Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Maria’s Moussaka & A Love Story

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Today I have a special post. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share a love story between two friends. If you read all the way to the end, you’ll get to see the step shots for Moussaka, the Greek dish I got to learn as the story unfolded.

Over New Year’s, two longtime friends came to stay with my husband and me. Maria lives in Cyprus and Chris lives in Oakland, Calif. No sooner had they sat down at our kitchen table the night they arrived they announced – much to our delight – they were in love and getting married.

chris and mariaChris and Maria. 

Chris and Maria met nine years ago when they, along with some friends, decided to open a bookstore on the island of Santorini in Greece. The group found a small whitewashed building overlooking the Aegean to rent, and Atlantis Books (you really should click that link and check it out.) was born. Over the years the two became close – almost like siblings. They bickered and fought, and both smart and stubborn, in the early days, they often disagreed about how tasks at the shop should be completed.

IMG_5804_smAtlantis Books, Santorini. Photo credit: Will Brady

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Szechuan Carrot Soup

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Don’t panic. It’s not as spicy as it sounds. The only thing spicy about this soup is the hot chili flakes, and you can lighten that amount if you want to. This is probably the best soup I’ve ever made. It is super easy to do (saute, simmer, blend, eat!) and it comes together fast – perfect for weeknights. The carrot, sesame, soy, carrot, ginger, peanut flavor profile is delicious, and really balanced. I highly recommend it! Serve it with a piece of baked fish or some shrimp, or on its own with a delicious salad and call it a day.

With this soup I’ve accomplished the second goal of my vegetarian month – cooking something with an Asian flavor profile. The first was signing up for a winter CSA, and that worked out great. Check out this beauty shot of my first delivery! Next up is trying a new grain, and I’ve got bulgur on the brain. Stay tuned!

Szechuan-Carrot-Soup

Don’t forgo the toppings – the cilantro and green onion add freshness. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Avalon Acres Winter CSA

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At the start of January I set some goals for my month of meat-free eating. One of them was to sign up for a winter CSA, and I just got my first pickup from Avalon Acres. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and here’s the idea: you pay a farm at the start of a season, kind of like a loan, and they pay you back in what they produce. Your money allows the farm to purchase supplies, pay employees, make repairs, etc. For many farms, a winter CSA offers income they wouldn’t otherwise have since the farm isn’t producing as much during the colder months and many farmers’ markets have closed for the season. Plus you’re keeping your money in the local economy and you’re guaranteed to get tasty, homegrown food.

“But,” you might ask, “It’s winter – if the farm isn’t producing as much, what would I get?” I signed up for a half share of the Preserved Harvest Package from Avalon. According to their website, my bi-monthly baskets could include a mix of peanuts, apple sauce, radishes, carrots, lettuces, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other winter vegetables as available, homemade pastas and spaghetti sauce, plus canned or frozen sweet corn, green beans, shelled peas, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, sorghum, honey, jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, apple butter, pear butter, popping corn or corn meal. Check out what was in the first box:

photo (22)

 From left, I got green onions, kale, broccoli, white turnips, red potatoes, cabbage, a regular turnip, beets, watermelon jelly, a radish, and parsnips! What a haul. I’ll get a box like this every two weeks.

The Avalon Acres CSA also offers mix and match packages of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and some baked good. Avalon co-ops with a network of local farmers and offers a lot of flexibility in their share options. You can specify how much of each and what kind (from breakfast sausage to premium beef, goat cheese only or a mix, etc.). I have friends who have been members of Avalon’s CSA for years and really enjoy the flexibility for their family. I intend to add meat and cheese come February.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Alaskan Salmon Burgers

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One of Andrew’s college buddies, Craig, lived in Sitka, Alaska, for five years. Before he left, he shipped us a box of fresh-caught Alaskan fish as a wedding gift. Best. Gift. Ever. I tracked the crap out of that package on fedex.com! We’ve been slowly eating our way through the halibut, salmon and black cod, savoring it all. Thanks again Craig!

Included in the pack was some ground salmon for salmon burgers. I whipped some up the other night, using one of Craig’s recipes. It’s a recipe I’ll try with tuna or crab as well.

photo 1

Check out the cool Sitka packaging!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Eggplant Pasta

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I definitely enjoy pasta, but I like it best when there’s some texture to it – when it’s more than just pasta and sauce. Last January, I made a bread crumb and caper pasta that was quite delicious. It was from The Gourmet Cookbook, a gigantic tome from Ruth Reichl and the former editors for Gourmet magazine.  It has more than 1,000 recipes and is a great resource - it’s my go-to cookbook for recipe ideas.

Cover of "The Gourmet Cookbook: More than...

