With or without?

True chili has beef in it. That's what I've been told - it doesn't mean I'm willing to cook it that way. Beans are full of protein - a meat-free chili recipe is not only delicious but also nutritionally balanced. That's my chili and I've got no complains. My beloved committed carnivores became fans!

My Veggie Chili

Serves 4

1 small eggplant, sliced
1 small zucchini, cubed
1 small turnip, cubed
1 small red pepper, unseeded and sliced
1/2 cup green beans, diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, unseeded (seeded if you want it to be hot)
1 green onion, chopped
1 glove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 can (400 grs) diced tomato
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cups cooked kidney beans
Juice 1 small lemon
Fresh cilantro (about 1/2 cup)

In a saucepan, grill sliced eggplant with salt and a little olive oil. Heat olive oil, add onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, adding turnip, zucchini, red bell pepper, green beans, and jalapeño. Allow to cook for extra 5 minutes. Add tomato, red wine, stock and spices. Cook for 10 minutes, mix in kidney beans and grilled eggplant, cubed. Season to taste. Once it starts boiling again, add lemon juice and cilantro. Turn heat off. Allow all ingredients to mix together for a couple of minutes. Serve with a slice of good bread.

This is my entry to the RWT Chili Cook-Off, hosted by Tami of Running With Tweezers.


All that drama

A souffle is a drama queen. One moment is all up and the other it's free falling. Souffle dishes are some sort of plot to make any cook miserable - it's definitely not for low self-esteem people! But souffles are tasty, dead simple to make and are not fussy about what ingredients you add as long as eggs are used. Just perfect for Christmas turkey leftovers.

Turkey Souffle

Serves 8

2 medium potatoes (about 200 grs), cooked and drained
150 grs diced leftover turkey, boneless
200 ml cream (or whole milk)
100 grs Gruyére
1 egg
4 egg whites
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small leek (white only) sliced
salt and pepper, to season
butter to grease
breadcrumbs to dust

Using a food processor, beat together cooled potatoes, adding egg, and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, heat olive oil, add leek and once cooked allow to cool for a while. Add to mixture, mix in turkey and cheese. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, and gently fold into turkey mixture. Butter 8 small oven proof souffle dishes or ramekins, and dust with breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture into the ramekins. Fill to 3/4 capacity. Bake at 180ºC for 15-17 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately (and photograph even faster!).


Grape and Walnut Bread - BBD#5

Bakers at heart: they've been in the family for generations - both my grandmothers were excellent bakers (I'll tell you all about it some other day). But did I have it in me?

Bread: there's something about homemade bread that speaks yards about hearth and home. And about wintertime. And Holidays!

Best way to find out if you're up to a challenge is actually going for it. And so I did. Considering it was my first bread, I can't say it was a bad experience. I loved the contrast between fresh grapes, nuts and soft crumbs. This bread doesn't keep well - should be eaten straight away, as the grapes add wetness to the bread. I've served it with soft, creamy Camembert and it was delicious!

Grape and Walnut Bread
Adapted from Blue Cooking, November 2007

Makes 1 large loaf

500 grs (3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
170 ml (about 3/4 cup) warm water
2 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt, extra to sprinkle
100 grs (1/4 cup) caster sugar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, extra to drizzle

350 grs fresh black grapes
85 grs walnuts, chopped
60 grs caster sugar
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, caster sugar and salt. Slowly add warm water and olive oil, mixing with a fork and after using your hands. Knead well on a floured surface for 5-7 minutes. It will be very sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, dry place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix grapes, caster sugar and chopped rosemary. When ready, punch down the dough and divide into 2 pieces. Butter 1 loaf pan. Place 1 piece and spread 1/2 the filling over the dough. Cover with the other half. Gently, press down to seal, brush with olive oil and spread remaining filling. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt. Cool on a wire rack.

This is my entry for BreadBakingDay #5, hosted this month by Chelsea at Rolling in Dough. Chelsea selected 'Filled Breads", which is a brilliant theme of infinite possibilities. Thanks for such an inspiration! And thanks to Zorra for starting BBD!


