Sunday, February 1, 2015

Date-Night Cooking Around The World: Algeria

Welcome back to Date-Night Cooking!

After last week's minor fiasco with bland food out of Albania, I decided against sticking exclusively to recipes offered up on Global Table Adventures. You'll be happy to know that this week's country offered up a healthy, flavorful, balanced meal!
 
You see, for this week, I did a little Pinterest hunting and found out that one of the prominent regional recipes in Northern Africa (where Algeria can be found, in case you were wondering) is chermoula.

Chermoula is a creamy, rich, pesto-like marinade for meats, but particularly for fatty fish, like salmon. I found this recipe over on 64 sq ft kitchen (follow link for recipe).

Salmon with chermoulla and Algerian Green Beans. A simply divine plate.

So, let me begin by saying how much I miss eating fresh salmon. The Huz and I used to eat it weekly as our Shabbos dinner main course, usually served with green beans and couscous (the other components of this meal, but we'll get to that in a bit). Usually, I would pick a sauce at random, smother the salmon in it, and bake it in the oven. It was always perfect, smooth, and delicious, because salmon just is. The green beans were usually steamed and tossed with either lemon juice or soy sauce. The couscous didn't need much, it just sat under the rest of the food and soaked up what it could.

This was our favorite meal, but we stopped buying fresh salmon a long time ago because of the cost. Last night's date-night reminded me how tender, flavorful, and well-balanced that meal is, and I want those dinners back!

As for the chermoula, I think I made a couple mistakes. The first one is that I used frozen parsley and cilantro. I think the notes would have come through more strongly if I'd used fresh herbs. The other mistake was that I didn't use enough tomato, which would have upped the acidity. That being said, while it didn't burst with the strong flavors I'd been anticipating, this was delicious. The sauce and salmon worked perfectly together. Pan-searing the fish resulted in a soft, succulent texture and really brought out the best from the marinade ingredients.

The textures and flavors of the chermoula and salmon harmonized well with Algerian Green Beans. This recipe came from Global Table Adventure (GTA) and brought a real flavor punch. This dish comes together pretty quickly, 15 minutes to steam the green beans, and about 2 minutes to saute the seasonings, garlic, & slivered almonds in a little oil, then 30 seconds to toss it all together. This might be the best green bean recipe I've ever had. Cumin, paprika, and cloves, though a combination I wouldn't have come up with on my own, provide a good kick. I worried that the veggies would end up too greasy, but the steamed, fresh green beans balanced the oil well. The almonds added that chewy-crunchy texture and a subtle flavoring which really made the dish pop.

We finished this meal off with the dessert from GTA: Bil Zbib*. This cake-like couscous comes together in a few minutes with chopped dried fruit, sugar, butter, and cinnamon. When served warm, there's an undeniable creaminess, a balanced sweetness, and a great mix of textures from the grainy couscous and the plumped up fruits. This gets some bonus points from The Huz, who usually hates anything with cooked fruits, but who ate two servings of this confection.

This is a good place for me to note what I didn't make, and why. GTA's menu included a meat lasagna, spicy chickpea soup, a fennel and blood orange salad, french baguettes, and homemade turkish delight.

Well, for starters, that is just way too much food for us, and far too heavy for our palettes. Second, meat and cheese don't mix in the kosher world, and while I could have subbed some soy ground meat food product, it just didn't really appeal to me. The fennel salad didn't sound at all like my thing, and I wasn't quite sure where I would find blood oranges anyway. The baguettes and turkish delight were far too time-consuming for our Saturday night mini-adventure, but I did buy a box of turkish delight from the store.

I actually would have liked to make the chickpea soup, it sounded pretty good to me. But The Huz nixed it, saying it didn't really appeal to him. I may yet revisit that and give it a try once I've gotten my hands on some harissa.

So, week three of Cooking Around The World was a definite success! And these recipes were so simple and quick to make that I could easily see myself eating this meal again.

Next week, I do hope you'll be back to explore Andorra with us, and revisit Albania for a little do-over.

