March 31, 2014

Romania at a glance!

A month ago, I left a cold Pittsburgh, went to a spring-like Romania and came back to an even colder Steel City.  But the time in Romania was worthwhile as it was filled with birthday parties, barbecues, frequent trips to the open market, and home-cooked meals with my grandmother.  Nothing short of perfection!   




It was a whole year ago that I went to see my family in Transylvania and the trip coincided again with my birthday, which is always celebratory and exciting!  If last year, I specifically insisted that my Grandma Vicki included these spectacular Nutella filled Cookies on my birthday dessert menu, this year, her epic Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle took center stage.  And Adrian’s cousin Alex called it “the Bomb”!  Stay tuned for this recipe, you will not want to miss it!  




Of course, in my grandma’s kitchen one dessert is never enough, so the Chocolate Cake was nicely accompanied by a Coffee Cream Cake and a Chestnut Cake.  All gorgeous and mouthwatering! 





After an outrageously mild winter, spring came early in Romania.  The moment the sun was out and the temperatures started to climb, Romanians had two things on their mind: picnics and grilling.  As always, the mititei, those small sausage shaped patties, were extremely popular; and so were the pork steaks, chicken drumsticks, fish and these amazing Chicken Burgers, which got me a standing ovation!





As you can see, people love to crowd around the grill, literally, and get lost in a cloud of smoke!  



When spring fever hits, Romanians start vegging out in parks, soaking up the sun and relishing some crunchy pretzels.




I prefer a trip to the open markets that are overflowing with fresh produce the moment spring rolls around.    





And I can never turn down a visit to a traditional restaurant!




Apple crusted pork chops with mashed potatoes and caramelized plums.




Spicy pork shoulder with rice, runny egg and homemade pickles.




Gulyas – Traditional Hungarian Beef Stew.




But more often than not, home-cooked meals are the best and even more gratifying when you introduce your hero, in this case my grandma Vicki, to new recipes such as the juicy Chicken Burgers, this elegant Maple Sweet Potato Cake or this one of a kind Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums!   



Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

February 22, 2014

Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Mayonnaise

Who says that grilling is just a summer staple activity?  In my book, it’s done in cold weather, too.  All you need is a grilling pan.  Or, in our case, all we have is a grilling pan since we live in an apartment and that is the closest thing to a grilling mechanism that we can get our hands on.  Besides, I love to put my always reliable grilling pan to work when arctic temperatures are still looming just to get a slim whiff of what warm weather would be like, or better yet to trick myself into a summer state of mind!




These homemade Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Mayonnaise are a year-round mouthwatering indulgence!  They were without a doubt the best part of this year’s Super Bowl.  And the fact that I cooked them on an outside grill, in freezing temperatures and a menacing snow storm made them that much more delicious and the experience way more exciting than the actual game.  Bottom line – my burgers were unbeatable, just like the Seattle Seahawks! 





These burgers will rock your house!  They are simply lip-smacking, piney and fresh, their pleasant lightness countered by the garlicky richness of the mayonnaise.  You may think that adding a disturbing amount of garlic-rosemary mayonnaise mixture to burgers is a despicable crime, but it works like a charm.  The burgers are so juicy, dressed with big flavors and nestled in between toasty challah buns smeared with more hefty dollops of the sinful mayonnaise sauce and topped with crisp mixed greens.  One word: phenomenal!     





These chicken burgers were my dinner of choice for the Super Bowl and, wait for it, Valentine’s Day.  I know, I know… a very unconventional dinner option for such a holiday but it worked beautifully and paired with this cake for dessert, it was truly unforgettable! 




Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Mayonnaise
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients for Mayonnaise:

·         1 cup mayonnaise
·         Scant ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary leaves
·         1 clove garlic, minced

Ingredients for Burgers:

·         1 pound ground chicken
·         Heaped ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ¼ teaspoon black pepper
·         4 sandwich rolls or burger buns (I found that challah buns work particularly well)
·         ¼ cup olive oil
·         1 cup mixed greens, divided





Instructions for the Mayonnaise:

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, and rosemary.  Set aside.