Portuguese Christmas Cakes

My childhood Christmas memories are mostly of people who were and still are part of my life - my family. As I grew up in Alentejo (in south interior Portugal), my Christmas food is, like most Alentejo's cuisine, very simple: cod fish and cabbage, turkey, "filhoses" and "sonhos" (fried Christmas sweets), King-cake and "broas" (honey cakes). Since I remember, 'broas' were my first Christmas food-related memory, first because they were my least favourite, later because I began to enjoy their peculiar taste and more recently when I started a 'new' recipe - based on a North Alentejo's recipe - that became a huge success amongst my family and friends, even those who deeply dislike 'broas'.

This is my Christmas Tradition for lovely Cris' blog From Our Home to Yours.

Broas de Natal
Portuguese Christmas Honey Cakes

Makes about 30

120 grs yellow (or light brown) sugar
120 ml olive oil (low acidity)
4 Tbsp honey
250 ml water
150 grs walnuts, reduced to powder
1/2 tsp anise/fennel seeds powdered
1 tsp cinnamom
200 grs all purpose flour
100 grs cornstarch
extra caster sugar

In a saucepan (use one with a thick bottom), combine sugar, honey, olive oil, and water. When it starts boiling, add walnuts and spices. Mix well and allow to boil again. Mix in the sifted flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Cook for 5 minutes until pastry folds together. Allow to cool. Make cakes into squares and with a knife mark diagonal crossed lines on top of each cake. Bake at 180ºC for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Sprinkle with caster sugar when cool.


(All) Packed!

Cookies: I've baked dozens of batches - lost count of how many I did, how they look like, what shape, what flavour, what smell... I'm tired! Cookies are now in little jars, ready to meet they final owners, bringing Christmas' spirit and (hopefully!) joy to those who taste them.
This is also my last entry for Eat Christmas Cookies at Food Blogga. Susan did a great work putting together an awesome group of recipes, with great reviews and lovely photos - some of the most amazing Christmas Cookies coming from allover the world! Go check them out at Susan's place!

Spicy Angel Cookies

Makes 3 Dozens

125 g butter, cubed
125 g Light Muscovado Sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
275 g Wholemeal Plain Flour
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 large egg and 1 yolk
75 grs white chocolate (for topping)

Mix butter with Light Muscovado Sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa, ginger, allspice, whole egg and yolk. Stir again until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Turn onto a large sheet of baking parchment and knead the dough lightly for a couple of minutes. Wrap in the parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes. Using caster sugar to dust, roll out the cookie dough until it’s 2.5 mm thick. Cut angel shaped cookies. Bake at 180ºC for 10-12 minutes until cookies are firm and golden. Melt white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and use to decorate. Cool on parchment paper.


Date Pudding with Mascarpone & Caramel - Sugar High Friday!

There's this charming attitude in muscovado sugar - it's the dark colour, the sticky texture, the strong smell or just its easy natural way of being... just sugar. No tricky or complex processes, no artificial refining, no fuss. I so love muscovado sugar! If I could use it in every recipe without changing the result I would. My favourite brand has to be Billington's for their quality. Those guys know all about sugar! And they have a great attitude specially with Africa, sponsoring fair trade deals. And the packs look good. And biased as I am, I could find zillions of reasons why Billington's the best but I'll leave just one: my date pudding. ;)

Date Pudding with Mascarpone & Caramel
Adapted from Annabel Langbein, Cooking to Impress without Stress

Makes 8-10

300 ml (1 1/4 cups) boiling water
200 grs (1 cup) dates, chopped
60 grs (4 Tbsps) butter
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 dark brown muscovado sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 grs (1 1/3 cup) flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 apples, diced

To serve: mascarpone cheese and light caramel

Heat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF and grease 8 muffin tins (I did 10), dusting with sugar. Pour the boiling water over dates and butter and stir to melt. Mix in baking soda and leave to cool. Stir in muscovado sugar and molasses until combined. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring.

Gently fold flour and baking powder in. Combine apples, without over mixing. Pour into tins and bake about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, turn out and serve with a large spoon of mascarpone cheese and light warm caramel.

This my entry for Sugar High Friday, hosted in December by Zorra under the "baked, steamed and boiled puddings or the creamy ones" theme.


For the love of Tart

Did I tell you how colour plays an important role in my life? I'm often reluctant in buying books with bad covers or bad designs - it's against my nature. Sometimes I really want a book but can only find an edition that makes me tremble when I look at it... oh pain! Ok, I admit I need the smell of printed paper, I need good typographic choices, I need good images to fully enjoy a book. I need "pretty" books. Of course I had big disappointments when buying books only based on a great cover... Being "pretty" doesn't make a good book but having a bad presentation sure hurts a good one. That said, you can see why I fell in love with red onions: they're pretty!