*(My apologies for not having a picture of the bil zbib, but I was having some lighting difficulties.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Date Night Cooking Around The World: Albania

Last week, I played some catch up with you guys and introduced you to stay-at-home date night. Continuing in our new endeavor to cook foods from every country in alphabetical order (a la Global Table Adventure), we took on Albania last night.

Ok, last week, when we did Afghanistan, I was blown out of the water. The flavors were bold and bright and earthy and I was just--Wow--it was great.

This week? Eh.


Byrek with puff pastry...gotta love that crust...

We had a couple problems for this week's meal. First off, the main course is lamb in yogurt sauce. Now, kosher lamb is pretty expensive, and not as widely available in my area as beef. Also, when eating kosher, you can't mix meat and dairy, which would mean finding a substitute for yogurt in the recipe. The thought of taking that kind of risk with such an expensive piece of meat was just a little too daunting for me, so I figure we'll wait to make lamb when I can follow the recipe to a T.

So, we went ahead with the Byrek (a savory Albanian pie, in this case with leeks, though from my web searches it is often made with spinach), Albanian corn bread (with scallions and feta cheese), and Turli Perimesh (a simmered vegetable dish).

Let me begin with the corn bread, since we baked and tasted that first.

Albanian corn bread, filled with feta and scallions

The flavors were pretty good, but not terribly exciting. Then again, corn bread rarely is exciting. It was only a slight let-down because between the scallions and feta cheese, I expected this corn bread to have a little more bite. The yogurt, butter, and cottage cheese kept it from being too dry, and it developed a really satisfyingly crispy top, but the total effect was a little bland. I think if I were to make it again, I would put in more scallions and try to season it a little better.

I though The Toddler would love this, and so did she (she was so excited to try it, even thanked me repeatedly for making it) but she just licked it, then declared she was all done eating and wanted to go to bed. Toddlers...smh...


Byrek ose Lakror (Albanian leek pie), the highlight of the meal

The byrek was bound to win my heart because she used one of my favorite ingredients: puff pasty. And while the overall pie was tasty, I'd say the frozen puff pastry was the shining star of that dish.  I think what challenged me most were the repetitive ingredients between the byrek and the corn bread; both dishes had eggs, cottage cheese, and feta in copious amounts. If I were eating them separately, either one could be pretty tasty, but as components in a single meal, it was just a little much. And again, there was a failure for any of the flavors to really shine through, other than the earthy leeks. It was still tasty, and filling, so it will be joining me for lunch at work later this week (it's pretty good cold), but it wasn't a home run in my book.

I thought The Toddler would like this too, but she took about one nibble, said it was good, and then asked for something else for lunch.

Turli Perimesh (simmered veggies): colorful, but bland

Now we come to the true disappointment: The Turli Perimesh. This dish sounded pretty good as I read the ingredients: Obscene amounts of onion sauteed with zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, diced tomatoes, and parsley. Again, though, this dish lacked the bold flavors I tend to love in a good side dish.

The Toddler barely even looked at the veggies. I was not surprised.

Altogether, this meal lacked any component with real flavor, and the vegetables seemed to almost contradict the corn bread. I would hope that if this had been served alongside the lamb, the meal would have come together, though it sounds like an excessive amount of food to put on one plate.

Long story short, I'm not sure I'd make any of these again, though I could see myself creating variations on a theme with the byrek. The spinach version I found sounds pretty close to Greek spanikopita, so I could see it working fairly well.

Hope you'll all come back next week when we'll be heading to Algeria! I have plans to stray from the Global Table Adventure menu into some other corners of the internet. Will you join us there?

Have you ever eaten Albanian food? What did you think? Any ideas for dishes that might better represent Albanian cuisine? Share in the comments! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Catching Up and Cooking Around The World: Afghanistan

Hey everyone!

In spite of my best intentions, I have found myself continually slacking on my blogging duties.

So the first thing I'm going to do in this post is play a little catch up on some tasty things I've made in the past two months.

 Latkes with applesauce. A classic combination.

First off, let's take a  look at the Chanukkah cooking. Obviously there were latkes. The Toddler and I spent an evening cooking those up together after several weeks of anticipation. You see, she had gotten a book called "The Runaway Latkes" which included a recipe at the end. She was eager to try it out, and insistent that OUR latkes would not be allowed to run away, but there was a twist. You see the Toddler is terrified of the food processor, so she started crying when I took it out of the cabinet. Thinking fast on my toes, I said, "Well, I guess I could hand-grate it..." and after that the Toddler insisted we get out the grater.

