained some weight in the past few months, which made my clothes fit horribly, if they fit at all. Now I'm 7 pounds down and things are looking brighter. Another 5-7 pounds and I'll look and feel great, ready for warmer days and lighter clothes.

This is one of my "diet" recipes. One of the things that is helping me lose weight is packing my own lunch, so I don't end up eating huge sandwiches or pizza at some restaurant. Hence the tupperware in the photo. Sorry if it doesn't look great, but I swear it tasted really good!

For 1:

1/2 cup couscous
1 packet saffron
1 chicken breast, cut into pieces
 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 carrot, minced
1 small onion, minced
Salt and pepper

Cook couscous according to directions, adding saffron to the water.

In a small skillet heta up a little olive oil. Add carrot, onion and peas, cook for a minute. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, then add to skillet and cook with veggies until browned.

Fluff couscous with a fork, add to skillet, mix well and serve.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spaghetti with meatless meatsauce

Brrr. We have been hit by a tremendous cold front, which has brought tons of snow (or at least, tons by lake Lugano standards) and very cold temperatures, temepratures I had never seen around here. We are talking teens. We are talking "what the hell am I going to wear to work?" kind of temperatures.
I have pretty much locked myself in the house every single night. Going out for drinks or dinner? No thanks. All I wanted to do was sit by the fire or bake stuff in the oven to warm up the house.
The upside of it is that I've spent a lot of time cooking. The downside is that I haven't spent a lot of time writing about it because the cold made me lazier than usual. What can I say? That's the way it is some days.

Now the situation has improved a little, although we look like we are still very far from seeing the beginning of spring. Which is sad, because I have just realized that I'm so freaking done with winter. It's funny because I actually like the winter a lot and love the snow and skiing and all. But I reach a point, and this year that point was reached today, where I just cannot stand it anymore and I desperately want to wear spring clothes, eat asparagus and zucchini and sit outdoors with the sun warm on my face. So I keep looking at the forecast and end up being annoyed when I see no signs of spring in the near future.

And while I wait for spring to come I keep munching on winter vegetables that by now have really grown old, to say the least. I can barely stand them anymore. So I try to stick them in sauces and stews like this one, my first experiment at making "meatsauce" with seitan. I'm not a vegetarian and I will never be one, but I was intrigued by the description my friend gave me of seitan and wanted to try it. Well, it makes a really good "meatsauce", believe me.

For 2

1/2 pound spaghetti
1 seitan patty, processed until ground
2 carrots, minced
1 onion, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
1 cup tomato puree
1 cup water
1 vegetable borth cube
1 glass red wine
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Warm olive oil in a dutch oven, add onion, carrot and celery and sautee for a few minutes, until soft. Add ground seitan, season with salt and pepper, sautee for a minute or two, then add red wine. Let cook until it's almost evaporated, add tomato sauce, water, broth cube and bay leaves and lower heat. Simmer on low for at least an hour.

Serve with spaghetti.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Indie Travel Challenge, week 4: Winter Getaways

It's week number 4 of the Indie Travel Challenge, and I have to say that this week's topic couldn't be more appopriate. The good folks at Boots'n'all want us to talk about our dream winter destinations. You can see the prompt here.

Saturday night I cam back from a 3 day mini vacation to Leukerbad, in the Valais canton in Switzerland. It was one of my 2012 travel resolutions to see more of the country I live in and going on this trip showed me how much I had ben missing. Switzerland is tiny, but is also very diverse in landscape, language, culture and food. In Tessin, where I live, we have a fiarly mild climate, everyone speaks Italian and things aren't as organized and rigis as one might think. Only two hours away, though, Leukerbad folks speak French and German, the cuisine is definitely not ass-friendly and the Alps, which I see from a distance here on lake Lugano, are so close and beautiful, they take your breath away.
I traveled there by train -total travel time 4 hours and 20 minutes- and was definitely happy not to have to deal with having a car there. It's not a car friendly village, unless you have a 4x4 with snow tires. I was greeted by a gorgeous blue ski and 29°F, perfect weather for a little exploring and working up an appetite. You can see my rendition of rösti, the Valais "national" dish, here.

View from the Alpentherme pools
After lunch it was thermal baths time. Leukerbad is famous for its hot springs and, even more, for the amazing Alpentherme, a complex that features indoors and outdoors hot water pools, saunas, steam baths and everything else your heart might desire. I went there both on Thursday and on Friday, after skiing which was heavenly. The best part? The 100°F outddors pool you can reach from inside, with a view of the Alps and massage jets. A 5 hour pass that includes access to all areas of the complex is 39 CHF, about 45 dollars. a little steep, but worth every penny. 
 Leukerbad also rocks because of its beautiful ski slopes. I spent Friday skiing at the Torrent station, at about 8900 feet. The weather, again, was wonderful, so skiing was even more enjoyable. Not to mention how enjoyable it was to stop at a bar at 8000 feet and drink a cold beer on the terrace, with my face in the sun.