Red Onion and Mushroom Tart

2 large red onions
1 Tbsp olive oil
150 grs fresh mushrooms
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp muscavado sugar
1 goat's cheese (about 125 grs)
4-5 fresh basil leaves
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry

Halve the onions, then cut into thin wedges. Place in a pan with olive oil. Cook for 3 minutes, add sugar and vinegar, stirring until they get caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook gently for another 5 minutes. Season to taste.
Blind bake the pastry at 180º C oven for 8 minutes or until pastry starts to golden. Remove from oven, slice 3/4 of the goat's cheese and spread over the pastry. Pour onion and mushroom mixture and bake for extra 5 minutes or until crisp and golden. Again, remove from oven, allow to cool onto a wire rack for a while. Top with remaining goat’s cheese, crumbled and basil leaves, chopped.

Serve with green salad of rocket and lettuce leaves, red onion and balsamic dressing.

I didn't exactly followed a specific recipe to this tart, my inspiration was Joey's Tatin Tarts. As usual, I couldn't stick (not even slightly) to the original - I'll have to try those lovely little things someday!


Pesto, presto!

My favorite pasta topping is probably pesto, which literally means 'paste'- you can pretty much throw everything into it. And so I did. The mint / walnut combo was quite nice, the ingredients worked fine together and the outcome was tasty but not overly strong (as I feared at some point when I bashed the mint and the smell was VERY strong).
This is great with pasta, but also fantastic to coat grilled chicken or any sort of baked cheese, like ricotta.

Minted Walnut Pesto

50 grs mint leaves (picked and chopped)
1/2 garlic glove
4 Tbsp walnuts (lightly toasted)
50 ml olive oil (used a delicate one, with low acidity)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Put walnuts coarsely chopped in a saucepan with a little olive oil and toss for a couple of minutes, just to warm through. In a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt, add mint leaves and bash. Remove mixture to a bowl. Bash walnuts and add to mint puree. Add half the cheese, some olive oil and stir. Season to taste. Add most of the remaining Parmesan and some more oil. Keep doing so until you get the right taste and consistency.


Orange Cookies with Poppy Seeds

After very much looking for the little purple crispy things, I finally got some poppy seeds! And now that I had them, I badly wanted to try some... on cookies. I've been dreaming about poppy seeds cookies - what can I do? it might as well happen that there's no such recipe. I once had orange cake, I also had bread, I even had a pumpkin pie with poppy seeds but never ever had a poppy seed cookie! So I came up with these.

Eat Christmas Cookies is still running and this is my second entry for this event that you can find at Food Blogga. Don't forget to check the cookies flying in at Susan's place from all over the world!

Orange Cookies with Poppy Seeds

Makes about 4 dozens

1/2 cup (150 grs) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grs) fine caster sugar
Zest of 1 big orange, grated (about 3 Tbsps)
3 Tbsps oranje juice
2 3/4 cups (200 grs) all-purpose flour
1 egg
Poppy seeds (about 3 Tbsps)
Extra caster sugar to dust

Mix caster sugar and little cubes of butter. Cream until the mixture is crumbly. Mix in orange zest and juice. Add flour, mix quickly. Add egg, mixing again. Press into a ball, cover with film and place into the fridge to cool for about 30 minutes.
On parchment paper, put 1 Tbsp of poppy seeds (do it slowly - poppy seeds fly all over the place!), roll 1/3 of the pastry on the seeds. With a sharp knife, cut 5 mm slices, roll each using your rolling pin. Add some extra seeds and press with the roling pin, so they won't fall. Use a cookie cutter to cut out different sized stars. Dust with caster sugar. Repeat all this process until you run out of pastry.
Place the cookies into a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake at 165º C until the cookies are slightly golden. Allow to cool on a rack.

Thai Vegetable Curry or how to brighten a winter day

I love Asian cuisine - it's not something I could have everyday but it brings a different brightness to dark winter days. Because it's colorful, simple and aromatic with all those spices and funny smells. And it tastes wonderfully exotic and special.

