Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Holiday Season is Upon Us

I adore the Holiday Season. People are cheerful, we visit family and friends, we give and receive gifts, and of course, we eat, eat, eat.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I have to confess that I haven't done any grocery shopping for Thanksgiving yet. My husband and I decided not to travel and since we don't have family in town and all our friends are traveling we are going to have an intimate dinner for just the two of us - I mean three, but the baby cannot eat turkey yet.
I will roast a small turkey and make all the trimmings with a twist. I caught the end of an interview on NPR (National Public Radio) where a cook was talking about old fashioned holiday dishes. It inspired me to cook all the usual sides in an unusual way. One of the things I am looking forward to is a Sweet Potato Casserole made with raw grated sweet potato and ginger. Even the gravy is going to be the way her mother used to make, the recipe that was passed from generation to generation. Because we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Brazil, I don’t have family recipes that were passed down. I am “borrowing” other family’s tradition and hopefully make it my own. That’s so exciting!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday Breakfast

My father-in-law spent the weekend with us. I didn't have time to make all our meals so I picked one - breakfast - and tried to make it special. I love French Toast but don't make it very often. I usually make an overnight recipe for the holidays - everything is made the night before and in the morning you just pop it in the oven. This time I made a recipe that is cooked in a frying pan, sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a culinary torch. I also made scrambled eggs and bacon.

Brûléed Orange French Toast

6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. Grand Marnier (optional)
6 slices brioche, each 1 3/4 inches thick
Softened unsalted butter for cooking and serving
6 tsp. granulated sugar
Maple syrup for serving

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, orange juice, brown sugar, vanilla, orange zest, salt and Grand Marnier until blended. Soak the bread slices in the egg mixture for 10 seconds per side.

Over medium heat, brush a frying pan with butter. When the pan is hot, cook the bread in batches, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet. Sprinkle 1 tsp. granulated sugar evenly over the surface of each slice. Using a culinary torch, move the flame continuously in small circles over the surface until the sugar melts and lightly browns. Serve immediately with maple syrup and butter.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Little Gadgets for my Little One

When I took my little man to his pediatrician appointment last month and the doctor told me he was ready for solid foods I almost fell off the chair. It took me by surprise because it would be a whole new ballgame. I would have to go from just mixing formula and water to having a menu of fruits and vegetables for each week and dos and don’ts for baby food making. The doctor gave me the basic guidelines but I did a lot of research on the web – how did people raise children before the Internet? Anyway, I found tons of good advice and learned a lot, especially from http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com. We started with Baby Rice Cereal, Oatmeal, and Barley as the doctor recommended and then moved on to fruits and vegetables.

His first fruit was store-bought Gerber Organic Banana. He made funny faces and didn’t like much. Then I started making my own baby food with organic fruits and veggies. He loved them. He gobbled it all up. I was thrilled that he loved fresh foods better than store-bought baby food. I proudly went to the store and bought a Mini Cuisinart Food Processor and a steamer exclusively for baby food. He still eats Gerber Organics at daycare or when we are out and about. But I am making an effort to give him the foundation of healthy eating at an early age. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to cook with me!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Eating the Unknown: Indian Food

Last Sunday my husband convinced me to go to a new Indian Buffet Style Restaurant that just opened in our neighborhood. I love Indian food and I was thinking of having some Curried Shrimp. When we got there I was very intrigued by the number of dishes they had that I have never seen or heard of. The restaurant has authentic Indian food and nothing is translated to English. Since it was a buffet style, I was able to taste a little bit of everything. Some dishes intrigued me and I asked the waiter what I was eating. My taste buds were ecstatic from the explosion of flavors. Every bite was a surprise. I felt like I was a little child again, getting excited and trying to figure out what I was having, tasting from my husband’s plate and giving him a forkful of my favorite finds. For a couple of times I had dessert thinking that it was a side dish. I have been to other Indian restaurants but this was the first time I had real Indian food. This experience wasn’t only about food; it was about experimenting, trying new thing, letting go of “likes and dislike labels” and having fun.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fall Get Together

This weekend I had friends over for a small Fall Get Together. It was an impromptu gathering – I sent out invitations on Tuesday. It seems that I always enjoy more “last-minute parties” because nobody has huge expectations. I had a great time. I wish I could make it a monthly gathering. Maybe I will come up with this idea the next time we get together. A themed monthly gathering would be so much fun.