I decided to recreate the dish with a few additions. First, I roasted half an eggplant with just a bit of cooking spray to a) keep it from sticking and b) because eggplant is really absorbant and since there’s already 1/4 cup olive oil in the pasta sauce I wanted to minimize it here. 

Next I chopped my garlic (fresh from the garden – Andrew grew it last spring!), chopped a piece of bread for bread crumbs (you can also use store-bought for this), and got out my other ingredients.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mandoline Discovery

Wow. I just discovered the magic of the mandoline. If you’re not familiar, a mandoline is a cooking utensil used for slicing efficiently. I’d purchased a Benriner Asian Mandoline based on a recommendation from a chef friend at least a year ago, but hadn’t gotten around to using it. My friend likes this brand because it’s thin, small, and very sharp. I loved it! It was like magic. Tired of wrestling baby carrots to chop? Need to slice an apple fast? Don’t feel like cooking radishes, beets or a fennel bulb? Try a mandoline! They’re very easy to use I haven’t worked with all these things yet, but I did make a kick ass salad.

That’s apple, celery, fennel sliced very thinly, a few salad greens and parsley, and a lemony vinaigrette with a few shavings of Parmesan cheese. I made this on New Year’s Day for some friends. This would be delicious for brunch with eggs, lunch with soup or dinner with anything! I could also see tossing it with some cous cous and shrimp and calling that dinner. Yum!

Do you have  a favorite cooking tool of the moment?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kicking Off a Meat-Free Month with Tunisian Chickpea Stew

It’s January 2, and that means I’ve made my vegetarian-month pledge for the third year in a row. My husband and I go meat-free in January to cleanse from the holidays and generally start the year on a lighter note. I also enjoy this time because it forces me to cook outside my comfort zone. Last year I made these cute little Breakfast-For-Dinner Egg Cups, for example, but not before going out with a bang with our Porter Road Butcher Last Supper.

This year, in addition to pledging to eat vegetarian for one full month (with the occasional piece of fish), I promise to:

  • Experiment with one new grain (farro, spelt, millet, etc.)
  • Do something Asian, and I don’t mean stir-fry
  • Sign up for a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share

For my first meal, I whipped up a take on Lablabi, a Tunisian stew that “captures the sunny flavors of the southern Mediterranean,” as Organic Gardening magazine puts it.

I didn’t have harissa, a spicy red-pepper paste, so I improvised. My husband loved it – he (jokingly) said it wasn’t the watery, mushy goulag he thought it was going to be. Wow – what a guy!

Enjoy!

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Tunisian Chickpea Stew

Yield: 4

Total Time: 30

The stew base is very simple - it's the toppings that make the dish so flavorful!

Ingredients:

Soup:
3 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 slices day old bread, torn into small pieces

Garnishes:
sun-dried tomatoes jarred in oil or dried (I used dried), roughly chopped
capers
chopped parsley
green onions
extra virgin olive oil
lime wedges
dollop of plain greek yogurt
Sririacha Thai Chili Sauce

Directions:

Add chickpeas to a medium saucepan with 4 cans of water (from chickpea cans), garlic and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add cumin, coriander and red pepper and let simmer 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, tear bread and place in shallow soup bowls. Chop items for toppings. When soup is ready, ladle soup and broth over bread and top with toppings. Garnish with the first four ingredients, then drizzle with oil and squeeze a lime wedge over each. Serve with a dollop of yogurt with a squirt of Sriracha on top.

Recipe adapted from Organic Gardening, Vol. 60:1

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DIY Edible Gifts

I love to give gifts. I heard recently that gift giving is a way to express your relationship with others – if you find something a friend or family member really likes, it illustrates how well you know them.

Giving the gift of good food is always a great way to show someone you care. A few years ago I started the tradition of making an edible gift for family and friends, and it’s been fun to come up with new ideas each year. The first year, my Dad’s side took an extended family trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia. On the way home, I purchased a bushel of in-season Georgia peaches and made peach preserves. My family loved receiving a vacation memento, and I loved having the jars made up and done months ahead of time!

I’ve also grown and dried herbs, picked blueberries and blackberries and made jam, and even made a healthful granola that I shared with friends in the New Year when I got behind at Christmas.

This year, my husband and I got two backyard chickens that we keep for egg production. (Click here and scroll down for a picture!) We also have a Meyer lemon tree that we keep outdoors in the summer and move indoors each winter. With fresh eggs and lemons on hand, I decided to try my hand at lemon curd.