Thai Vegetable Curry
Adapted from Vegetarian Cuisine Essentials

1 (medium) onion, chopped
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1 (big) sweet potato, in small cubes
1 (small) zucchini, sliced
1/2 red pepper, seeds off sliced
100 grs pumpkin, in small cubes
1/2 cup sweet corn
1 to 2 tsp Red Thai curry paste (adjust to your taste)
1/2 can (200 grs) coconut milk
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark muscovado cane sugar
2 Tbsp lime juice
fresh cilantro leaves

In a wok, put chopped onion with peanut oil for 2 min, until golden. Add sweet potato and pumpkin cubes, with a little water if necessary, and stir for 5 minutes. Mix zucchini, sweet corn and red pepper slice in and keep stirring for another 5 minutes.

In a bowl, mix coconut milk and 1 tbs. of the Red Thai curry paste (this amount can be adjusted to taste) together. Mix in sugar and soy sauce. Next, dump the coconut milk/curry paste mixture into the wok and bring it to boil on low heat for 10 minutes.

Finally, add lime juice and cilantro leaves. Serve with Thai rice.


Viennese Christmas Cookies

And baking continues. Here I go in my oven mission, now that cold, foggy weather is here and it finally smells like Christmas time. This is another cookie recipe from Le Cordon Bleu and, as all other recipes I've tried from that book, this one's also delicious.

This is my entry for Eat Christmas Cookies, a very nice event Susan is organizing at Food Blogga! You can see all entries here. These event was brought to my attention by Cris. Thanks, sweetie!

Viennese Cookies
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu, Cookies

(24 cookies)

100 grs unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of a small lemon
50 grs icing sugar
1 big egg, lightly beaten
150 grs all-purpose flour
100 grs bitter chocolate (+ 70% cacau - I used Lindt)

Mix butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest into a bowl, until fluffy and creamy. Slowly mix in the egg, stirring between each addition. Add sifted flour gradually. Preheat oven to 200º C.
Put batter in a bag or use a spoon and place shaped cookies on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool on a rack.

Set a medium heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Place chocolate in the bowl and stir until just melted. Merge half of each cookie in the chocolate and allow to cool on a baking sheet.

Note: to use chocolate on all (24 cookies) 200 grs of chocolate are needed - I only melted 100 grs as I also used cherries on part of the cookies and let a few simple.


11 minutes, 36 seconds and a Pasta Dish

My quick meals for unexpected lunch "guests" (ie. my hubby, aka The Official Taster) are often pasta with all sort of vegetables available in the fridge. And if you have a good homemade pesto and Parmesan, then all is fine. I'm a pesto lover - either basil traditional pesto or any version with rocket, mint or even parsley will do.

It took me little over 10 minutes to fix us lunch. Spaghetti cooked with a pinch of salt and olive oil, some peas, a couple of spoons of Cilantro & Almond Pesto topped with Parmesan and halved tomatoes.

Cilantro & Almond Pesto*

50 grs cilantro leaves (picked and chopped)
1/2 garlic glove
4 Tbsp bleached almonds (toasted)
50 ml olive oil (best quality possible)
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Put almonds in a saucepan with a little olive oil and toss for a couple of minutes, just to warm through. Pound the garlic with a pinch of salt and cilantro and bash. You can either use a food processor or a pestle and mortar - I prefer the latter. Remove to a bowl. Bash almonds and add to cilantro puree. Add half the cheese, some olive oil and stir. Season to taste. Add most of the remaining Parmesan and some more oil. Keep doing so until you get the right taste and consistency.

*Quantities not mandatory - adjust as you find necessary.


Vanilla Gifts

December is 'baking month' for me. Every year, my friends expect some special gifts directly from my kitchen. My Christmas starts with oven at full speed, baking several cookie recipes that will go together in jars, packs or any other recipient. Last year, my cookies went in coffee cans that my friends kept and reused - every time I see those cans at their places I always put a silly smile. I don't have to say that everybody has already started asking for cookies' - so to get the new season going, I've tried a new recipe. It's Donna Hay's.

Vanilla Cookies
Adapted from Donna Hay, The New Cook

(36 cookies)

180 grs unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg

2 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped almonds (optional)

Mix butter, sugar and vanilla into a bowl, until creamy. Add sifted flour gradually, stirring constantly until well creamed. Mix in the egg, quickly kneading dough. Cover with film and chill for at least 30 minutes. Divide into 2 pieces, roll one on sesame seeds and other on almonds. Roll out and cut. Bake in a medium slow oven (180º C) for 12 minutes.