I made little Cheese Quiches, Spinach in Phyllo Dough Cups, Chocolate Covered Strawberry, and Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake. We also had bread and cheese platters. The Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake was baked with the Mini Cheesecake Pan from Williams-Sonoma. It has a removable base that makes things much easier.
I took the cheesecake out of the oven before cooling and the top cracked a little. Also, the creamcheese must be soft to avoid overmixing the filling.

Mini Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake

For the crust:
20 chocolate wafer cookies
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For The Filling:
2 packages (8 ounces each) bar cream cheese, very soft
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons pumpkin-pie spice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350°, with rack in center. Brush the pan with melted butter or cooking spray.

Make the crust: To make the crumbs for the crust, pulse the cookies in a food processor until finely ground. In a medium bowl, mix cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter until moistened; press firmly into bottom of pan. Bake until fragant, 8 to 10 minutes.

Make the filling: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on low speed until smooth; mix in flour (do not overmix). Add pumpkin purée, pie spice, vanilla, and salt; mix just until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next.

Place the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl; microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted. Add 1 cup pumpkin mixture. Set aside

Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into prepared pan. Drop dollops of chocolate mixture; swirl slightly. Reduce oven heat to 300°. Bake 20 minutes. Turn off oven; let cheesecake stay in oven 2 hours more (without opening).
Remove from oven; cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. Unmold before serving.

Note: My cheesecake cracked a little, please learn from my mistakes: To prevent the top from cracking, be careful not to overmix the batter, and do not open the oven door while the cake is baking or cooling inside the oven.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lunch Time

The weather is rather unusual for this time of the year. Unusual in a good way though. It’s warm and sunny! I went outside to get something to eat and took some pictures on my way.

Here is what I see in a 360 degree angle outside the building where I work:

The Capitol and National Theatre

Warner Theatre and The Willard Hotel

Sightseeing bus and the Washington Monument

A very well-known address: The White House at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Spreading the word

I came across Kiva website through another blog and was very impressed with the work they do. They are a non profit peer-to-peer lender. Meaning, they connect people all over the world who want to lend money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. You are not donating; the loans must be repaid with no interest and most are repaid (around 96%) at the end of the loan term (usually between 6 to 12 months). You can choose to withdraw your money or lend to another entrepreneur. You can lend in increments of $25. The most amazing thing is that you can browse their catalog and find the entrepreneur you wish to lend money to and they keep you updated through a journal. I just lent money to a single mother of 4 with 2 grandchildren in Kenya.
Read more about Kiva at
BBC World.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday in Washington, DC

After two beautiful, warm, and sunny days the temperature plunged. It’s expected to be between 46 and 30 degrees F and breezy today. I stepped out at lunch time to run errands and it was surprisingly pleasant. Most days I am so busy and/or tired that I hit the vending machine at lunch time. I have been telling myself to turn it around. Yesterday I went out and bought some Beef Barley Soup and a Jalapeno Cornbread (sweet, savory, and spicy). Today I am having a Chicken Wrap. No more chocolate bars or potato chips for lunch.

It’s finally Friday. As I walked back to the office I saw so many gorgeous flower bouquets. Every Thursday and Friday there are stands selling fresh flowers on pretty much every corner. When I take the subway back home I always look at people who bought flowers and wonder why they chose a certain type or color, if they are putting their flowers in a sunny living room, or a cozy dinning room, maybe on a nightstand in their bedroom or a kitchen area. Are they going to cook breakfast and serve with a beautiful flower vase as a centerpiece? Are they having friends over for dinner who will appreciate the lively flowers? No matter what they are going to do with their flowers I hope they will enjoy the weekend.