Instructions for the Burgers:

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill or place a grill pan over medium-high heat. 





In a large bowl, add the ground chicken, salt, pepper and half of the mayonnaise mixture.  Using clean hands, gently combine the ingredients and form the chicken mixture into 4 patties.  Place the burgers on the grill and cook for about 7 to 10 minutes on each side.  Transfer to paper towels and let rest for a few minutes. 

Brush the cut side of each roll with the olive oil and about 1 teaspoon of the mayonnaise mixture.  Grill for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly golden.  




Instructions to assemble the Burgers:

Spread a dollop of the remaining mayonnaise mixture on the tops and bottoms of the toasted buns.  Place the chicken burgers on the bottom halves of the buns.  Top each with ¼ cup of the mixed greens and finish with the top half of the bun.  




P.S.: I’ll be back on March 25!  It’s time for our annual trip to Romania, so Adrian and I are off to see our families for the next couple of weeks.  I won’t be able to post while away but I’ll return with stories and new recipes from good ol’ Transylvania!  Until then…




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

January 31, 2014

Viennese Iced Coffee

I started 2013 with a restaurant review.  And I almost went the same route this year but eventually decided against it and instead opted for a cold, frothy drink.  Oddly enough, I keep craving icy treats in cold weather when that should normally happen in scorching temperatures.  But what could be better than coffee and ice cream paired together in one wicked frozen drink?  


 
On a cold, snowy afternoon, we were watching this brilliant yet deeply sad French drama ("Three Colors: Blue" – a must-see especially if you’re a fan of French cinema or foreign films in general) with our friends Gretchen and Joel.  At one point in the movie, the main character goes into a coffee shop and orders “her usual” – coffee and ice cream.  In a nutshell, it was a small cup of coffee that the woman ever so slowly pours over the side of ice cream; but that was all I needed – I was instantly thirsty for Viennese Iced Coffee!  The very next day, in arctic temperatures, I went and bought a huge container of ice cream (yes, I’m one of those peculiar people who don’t have any ice cream in the freezer because I could devour it by the ladle) and whipped up Viennese Iced Coffee, a really tasty frozen coffee beverage very popular in Viennese coffee shops that I haven’t sipped in an extremely long time!





I may or may not have mentioned that I’m a voracious coffee drinker!  In the morning, I usually go for a double espresso if I’m in the vicinity of a Starbucks or the dark and intensely smoky French Roast coffee when I’m at home.  Needless to say, I love coffee in desserts.  This particular Viennese Iced Coffee recipe has the best of both worlds.  It’s a dessert type of drink with very strong coffee and ice cream, which adds a delightful sweetness and vanilla-infused creaminess.  Not to mention that this cold drink is the perfect afternoon sweet treat that will give you the right amount of caffeine to power through the rest of your day.  And if you’re in the mood for happy hour, adding a splash of Amaretto or Irish Cream would work wonders.  Cheers!   





Viennese Iced Coffee
Adapted slightly from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten 

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

·         6 (1-ounce) shots of espresso or 6 ounces strong coffee, regular or decaf
·         3 Tablespoons sugar
·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
·         ¼ cup hot water
·         2 cups ice
·         4 scoops vanilla or coffee ice cream
·         Unsweetened cocoa powder or bittersweet chocolate shavings
·         Straws, for serving




Instructions:

Combine the coffee, sugar, vanilla extract, and hot water in a blender and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Put the ice in the blender and process on high until the mixture is almost completely smooth.  Divide the mixture between 4 glasses.  





Scoop one ball of ice cream into each glass.  Using a small sifter, sprinkle each drink lightly with cocoa powder or decorate with a few chocolate shavings.  Serve with a straw and a teaspoon.   





Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

December 30, 2013

My Favorite Holiday Recipes

I hope that everyone had a wonderful and a very Merry Christmas!  I love the holiday season because it’s the perfect excuse to showcase your favorite holiday recipes, from the simplest to the most elaborate, and enjoy them with your friends and family.  For us Romanians, the holidays represent a baking and cooking extravaganza, and although Christmas has already come and gone, I still want to share with you my Christmas and New Year’s favorites.  And they are all here at Simply Romanesco ready for you to try this holiday season and beyond.  Happy New Year!  



