Tag Archives: Vegetarian

A Few Serving Ideas for Games Night

So it’s “Games Night!” What to serve? We had a few friends over on Saturday for some Taboo and Playstation 3 action. Here’s what was on our table to feast on and get some extra added brain power to tackle our opponents:

Tortilla de Patata (click for recipe)

Hot Lentil Spread
(click for recipe)

Champiñones al Ajillo (Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley)
(see recipe below)

In addition to the dishes above, we also served some slices of chorizo and cheese to continue that Mediterranean tapas touch. What do you like to serve for “Games Night?”

Champiñones al Ajillo
(Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley)

1 lb button mushrooms, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
handful of parsley, minced
8 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large frying pan.
Add garlic and cook until slightly golden.
Add mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes.
Add parsley, cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve hot with lots of bread on the side!

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Baby Food for Grown-Ups

My first taste of this bowl of nourishment was some years ago at my mother-in-law’s home in Spain. The texture reminded me of baby food, but it tasted so much better. It’s not a pretty looking bowl of soup, but once you get pass that and have a couple spoonfuls of this thick and creamy purée, you will enjoy its delicious flavor and nutritious benefits.

I recently made this for a friend who underwent some serious dental surgery. Poor thing, she had to receive 30 stitches in her gums. Yes—ouch! Until her stitches are removed, liquids and soft foods are the bulk of her current diet. As I write, she has about 4 days left to go.

When I need a quick meal, I whip this up. It goes great with a salad or a sandwich on the side. And when my twin girls arrive, I am sure it will be one of my go-to dishes. Once they are ready for solids, it will be something the whole family can enjoy together. My mother-in-law would definitely approve!

Pure de Verdura (Vegetable Puree Soup)

3 potatoes
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bay leaves
water or vegetable broth
bouillon cube (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Peel and chop all the vegetables.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot.
Add onions.
After a few minutes, add the other vegetables.
Stir and let cook for a few more minutes.
Then add enough water or broth to cover the vegetables.
(If just using water, you may add a bouillon cube here)
Add mashed garlic clove and bay leaves.
Let it come to a boil, then lower heat.
Cook for at least 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Then set aside to cool.
When ready, remove the bay leaves and pour into a blender
or use a hand blender, to purée all the ingredients.
Pour mixture into a serving bowl.
Add a tablespoon or two of good olive oil.
Mix well.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with croutons and serve.

Homemade croutons

2 slices of whole wheat bread
Few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and dried herbs

Chop the bread into tiny cubes.
Heat a small pan with some olive oil.
Add the bread to the pan on low heat.
Sprinkle some salt on top and other dried herbs to your liking.
Cook until toasty brown on both sides.


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My Favorite Rice Treats

Inarizushi & Onigiri

For the past ten years, I taught Kindergarten. I learned a lot about cooking and baking from my years in Kindergarten. A number of those years were spent teaching at two International Schools in Europe. The students in my class came from all corners of the world. Some of my favorite recipes come from those classroom experiences. Every week, one school period was devoted to cooking/baking and many parents graciously volunteered to lead the activity.The following rice recipes are from a mother of one of my former Japanese students who gave our class a lesson on making onigiri (rice balls) and inarizushi(fried tofu sushi).

Umeboshi plums and mint leaves

For the following recipes you will need umeboshi plums, which can be purchased at Asian or Vegetarian grocery stores. They are Japanese pickled plums which have a very sour and salty taste. When blended with rice and mint leaves it balances the intense tart flavor of the fruit. You will also need to purchase aburage, seasoned fried tofu. These come canned or frozen. Both foods are a delicious healthy mid-day or after school treat. It is a very simple recipe for children to follow. And as much as my students enjoyed making them, they also happily devoured the delicious rice snacks in seconds! Now, go and hit those Asian grocery stores!

(VERY IMPORTANT TIP! Make sure to keep a bowl of water by your workplace and remember to dip your fingers in the water before handling the rice. It keeps the rice from sticking to your fingers.)

Umeboshi Rice Balls (makes 20)

1 1/2 cups of cooked sushi rice
4 umeboshi plums (this is usually packaged with shiso leaves, add a few of them too!)
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
2 packages of pre-cut crispy toasted seaweed

Remove the pit from the umeboshi plums.
Slice the fruits into very fine pieces.
Pull the mint leaves off the stem.
Rinse well.
Roll up and slice into thin slivers.
Add the umeboshi and mint to the rice.
Using a wooden spoon or wooden rice paddle,
mix all the ingredients together.