I was lucky enough to see an abundant snowfall on Friday night, after I was done skiing. And Saturday morning, it was still snowing as I woke up. I lingered in bed, under the comforter, watching the snow fall out of the window. It was quiet and peaceful and beautiful, all at the same time. It reminded me of similar mornings back in the 90s, when my parents still had an apartement in Val Gardena, in the Italian Alps. It's alwasy nice to time travel while you are traveling. It made me feel like an 8th grader again, wishing the weather would turn so bad it would keep me from going back home.

Too bad it didn't happen. Not then, not now.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rösti, a Valais specialty

So i just came back from a mini vacation in the Valais canton in Switzerland. I spent three blissful days skiing and hanging out at the thermal baths in Leukerbad, a gorgeous alpine village that looks exactly like a Swiss mountain village should look. More about that in my next post, which will be all about Leukerbad.

I'm working the closing shift at the paper tonight, so I don't have much time to dwell on my vacation right now. Still, I want to give you a little taste of the cuisine in Valais. Rösti is one of their signature dishes, something that is very similar to hash brow potatoes, but is served for lunch or dinner with many different toppings that range from pancetta to mushrooms and from ham to tomatoes. My favorite rendition is a simple one: potatoes, ham, fried egg and a little cheese. Heaven on a plate, I tell you.

Makes 1:

1/2 pound of potatoes, boiled in their skins the day before

2 to 3 tablespoons of butter

1/2 medium onion

salt to taste

Raclette (or other salty) cheese

Sliced ham

1 fried egg
Peel the cooked potatoes and grate them through a coarse grater. Slice the onions into thin wedges.

Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and add the onions and cook them until they look glassy and transparent. Add the grated potatoes and the salt and stir through. Fry while stirring them around in the pan for about 3 to 5 minutes. Press together to form a flat cake and fry over medium heat until there is a golden crust on the bottom.

Place a serving platter on the pan and turn the pan upside down, so the Roesti falls on the platter with the crust on top.

Top with grated cheese, ham and fried egg. Stick under the broiler for 30 seconds and serve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Egg salad

As you read this, I'm riding a train to Leukerbad, in the Western side of Switzerland, where I'll spend a couple of days skiing and hanging out at the beautiful thermal baths. In case you are wondering, no, I'm not always on vacation, as one of my friends said the other day. It's just a little weekend getaway, which will make the coldest days of the year easier to bear. I know it may sounds a little crazy to go to the mountains during the chilliest week of them all, but I'd rather be cold ina place where nbeing in cold weather is fun, rather than freezing my ass off by the lake, with the humidity killing me and making me shiver to bone.

Before leaving I didn't bothered going grocery shopping, so I had to get a little creative with my lunches. Egg salad sandwich sounded like a good idea - I hadn't had the stuff since I left the U.S. in April of '10 - so I improvised with what I had in the fridge. It turned out great, exactly what I had in mind: to make it low fat, I used yogurt instead of mayo, added some paprika for flavor and capers and for saltiness.


1 hard boiled egg, minced
1 tablespoon of capers, minced
2 small pickles, minced
2 tablespoons minced onion
Salt and paprika, to taste
3 tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt (or more if you need it)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

London in pictures, day 3

Lately I've become a huge fan of public transportation. Not so much where I live, since Bissone is not exactly very well connected to the rest of the world via public transportation, but when I go elsewhere I'm very happy to abandon my car and use trains, buses and subways. In London, especially, I took advantage of its awesome public transportation system by purchasing an Oyter card, on which I loaded 7 days of unlimited travel for 29 pounds. It may seem a lot, but it really isn't. The Tube rocks and so do duble decker buses, although on my first day I managed to piss off a driver for being impatient. Gotta love that.
After a brief visit to the outside of St. Paul Cathedral (I would have had to shell out 14 pounds to get in... are they insane?!?) I walked across the Millenium Bridge to reach the South bank, where Tate Modern is located. As most museums in London it's free, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. The art inside is the kind of art that one can only describe as kind of crazy, but so cool it deserves a post on its own... so stay tuned for that. 
In the aftenoon I visited another great museum, the British Museum. Again, it was free, and the art there is definitely more conventional, ranging from ancient Egypt's Rosetta Stone to more modern masterpieces from all over the world.

I had some time to kill before dinner so I walked around, stopping in a pub every once in a while to rest and recharge (and drink beer, of course)
At night we took it is. I showed up at the pub where my friend was just in time for the kitchen to be closed, so we ended up cooking at his place. I made pasta, so there was no weird both cubes involved ;-)

The Indie travel Challenge, week 3: "Learning through travel"


Travel is learning. If one travels and manages not to learn anything, I suspect he or she could very well be braindead. I mean, how can you not absorb everything that is new and different around you? Art, language, food, traditions. You name it. One of the most exciting aspects of traveling is meeting different people, who live in ways that are foreign to us for reasons that are part of a history that is not our own.

