October 24, 2014

Carrot and Coconut Milk Soup

It's been raining non-stop for a week now, so making soup seemed a good choice for a chilly night.

"Do you know what you are doing?" Brady asked me while I was gathering the ingredients to make our soup.

"What do you mean?" I replied, not sure I understood what he meant.

"In all the these years we've been together you've never made a creamy, smoothie soup, your soups, delicious I must say, are all about chunks of meat and vegetables".

I looked at him and said, "Well, maybe it's time to leave my comfort zone and try something new".

And that's exactly what I did, and I'm glad I did it. This soup is pure goodness, creamy, satisfying and flavorful.

Growing up I would grate coconut for my mother's cooking, needless to say that some would end up into my mouth, so much I like it. Coconut is present in a variety of sweet and savory dishes in Brazilian cuisine, but I must confess this was the first time I had it as a soup ingredient, and I absolutely loved it.

This soup is an adaptation of Béatrice Peltre (remember her?) recipe carrot and red lentil soup, from the book La Tartine Gourmande - Recipes for an Inspired Life.  I did not follow Béa's recipe all the way through because I did not have all the ingredients at home, but they are already on my list for the next time I go to the market. If my version is good, I can't even imagine how good the original recipe might be.

The sweetness of carrots, the creamy silk of coconut milk, and the citrus of lime make this soup a perfect healthful and earthy meal to enjoy on a fall evening. 

Carrot and Coconut Milk Soup

 10oz (284g) shredded carrots
♥ 200ml unsweetened whole coconut milk
♥ 1 tbsp (14 g) unsalted butter
♥ 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
♥ 1 onion, diced
♥ Scallion, finely chopped
♥ A few twigs of lemon thyme *
♥ 3 garlic cloves, minced
♥ 2 bay leaves
♥ 4 cups cold water
♥ Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
♥ 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
♥ Light cream, or plain yogurt, to serve 

* If you can't find lemon thyme, add lime zest to the vegetables as they cook.

In a large pot, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the olive oil, and then the onion, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the scallion and lemon thyme, cook stirring until fragrant. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 to 2 more minutes.

Add the carrots, cold water, and bay leaves. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and stir well to coat with mixture.

Bring mixture to a very low boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are soft.

Discard bay leaves and lemon thyme twigs, and transfer the mixture to a blender, or food processor; purée until smooth.

Return mixture to the pot and stir in the coconut milk. Reheat and check the seasoning for salt, and pepper.Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve hot with a generous swirl of light cream, or plain yogurt.

October 18, 2014

We celebrated her birthday

It's been a month since I last posted here and yet it does not feel like that to me, as a friend of mine likes to say "time flies when we are having fun". 

It may be strange but I only like to share stories and my photos if I am at home - never mind instagram, which is so instantaneous and fleeting - and I was away, I traveled to Brazil to be with my family and to celebrate my mother's birthday, she just turned 90.

She doesn't seem 90. She lost her hearing in one ear and has diminished vision in one eye, but keeps a lively state-of-mind.
Throughout her life she has been mostly housebound, she says it's because she had to raise 10 children and did not have time to socialize, but in fact she's a shy lady and being at home makes her feel safe. 

She does not like parties, and we are still grieving my sister Maria Olímpia passing, but we all wanted to be together to celebrate her birthday and make that day special for her, and we did it. She was surrounded by her family, and she was serene and happy.

My mother's cooking came effortless to her. I learned a lot from her, she was always busy tossing, chopping, sautéing, kneading, and baking, cooking simple and delicious meals to feed her family and friends who would stop by.
Nowadays, she has help in the kitchen but it's still the one deciding what and how to prepare the meals.

We ate salpicão - Brazilian chicken salad, pernil - roast whole fresh ham, farofa - toasted cassava flour with vegetables, two kind of salads, and rice, certainly - it's unheard of my family's meals without rice. But the eye-catcher of the day was the dessert table - truffles, bombons & docinhos, and a delicious chocolate and strawberry cake.

We had a cozy and joyful afternoon listening to my mother's stories about her childhood and youth. Life was so different back then, it was simpler but yet so much harder at times.

That was such a special trip! 

September 17, 2014

Pink, blue and a touch of red

For about three years I wrote a blog in Portuguese, Casa de Retalhos, there I met so many amazing like-minded women, in fact I had the pleasure to meet four of them in person. Most are Brazilians, but not all of them, one is a talented young lady from Turkey, and when I saw this crochet case on her Etsy store I immediately felt inspired by its classic pink and blue combo.

Colors attract me like sugar attracts ants, oh yes I am having a problem with ants... never mind, but as I wrote here I don't feel confident to mix and match them, this is something that requires practice and experiment, so I thought it was time again for a mix 'n' match photo shoot post.