Remove the seaweed from the package.
Place a bowl of water and a small dish of the salt
beside your workplace.
Dip your fingers into the water and then dip
one finger into the salt.
Smear the salt into the middle of your other hand.
Pick up a small portion of the rice mixture and press
it into your palm until the rice begins to stick
Take a piece of seaweed and wrap it around the rice.
Repeat until all the seaweed is used up.

Inarizushi (Fried Tofu Sushi, makes about 16)

1 cup of cooked sushi rice
One package of aburage:marinated fried tofu (found at Asian grocery stores, either canned or frozen)
1-2 tablespoons of gomasio (sesame salt seasoning found at Asian grocery stores)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar


Mix the vinegar and salt together.
Sprinkle the gomasio and vinegar/sugar mixture over the rice.
With a wooden spoon or wooden rice paddle,
blend all the ingredients together well.

Separate the fried tofu pockets.
Bring a bowl of water to your workplace.
Dip your fingers into the water.
Open the skin of the fried tofu and
stuff the inside of the pocket with the rice.
Repeat until all the tofu pockets are filled.


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Egg and Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit Breakfast Sandwich

While my dear husband was still deep asleep, (probably replaying the Barcelona win over Manchester United in the Championship League match in his dreams) I got up very early on Sunday morning. I couldn’t help it. The sun’s rays managed to peep in through our heavy curtains all before 5 am and it forced me out of bed.

That’s all right because I love Sunday mornings. I love breakfast. I love Sunday morning breakfasts. And on this Sunday, a savory southern inspired Sunday breakfast was calling.

The most delicious biscuits I have ever tasted were in Nashville, TN. Last summer, I visited my friend Julie, in her hometown a.k.a. Cashville for the very first time. I couldn’t wait to indulge in some good ol’ Southern food. As soon as we arrived, we made plans for dinner. We went to the Loveless Cafe. It used to be both a motel and café, but in recent years it was reconstructed to function solely as a restaurant because of the high demand of satisfied customers, both local and from out-of-town. From what I heard, there is always a line of diners waiting outside to eat at the Loveless Cafe. And for a very good reason, they make the most deliciously, moist, fluffy and buttery ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT biscuits and accompanied by a side of homemade jam! Did I mention that it was all-you-can-eat biscuits???!!! In addition to the satisfyingly tasty biscuits, the rest of their Southern dishes are worth the wait and the calories.

Loveless Cafe's all-you-can-eat biscuits!

I have been endlessly searching the internet for their biscuit recipe, but no luck. While I was there, I did take a peek at their cafe’s cookbook, but it didn’t include the biscuits. In my opinion, it seemed fruitless to purchase the book without that coveted recipe, which I learned, has long been kept a secret. It’s a bit selfish, don’t you think?

So, on this morning I was dreaming of biscuits, made with buttermilk of course! Sadly, I had to settle for this recipe, which I can’t remember where I got it from. It was tucked away in my tattered notebook of recipes that I have collected over the years. It doesn’t match the quality of biscuits served at the Loveless Cafe, but I don’t think I’ll ever come across anything that ever will. But for now, on this Sunday morning, these baked treats did serve us well. Their buttery scent drifted upwards from the oven, which did stir my dear husband out of bed and down the stairs to our dining table, where awaiting him was an egg and cheese buttermilk biscuit with his usual cup of coffee.

Biscuit Sandwiches with Oven Roasted Potatoes

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sift dry ingredients together.
Using your fingers, add the butter to the flour mixture.
It should resemble a coarse breadcrumb like meal.
Then with a wooden spoon, stir in the buttermilk.
Mix well and shape into a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, place the ball of flour
and gently knead the dough about 10 times.
Flatten the dough out and stamp out biscuits about
2 1/2 inches high.
Gather the rest of the dough and repeat until you
can get as many biscuits out of the dough.
Arrange biscuits on a baking tray.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.

Egg & Cheese Biscuits

Use the recipe above to make the biscuits.
Cut biscuit in half.
Butter the inside of the top biscuit.
Add a slice of swiss cheese to the bottom of the biscuit.
Heat from the biscuit, should melt the cheese.
Add some scrambled or fried egg.
If you want to add some meat, add some ham or chorizo.
I’m veggie, so I added a slice of tofu ham.
Sandwich back together the ends of both biscuits and enjoy!