Week 3 of the Indie Travel Challenge deals with this. Learning and traveling. Except for when i attended summer school to learn English in California (every year from 1992 to 1998) I have never really taken classes while abroad, but that doesn't mean that I haven't learned a lot while traveling. i guess I'm just not much into taking organized classes while I'm on vacation. My bad. I'm sure that if I had taken, let's say, some cooking classes while abroad I would have learned to cook the same recipes I know how to cook now, but without all the trial and error.

One thing, though, I have learned by traveling, and that is appreciating art. When i was in high school Art History was possibily one of my least favorite subjects. Watching works of art printed in a book isn't that exciting and we were never taken to any museums, despite the fact my school was across the street from the church where Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper is. I know, I know. Terrible.
Anyhow, I had to learn to love art as an adult, by browsing art museums on my own, without the aid of an art expert. Sure, I'd probably learn even more if I had someone telling me about focus and composition and the likes, but would I enjoy, and therefore learn, from the experience that much? Probably not.

So alone I go to museums of all kinds and I let the art speak to me. If the art in question doesn't, well, no biggie. Not all art can move us, which is what makes art so interesting. For it to arise my interest, it has to surprise me, amaze me, even shock me. Or, some other times, to make me discovere that even a mirror placed on wall of a museum can surprise us, ^making us realize that us, too, are works of art.

Self portrait, Tate Modern, London.
January 2012

Asian lettuce wraps


Happy Dragon year everyone!

I thought I'd take a little break from posting travel pictures and post a recipe, just to remind myself 8and all of you) that this still is a cooking blog after all. Travels are cool, but unfortunately I don't travel every day. On the other hand, I do tend to cook on a daily basis, especially in the winter, especially when I'm trying to get back in shape after over two months of food and drink orgies.

Since the world is celbrating the Chinese new year, I thought I'd cook one of my favorite Asian recipes, one that I used to eat at PF Cheng's when I lived in Florida. I know, Cheng's isn't exactly a real Chinese joint, but their lettuce wraps rocked and they are light enough and veggie packed enough to satisfy both my weight loss challenge and my healthy habits- eat more veggies! challenge.

So here it is. Maybe not the most adventurous Chinese recipe, but a good, solid one.


1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon siracha
1 tablespoon sweet and sour sauce

To serve:
Lettuce leaves
Bean sprouts
Shredded carrot
Shredded cabbage
Cooked brown rice

Heat a non stick skillet or a wok. Mix soy sauce and next 4 ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken to skillet and stir to crumble. Pour sauce over it and cook for about ten minutes, until chicken is done. If the meat should get dry, add a little more sauce. I added siracha because I love the heat it gives to the dish!

When chicken is done, cover and remove from stove.

Serve with lettuce leaves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

London in pictures, day 2

My second day in London was awesome. Filippo had the day off, so we got to hang out together all day, which is always awesome. We dedicated the afternoon to the exploation of one of my favorite neighborhoods in London: Notting Hill. I hated the movie, but absolutely love the streets and stores and market stalls you find there. It made me wish I could ship a crate of furniture, books and knick knacks back to Switzerland, but since I couldn't I had to restrain my self and refrain from buying everything I saw.

It was hard. It was very hard.
 I mean, how can you walk into Alice's and not buy an old wooden coffee table you absolutely have no room for or a trunk that will only set you back 300 dollars or so? I didn't actually buy any of the above, but had I been there by car I would have. So, good thing I was traveling by train, I guess.
 Only a few doors down Portobello road I found another store that me want to move to London instantly. It's called Books for cooks and, you've guessed, only sells cookbooks. Again, I had to refrain from buying everything in there and my heart ached for all my wonderful cookbooks I've left behind in Florida. I know I'd never have the time to use of all them, but it's a collection. It exists purely for the purpose of pleasing me, no matter how useless and bulky a collection it may seem. And, as collections go, actually, it's far more useful than others. Stamps, for instance. Or coins.
I manged to leave the store with only one purchase, a British food book called, well, British Food, which I selected both because I thought it would have been dumb to by an Italian cookbook in London and because it was fairly small. I could have (and would have) spent the whole afternoon there, but Filippo was fidgeting, so I figured that a half hour was enough for him. The poor guy was already putting up with my obsession to find a grey coat (which I didn't find, by the way), so I decided to go easy on him with the cookbook shopping.
 We then kept walking around Portobello road, which is really as charming as in the movies, full of little quirky details and even quirkier little stores.
 On the way back we stopped in a store that sold funky t-shirts and, I was hoping, grey coats. Although I didn't fiond the damn coat, I made friends with the store cat, who hang out by the cash register, sleeping on piles of t-shirts and being overall one of the friendliest cats ever.
For dinner we decided to stay home since we kind of already had a bad lunch experience invoving a pub, a microwaved burger and a Brooke Shields sighting. Filippo asked me to make risotto and I obliged. A tiny catch: they were out of Knorr beef broth cubes, so I had to use Oxo's version. I was terrified. I mean, look at the freakin' box, for crying out loud. The broth turned out to be extremly dark and not too flavorful, but overall the ristto was good, if maybe a little off colorwise.


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