If you’ve never had it, lemon curd is a rich, lemony spread made with eggs, butter, sugar and lemon juice that is delicious on muffins, sweet breads, biscuits or on its own served with berries. It can also be poured into a pastry shell and baked for a quick tart. And, it’s SUPER easy to prepare.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spicy Molasses Cookies

Food Blog Cookie Swap 2012 is upon us! Lindsay over at Love & Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen created this fine program, and I’ve taken advantage of the fun two years in a row now. Here’s how it works:

1) Join Cookie Swap and donate $4 to Cookies for Kids with Cancer
2) Bake 3 dozen cookies
3) Mail 1 dozen cookies each to three food bloggers who you’re matched with
4) Get 3 dozen cookies in the mail! What’s not to love?

Like last year, I decided to bake a cookie with a savory twist. I chose Spicy Molasses Cookies because I love a chewy cookie and I love the depth of flavor molasses has. I looked at lots of molasses cookie recipes but chose this one by Wendy Rusch on www.justapinch.com. The recipe was straightforward, the combination of spices – ginger, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper – appealed to me, plus the recipe got great reviews at Just A Pinch. If you’re not familiar, Just A Pinch is a recipe and coupon social network, and you should totally check it out. Oh, and I work there. :)

The cookies come together easily. You mix the wet ingredients together, then you add in the dry ones and gently mix.

I rolled them into balls, rolled the balls in sparkling sugar, then baked them. Ten minutes later they’re done! After that amount of time they’re just barely set and will fall as they cool, but I think that makes them chewy.

They’re divine with a tall glass of milk. I really like that spicy kick – the black pepper especially adds just the right amount of heat.

For my matches, I stacked them up on top of one another, their sparkling sugars twinkling in the sunlight, bagged them in craft bags and tied them with a festive ribbon.

I tied on little luggage tags stamped with a “To:, From:” tag and addressed them. Then I shipped them off to my matches, Jennifer @ Mother Thyme, Jessica @ Kettler Cuisine and Dea at The Baking Robot! I love going to the post office around Christmas time. It feels old-fashioned and festive.

What fun. Thanks so much to Lindsay and Julie for organizing this! I’ll post the cookies I got when they arrive. I can’t wait!

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Spicy Molasses Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

These spicy little numbers are addictive! The addition of black pepper to the molasses gives them just a hint of heat.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
get recipes @ goboldwithbutter.com
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 10 turns on mine)
Sparkling sugars or turbinado (raw) sugar for rolling

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with oil; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together shortening, butter, sugars, egg and molasses with a hand mixer until creamy.

In a medium bowl mix dry ingredients with a fork. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Roll into 1-1/2" balls, roll in sparking sugar, and place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 10-11 minutes.

**For smaller cookies, roll 3/4-inch balls and bake for just 7 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Wendy Rusch at www.justapinch.com.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

I made biscuits!

That’s right. I woke up on Sunday morning, wanted biscuits, and made them. Ha! Do you know how easy biscuits are to make? I’ll tell you.

You combine flour, baking powder and sea salt. Then add extra cold butter grated into other ingredients, which will help make the biscuits flaky. Then pour in milk or buttermilk and bake.  Voila!

The dough is a really satisfying texture. It’s not too wet or too dry, but perfectly mixed and easily pliable. Make sure you don’t overmix it though. If you do, the gluten protein will become overactivated and thus tough. You want to knead bread dough a lot to get those gluten proteins working together so you have a chewy dough, but you don’t want this when you’re making biscuits.

Then you roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thick and cut out biscuits with a glass. I used a 1/2 pint jar but you could really use anything. Just make sure they’re even. Then bake for 8 minutes or so in a very hot oven and you’ve got biscuits!!

Are these lovely or what?! I ate them with strawberry jam and an egg from my chicken, Ruby. She’s the red head on the right!

I highly suggest you make biscuits the next time you have an extra 20 minutes in the morning. It was totally satisfied and completely easy!

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Meme's Biscuits by Virginia WIlls

Yield: 8-10 biscuits

Cook Time: 8-10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Such simple, delicious biscuits! The recipe is from a gorgeous cookbook filled with Southern recipes from the author's childhood called "Bon Appetit, Y'all" by Virginia Willis.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork until combined.

Remove butter from fridge and grate over the largest side of a box cutter into the dry ingredients. Mix butter shavings into dry ingredients. Add milk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you then fold it back over yourself. Turn the dough each pass and repeat 8ish times. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out to roughly 1/2-inch thick. Cut biscuits out with a glass or pastry cutter evenly (I used a 1/2 pint jar).

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet making sure they're not touching (they'll be crispy if they're further apart).

Bake 8-10 minutes until tops are beginning to brown. Serve warm!

Recipe adapted from Meme's Biscuits in "Bon Appetit, Y'all" by Virginia Willis.

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