Oven Roasted Potatoes (throw these in the oven before prepping the biscuit batter)

10-15 baby potatoes, cut in half
salt, pepper and paprika
1/4 cup of olive oil

Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Put the potatoes in a roasting pan.
Pour the olive oil over the potatoes.
Season with salt, pepper and paprika.
Toss the potatoes in the seasoned olive oil
and make sure all the potatoes are evenly coated.
Bake for 1/2 hour.


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Becoming One with my Blender

Of all my kitchen appliances, the one I am the least fond of is the blender. I love cooking, but I detest the clean up part. My issue with the blender is that is just isn’t an easy object to clean. Thankfully, it fits in my dishwasher, so I should work on developing a better relationship with it.

It’s still warm in Prague, which I won’t complain about, especially after living through some of her winters. We did, recently, have some spectacular thunderstorms that helped cool down the temperatures. But the heat definitely decreases my appetite and enthusiasm for cooking. So, salads still continue to dominate the table. Normally, we dress our salads with just a simple combination of flavorful Spanish olive oil and salt, but today I want something a little more to go with my leafy greens.

I miss going out for Japanese. When I lived in NYC, there were plenty of great meal deals and I was used to going out several times a month to a Japanese restaurant with friends or family. I often ordered a side salad served with carrot-ginger-miso dressing to accompany my meal. Love that stuff, miss those days! Since moving to Prague, I now considered it a special treat when my husband and I occasionally splurge for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. It’s incredibly pricier out here compared with what I grew up with. There are a few Asian grocery stores spread throughout Prague where I can buy ingredients to prepare a Japanese meal at home, but even that can burn a big hole in our wallet.

Today’s salad is a combination of baby spinach leaves, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, scallions and dices of fried tofu with carrot-ginger miso dressing on top. I made the dressing myself, hence the whining bit about the blender. I really should refrain from whining. That’s bad role modeling for my daughters. I should be thankful and embrace my blender with an open heart. I’ll start now: Thank you blender for helping me make carrot-ginger miso dressing.

Carrot-Ginger Miso Dressing

2 tablespoons peanut, corn or vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso
2 medium carrots, grated
1 inch ginger root, diced into small pieces
1-2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of cold water

Put all the ingredients in your beloved blender, except the water.
After running it for a few minutes, slowly add a few tablespoons of water
until you get the right consistency.
I will leave that up to you, as some people prefer a creamier dressing and some a
thinner, liquid like type.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Veggie Salad with Fried Tofu

1 block firm tofu
Cornstarch to coat tofu
1 -2 tsp. salt
Baby spinach leaves
Mixed lettuce leaves
1 tomato, sliced
1 scallion, diced
Neutral oil for frying

Drain and slice tofu into thin blocks.
Cover all sides in cornstarch and salt mixture.
Heat oil in shallow frying pan.
When ready, add the coated pieces of tofu.
It should take about 3-4 minutes for each side,
until it begins to turn golden.
Remove and drain excess oil.

Toss all the vegetables in a bowl.
Cut up the tofu into small square pieces.
Add to the salad.
Serve with carrot-ginger miso dressing.

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Random Musings: Love your Lentils

Lentils were an absent staple in my childhood and it wasn’t until late into my adult years that I did come to appreciate them. Today, I am a happy convert and no longer shy away from these mini discs of protein. I dug this recipe out of my notebook of loose clippings and handwritten recipes from friends and family. This one is from an American friend named Courtney, originally from Portland, Oregon. Our paths happened to cross in Prague.

I love lentils!

Some of the exciting parts about living abroad are the interesting people you meet from all corners of the world and sharing the experience of living in an unfamiliar land where you must learn and adapt to a new set of customs and rules. The most difficult aspects of these ex-pat friendships is never knowing when those friends might move, dealing with the pain of having to say good-bye and then mustering the effort to start all over again and find a new set of friends. The bittersweet cycle repeats itself: make new friends, but somehow manage to keep the old. I notice that the development of these overseas friendships are more intense in comparison to the ones that were steadily nurtured in the stable streets of my childhood.

Moving to a new city and then meeting others in the same situation, one instantly forms a bond with others who share the experiences of these major life adjustments. Those experiences quickly help shape your relationships and there are so many ups and downs that come with acclimatizing to a new culture that you bare all your insecurities with the circle of people who suddenly become your support group away from home.