And here it is, my love story with blue, pink and a touch or red.

Just a little something to start...

Pretty fabrics and ribbons for color inspiration.

Tea time with pretty flowers.

My eyes get brighter when I see ribbons, it makes me wonder what I can use them for... Once I made a bathroom curtain with lace and ribbons... I wish I had taken pictures of it...

My desk became an inspirational board with lovely bits and pieces. I felt overwhelmed with ideas, specially looking at Kat Macleod's collage drawing.

Like-daisy flowers on a gorgeous blue cup I bought at a flea market, and a touch of 
a simply beautiful shade of pink ribbon.

I believe these will be the last red roses from my garden this season, they look so noble.

So there you are, I hope you enjoy these photographs and feel inspired to put together your own color palette.

See you back here soon.

September 12, 2014

Tomato, Mozzarella Couscous Salad

"What are we going to cook for dinner? Something easy and fresh from our garden? Brady asked me when we got back home from Block Island.

"Couscous salad?" I asked him. And off he went to our small garden, coming back with some tomatoes - Roma and Big Boy, fresh basil, and scallions. I must say that for this recipe I only used the small roma tomatoes.

As much we enjoyed eating out on our vacation, we were craving homemade food, we were craving the fresh vegetables and herbs we planted this year.

Couscous is one of my favorite food to eat and I always keep it on my pantry. I thought it was a grain, but this is controversial, some foodies consider it actually a type of pasta. To me it does not matter if it's a grain, or pasta, I know it can be made from ground millet, or from ground semolina wheat and it's a good source of B vitamins, fiber and nutrients, and low in calories. It's hearty enough to fill you up, but still light so it doesn't feel heavy.

I always buy organic pre-steamed couscous, it requires no actual cooking, just soften it in boiling water, and in minutes it's ready to eat. Mix-and-match it with other ingredients like zucchini, cucumber, peas, asparagus, olives, shrimp, bell peppers, carrots, or whatever you have around.

This recipe is incredibly simple to make, it can be served immediately, or made ahead of time, and it's a good way to take advantage of fresh summer produce.

Tomato, Mozzarella Couscous Salad

♥ cooked couscous (cook according to package directions)
♥ tomatoes (preferably use small tomatoes, like cherry, grape, or small roma)
♥ mini mozzarella cheese balls
♥ basil
♥ scallions
♥ extra virgin olive oil
♥ salt

Cook the couscous according to package directions, and place it in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients and toss very well. Taste and see if salad needs more salt, or olive oil.

It's not for nothing that couscous is one of our biggest choice for quick dinners. This salad was the perfect dinner solution!

Fresh from our garden 

September 7, 2014

Lazy summer days in Rhode Island

To find a destination on Labor Day weekend away from crowds without having planned it in advance? How's that possible?

That's what I thought when Brady told me he was going to get a few days off and would like to go to some place away from people. He is not known for being a guy who makes plan, he is more like 'going with the flow' type, and I am the opposite, I like to make plans.

I had been looking forward to go to some place with him, he's really the best companion to be away from home, but where could we find accommodations calling at the last hour?

Then I remembered of Block Island, it could be a perfect destination, a countryside-like island off of the coast of Rhode Island. We have been to Block Island a few times on daily trips only, and I thought to stay there for a few days would be fun and relaxing.

We could not find a place to stay from Sunday through Thursday on Block Island so we stayed first in Providence and went to Block Island on Tuesday, and it worked pretty fine.

When we got to Providence Brady called his good friend Frank, and we went for a walk at a park and then had dinner together at an Asian fusion restaurant. 

They've been friends since childhood, do you believe that? It's always good to listen to them swapping old stories and remembering all the silly things they did together. 

"Let's spend the day in Newport?" I asked Brady the next morning. "What about a drive to Jamestown?", he asked me back. 
This small island has a special place in his heart, he lived there for a short while when he was stationed in Rhode Island during his time in the military. 

So we took a ride to Jamestown, stopping as we pleased to take pictures and for short walks.

When we spotted this hawk-like bird in its nest on a solar panel pole in a beautiful field we drove back looking for a place to pull over so we could take some pictures of it. So majestic it looked. 

On Tuesday morning we went to Port Judith to take the ferry to Block Island. We wanted to take our car with us, but to bring it on the ferry we were told we would have to have it scheduled months in advance, so we left it in Port Judith along with our beach chairs, bringing only two bags with us.

When we got to the village of Old Harbor we walked to the B&B where we would stay for two days. A charming place tucked away from the busier streets near the harbor and yet walking distance to the restaurants and ice cream stores. Can you imagine summer without ice cream?!?!?!