Appetizers

·         Homemade Pretzels
·         Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts

Beverages

·         Hot Mulled Wine – fun and festive, warm and comforting, this spiked drink is perfect during the cold and snowy nights

Cakes

·         Double-Chocolate Layer Cake – a delightful chocolate overload!
·         Maple Sweet Potato Cake – although it’s not really a traditional Christmas cake, I love that it’s a cinch to make, it’s absolutely gorgeous and delicious, and goes well with coffee or tea while you open presents on Christmas morning; and let’s not forget that sweet potatoes are ever so popular this time of the year

Cookies

·         Brazilian Chocolate Truffles
·         Nutella Filled Cookies (Ișlere) – a Romanian classic and a staple in our family during the holiday season

Main Dishes

·         Herb-Roasted Pork Loin – during the winter holidays the pork consumption in Romania goes through the roof; and pork brings luck in the New Year! 
·         Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale) – Christmas is not Christmas without them

Salads

·         Boeuf Salad (Salată de Boeuf) – perhaps my favorite salad and the one I look forward to every Christmas

Side Dishes

·         Creamed Corn
·         Sweet Green Peas  

Soups

·         Chicken Sour Soup (Ciorbă de Pui) – Grandma Vicki always makes this sour soup with pork as the chief ingredient on New Year’s Day

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

November 27, 2013

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

I know that we’re in the Thanksgiving home stretch!  But I just had to tell you about this elegant and impossibly easy appetizer that would make your guests swoon with delight this holiday season.  You may decide to squeeze it in on the already over-packed Thanksgiving menu for tomorrow or wait until Christmas or New Year’s or a relaxed Saturday afternoon with friends.  It’s up to you.  And if you do choose to whip it up for the big dinner tomorrow, rest assured those ravenous appetites will be kept in check before the bird is ready!   




As you can see, it only took me a few postings to come up with another great recipe that has goat cheese at its core.  I recently made these super-tasty Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates for a tapas themed party for the iconic El Clásico, the most watched soccer game in the world.  I also made them for a dinner party, a birthday celebration, and I’m making them again for Thanksgiving.  As you can imagine, everyone was smitten at first bite, gobbled them down in no time, and then demanded seconds! 





Simply put, these dates are a breeze to throw together and are wonderfully meaty and chewy, sweet and salty, creamy and fragrant all in one mouthful.  You can wrap them in prosciutto (or Serrano ham if you opt for a Spanish kick) and freely snack on them before the main courses make it to the table.  Pair the dates with a cold, crisp white wine and they will bewitch you.  And a little side note – you may want to bump up the quantities – the crowd will ask for more!





Last year, I was in charge of the entire Thanksgiving menu, and although it was only for three people, it was daunting and uplifting at the same time.  This year, I’m back to being a contributor to the mighty feast by bringing these amazing Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates, these irresistible Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts, and my favorite Cranberry-Orange Sauce that I’ve made religiously for the past few years.  So, here you have it…  Enjoy the recipe and I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and delightful company! 





Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto
Adapted slightly from Giada at Home by Giada de Laurentiis

Makes: 16 stuffed dates

Ingredients:

·         ¼ cup (2 ounces) goat cheese, at room temperature
·         ¼ cup (2 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
·         ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves (or dill)
·         Salt and freshly ground black pepper
·         16 Medjool dates
·         8 thin slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise
·         16 toothpicks or cocktail picks





Instructions:

In a small bowl, mix together the cheeses and basil (or dill).  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.





Using a paring knife, make a lengthwise incision in each date.  Gently open the dates slightly and remove the pits.  (Make sure you don’t cut the dates in half when making the incision!) 




Spoon about ½ teaspoon of the cheese and basil mixture inside each one.  Close the dates around the filling.  Wrap a piece of prosciutto around each date and secure with a toothpick. 

Arrange the stuffed dates on a platter and serve. 




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)