After knowing Courtney for three years, she left and moved to Cairo, Egypt. As a farewell, she gathered her girlfriends (and one guy, my husband, who went home with a batman costume) for a clothes swap with some wine and nibbles for us to enjoy. She served this hot lentil spread and I couldn’t stop breaking a piece of ciabatta bread to scoop up the lentil purée. It’s absolutely delicious and I don’t know why I don’t make it more often. Courtney left plenty of fun memories behind, but this recipe is her legacy…

Hot Lentil Spread

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 red chilis (sliced thinly and with seeds removed) or 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
6-8 basil leaves, washed and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 juice of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon honey
salt to taste

Rinse lentils.
Put lentils, garlic, and 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
When the water start to boil, reduce the heat.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
When done, set aside to cool.
Using a hand blender, purée the lentils.
Add the red pepper, chilis and finely chopped basil.
Then stir in the lemon juice, honey, oil and salt to taste.

Reheat the mixture.
Serve with fine bread, sliced carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes on the side.

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Grown-up Mac n’ Cheese

In the film “Somewhere,” director Sophia Coppola’s latest work, there is a scene in which the 11-year old daughter of the movie’s protagonist is making macaroni and cheese from scratch. Her father is a Hollywood actor who resides in a hotel suite in LA. Just before we see her cooking, she is on the phone with the hotel receptionist, ordering in the ingredients. I was dazzled by the depiction of this girl’s sophisticated talents in the kitchen.

The Three Cheeses

When I was her age, my only encounter with macaroni and cheese came from the blue Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box. Granted, my parents are Filipino and although we were living in the States, this was not a popular dish in our household. I only learned about it from visits to some of my classmates’ homes. When my family and I went grocery shopping, I would beg them to add a few boxes to our cart. My parents thought it was the unhealthiest meal I could ask for, especially since it came straight out of a box. However, they gave in and I remember how much fun I had following the simple directions and the feelings of independence it gave me.

Naked macaroni

I’ve come a long way from cooking out of that navy blue carton. Fortunately, I have also eaten better versions of this rich cheesy pasta in some of NYC’s delicious soul food restaurants and enjoyed it even more in the southern parts of the US. The scene from the movie sparked a craving for mac n’ cheese, so before we swap the heavy casserole dishes of winter and trade them in for the lighter meals of spring and summer, I’ll take this last opportunity to indulge my waistline. Wait? What am I talking about here? I’m pregnant and I need the calories! Here’s to grown up macaroni and cheese!

All dressed and ready to get baked!

Macaroni and Three Cheeses
(adapted from Vegetarian Times)

1 1/2 cups medium-sized elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Emmenthal cheese
1/4 teaspoon of dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350/180 degrees.

Lightly grease a ovenproof baking dish.

Boil pasta in salted water.

After draining it, set it aside in the baking dish.

Melt butter in a saucepan and add the sage.

Then quickly whisk in the flour.

Cook until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes.

Then add the milk, constantly whisking, again until the sauce thickens.

This may take 6-7 minutes.

Remove from heat, set aside.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and add a tablespoon of each cheese in the bowl.

Set aside.

Add the remaining cheese to the sauce and stir until smooth.

Reheat over very low heat to melt completely.

Season with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over the macaroni and gently combine sauce and pasta.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese mixture on top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serve with a side of spinach to lessen the guilt.

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A Canton Celebration!

Pancit Canton

I’m celebrating. I’m celebrating that I am half-way there. I am celebrating that I am in week 20 of my pregnancy and things are going very well. I am celebrating that the doctor just said that we’ll be the parents of two little girls. And I am going to celebrate the best Filipino way I know how, with a plate of Pancit Canton (Pahn-seet Cahn-ton.) These 16-ounce packets of wheat noodles have yet to appear on the shelves of Prague’s grocery stores, therefore I usually reserve them for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas dinner. (Back in NYC, a package costs about $1.99 and I have been known to buy some to take back, and have asked family members to stuff a few bags into their suitcases when coming to visit) But, these are special times and that means the pancit must come out.

I miss Asian grocery stores!

Pans of pancit regularly appear on the tables of a Filipino celebration: birthday, christening, Christmas or Easter. Those long, thin strands mixed with vegetables, meat, shrimp or tofu sits waiting to be devoured by the multitude of guests. Growing up, my family had me believe that if I ate a plate of these sautéed noodles every year on my birthday, I would live a long and prosperous life. My grandmother just turned 89 in March and still exhibits the same sharp wit I have known since childhood. Obviously, Grandma ate her share of pancit too. It’s impossible for me to take this family superstition lightly.

When I introduced this dish to my husband’s side of the family, my Spanish father in-law thought it was a very complete meal. You have your carbohydrates, protein and vegetables all in one. Lately, some friends who recently became parents have been sharing stories about the kinds of foods that appeal most to their children. Many of the flavors that the mothers had exposed their little ones to while in utero, are ones that the babies favor and seek out. I think it is time to introduce my twin girls to the taste of pancit and get them ready for this birthday tradition.