If you are an outdoor person, Block Island is the place to be. Gorgeous sanded beaches, hiking trails, untouched natural beauty, a quietness not easy to find in trendy summer spots, so packed with our photo gear and water, we rented bikes and off we went to enjoy our days in Block Island, gawking at the beautiful sceneries of this picture-perfect island.

At the Mohegan Bluffs
At the farmer's market
At the end of summer we were blessed with bright sunny days. Away from home feeling at home. 

For a not planned short vacation we were pretty lucky with our choice, don't you agree?

August 24, 2014

Coconut Milk Cake and a way to impress a friend

On a lazy Saturday afternoon when a friend called me to say she was in the neighborhood and she was going to stop for a visit I immediately I head to the kitchen to prepare something to serve to her. You see, I am from the countryside of Minas Gerais and hospitality means food, it's unthinkable to have a guest and not having some homemade food to offer to them. 

At first, I did not know what to cook but as I always have an emergency kit to bake a cake: sugar, butter, flour and eggs, I decided to bake a cake. 
In Brazil, it's very common to have cake with coffee, milk, tea, or fresh fruit juice for an afternoon meal,  we call it lanche, a small portion-meal served between lunch and dinner.   

This cake is easy, quick and delicious, it does not require fancy techniques or ingredients, just mix everything in a blender and pour the mixture into a cake pan. It's all about the rich sweet scents of baking a cake.

Coconut Milk Cake in a Blender

 3 eggs
♥ 1/2 cup milk
♥ 200 ml coconut milk
♥ 1 1/2 cup sugar
♥ 2 cups all-purpose flour
♥ 6 tbsp butter (at room temperature)
♥ 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (about)
♥ 1 tbsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. 
With the exception of the baking powder, puree all the ingredients in a blender in the order they are above.
When well mixed add the baking powder and blend a little more, about 20 seconds.
Butter and flour a cake pan (any round cake pan you'll do).
Bake on the middle oven rack for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick place near the center comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and let the cake cool for at least 10 minutes.

I said it was a simple cake, right? But sometimes I have a problem, I get carried away and does not know when to stop. This cake is simply yummy as it is, it does not need any frosting or glaze, but I wanted to impress my friend, so I decided to add some simple frosting. 

Condensed Milk & Lime Frosting

♥ 1 can condensed milk
♥ juice of 1 1/2 lime
♥ lime zest and berries to garnish

With a fork whisk together the lemon juice and the condensed milk until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Spread the frosting with a knife and sprinkle some lime zest. Pretty easy, right?

I know my friend loves berries so I decided to treat her with them as well. Besides being nutritious berries are so pretty, it's a way to dress up any cake, don't you agree?

August 12, 2014

In the mood for fresh food

Last weekend, I grabbed a basket and headed up to my friends and neighbors' house, Lucia & Mark, which is a small farm in the heart of the town. My mission was to pick some organic vegetables and eggs right there at the spot.

I keep a small herb garden at the deck, and Brady started a small garden in our backyard last year, but it does not compare to our friends' garden. 

They have flowers, fresh eggs and produce. Every year they plant, harvest and store for the cold days of winter, eating fresh and organic throughout the year, and that is a blessing. 

These two photos are from our small garden, and I can't wait to taste our tomatoes and eggplants.

I've been experimenting different tasty ways to cook with vegetables, specially in the summer when I find them fresh, they are so full of flavors.

That's my friend picking some fresh produce for me.

We got back home with yellow squash, onions, zucchini, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, beets, some beans and kale as well. So much inspiration to experiment in the kitchen.

I never cook beets because Brady does not like them, but looking at these beauties I felt inspired by them and decided to cook something simple and delicious, a health attempt to change his mind - baked squash and beets, light and fresh.

Baked Summer Squash & Beets

It is really easy, and it's darn delicious, packed with all things good and healthy. Not only was it delicious, but B. had a chance to eat beets for the first time and ask for more. So perfect!

This recipe is prepared in just a few steps, and frankly, I didn't have a plan, I just knew I wanted to prepare an easy dish using fresh ingredients I had at home. 

 2 zucchinis
 2 yellow squash
♥ 2 beets
♥ olive oil
♥ pomegranate balsamic vinegar
freshly grated parmesan cheese
♥ salt
♥ freshly grounded pepper
♥ fresh herbs (I used lemon-thyme, oregano, basil from my garden)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice the vegetables and toss with the other ingredients but the grated cheese, which should be sprinkled at the top. If the dish you use is small you can have more than one layer of vegetables, in this case sprinkle cheese on top of each layer.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes.

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