Pancit Canton with Tofu (Grandma’s recipe)

14- 16 oz package of Pancit Canton
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced thinly
2 celery sticks, sliced thinly
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thinly (I used napa)
1 block of tofu, diced and fried lightly in vegetable oil
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cups of vegetable broth
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
salt and pepper for extra seasoning
sliced lemon wedges

Heat a large, deep non-stick pan and place two tablespoons of oil.
When ready, add the tofu.
Fry until crispy and pale yellow.
Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic.
When it turns slightly golden, add the onions.
When the onions become transparent, add the carrots and celery.
Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the cabbage.
After adding the cabbage, also add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, salt and pepper and stir fry.
The vegetables should maintain a crisp tenderness to them.

It should probably take another 3-4 minutes to cook.
When done, remove and set aside.

In the same pan, add the broth, remaining tablespoon of soy sauce and a little bit of salt.
When the liquid comes to a boil, gently add the noodles.

Evenly mix the noodles with the sauce and allow the liquid to get absorbed.
After a few minutes, add the vegetables and tofu.
Continue to carefully mix the ingredients all together.
Serve warm with lemon wedges on the side.


Filed under Pinay at Heart

The One and Only: La Tortilla de Patata

la tortilla de patata

I didn’t fall in love with my husband for his cooking, but fortunately he does make one delicious tortilla de patata. This is a dish that he grew up with and although my Spanish mother-in-law is an excellent cook, he is the big winner in this category. This is something she can’t truly accept. Especially after finding out that he doesn’t cook it in a similar manner.  The tortilla de patata is basically an omelette intermixed with fried potatoes and onions. It is usually served as a tapa with a slice of bread and this basic and simple, yet hearty dish is ubiquitously found and enjoyed all over Spain.

What my mother-in-law can’t seem to believe is the way her son cooks the tortilla. During one of her visits to Prague, she was shockingly surprised to witness how he fried the onions and the potatoes together!  In her eyes, he had committed a sin.

In fact, there are many such opinions about how to cook tortilla and why it tastes better if made according to a specific way or technique. This is an endless topic of conversation among Spaniards and they can go on debating for hours around what we might think is a simple potato, onion and egg fare.  There are several factors that some people believe that heavily influence the tortilla’s outcome, from the right frying pan, to the oil, to the type of potatoes, to how one should cook the onions and potatoes separately, to the plate or technique used to invert it and well, the list could go on and on. According to my father in law, cooking with high quality olive oil is the secret to a tasty tortilla. Heeding his advice we traveled back one summer, from Spain, with 15 liters of olive oil in the trunk of our car. We even purchased a special non-stick frying pan so that our tortilla would simply slip out when it came time to invert it.

Luckily, my husband’s tortilla de patata is consistent in texture, flavor and looks.  He never ceases to satisfy me and our guests with this straightforward meal. This is what he had to say about his “technique”…

“Some people are going to say this is wrong because they like to put the potatoes and onions in the egg before it goes in the pan. I developed this system because I didn’t want to get more bowls dirty. It was out of economy. Soon enough, I discovered that this completely enhanced the marriage. It’s the egg. The egg is the traveler. The onions and potatoes are fine at home. Not a half-cooked meal traveling to a raw egg” J.A.

And this is how you cook it…

Tortilla de patata (a juicy version)

1 kilo of potatoes: peeled and chopped into quarters

1 large white onion: chopped

4 eggs

1/2 cup of very good olive oil (spanish preferred of course)


Heat the olive oil in the pan.

When hot, lower the flame and add the onions.

A few minutes later, add the potatoes.

The heat should be low so the onions and potatoes don’t burn.

Sprinkle salt on top (to taste)

Don’t be lenient, it really adds to the flavor.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and throw in a dash or two of salt.

When the potatoes have softened up, (this takes about 15-20 min) , drain the excess oil out into a glass bowl. (Vegetables should stay in the pan, it’s a tricky one and will take some practice.)

Then add the eggs to the onion and potatoes frying in the pan.

When the top looks almost cooked, place a sturdy flat plate on top.

Carry the pan and plate over to your sink.

Flip the omelette on to the plate and slide it back into the pan.

It should only need a few more minutes to cook.

Enjoy warm or cold with some fine bread and a tomato salad on the side.


Filed under Flavors Abroad!