30 painful minutes of elbow grease later, we had a bowl of grated potatoes and onions mixed with eggs and seasoning. The Toddler took on the important role of "mixer." She was dedicated. So much so that when the time came to start frying them up, she wouldn't hear of abandoning her mixing duty, and screamed to the heavens that I not put anything in the frying pan.

la-la-la-latkes hop in the pan!

30 minutes of painful screaming later, we had a paper towel lined pan full of latkes waiting to be eaten. I served them up with a dollop of apple sauce, and my daughter excitedly ate 2 of them. When I asked if she wanted more, she said, "No, I don't like them. Can I have more apple sauce?"

And so goes the adventures of cooking with a toddler.

In addition to the regular latkes (recipe from the back of "The Runaway Latkes" with an added secret ingredient: cumin), I also threw together a batch of sweet potato kale latkes. I didn't really chop the kale small enough, so they fell apart while cooking, but they were delicious. I would share the recipe, but I was winging it and I really can't remember anymore. I believe there was nutmeg. All of this was followed up on another day with toddler-assisted sugar cookies (recipe from a friend), and date-night doughnuts (or sufganiyot) (my pizza dough recipe with 1/2 C sugar added to the dough, allowed to rise a little longer than usual [30 minutes] then rolled out, cut in circles, fried, and covered in powdered sugar).

Delicious Chanukkah cookies. Mmm...wish I still had some...

About date night: A couple months ago, the Huz came up with a brilliant idea: Stay-at-home date night. Every Saturday night, after we put our beloved daughter to bed, we cook together and then watch a movie while we eat. This has been great on so many levels, not the least of which is that the Huz is now learning some basic cooking skills. On top of that, it's quality time we get to spend together trying new things without having to pay for a babysitter or tip a waiter. Sometimes we plan ahead and make sure to have all the necessary ingredients on hand. Sometimes we make a quick run to the store to get whatever's missing. And sometimes we just stare into the pantry and throw dinner together Macgyver style.

Some of our dinners have included: Mock crab cakes (MMMM!), smoothies, quiche, pumpkin ravioli (from scratch with my brand new pasta machine!), broccoli cheese soup, Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and Mac N Cheese.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich with kale, apple, cheddar, and something else I can't remember...But it was divine!

Recently, I got a little tired of scrambling to come up with ideas on Saturday nights and suggested we find a theme. I thought it might be fun to look for some exotic global recipes. I figured that somewhere out there, someone on the interwebs must have tried cooking around the world, and I was right. Enter Sasha from Global Table Adventures. Sasha started her adventure back in 2010 when she decided that she wanted her 9 month old daughter to have a worldly palate. With the help of her extensive culinary training, and extensive travel history, she set out to cook a meal from every country in the world in alphabetical order.

So this past Saturday night, we decided to follow in her footsteps.

Now, we're not trained in the culinary arts, and keeping kosher means that we can't really make ALL of her meals, which frequently mix meat and dairy, or use ingredients that are just treif. Not to mention how expensive kosher meat can be. So we're primarily focusing on the meat-free dishes. For instance, this first week we went to Afghanistan. Her recipes included a variety of yogurt dips, naan, braised eggplant, rosewater custard, and a chicken and rice dish. In the interest of simplifying things, we stuck with the dips, naan, and eggplant.

Going into this, I had pretty few expectations. I'm not a big fan of yogurt, but the recipes sounded tasty enough, and the eggplant recipe had the word "spicy" right in the title, so that suited me just fine.

We spent about 2 hours cooking this meal from start to finish (beginning with prepping several ingredients which required an hour of inactive time with rising [naan], sweating [eggplant], and draining [yogurt]), but please let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen:

It was worth. Every. Minute.

Afghani dinner date night: noni afghani, buroni bonjon, seer moss, and sabse borani.


I have a short memory, generally speaking, but guys this was definitely one of the most delicious meals I have ever tasted. The naan (noni afghani) was perfectly chewy, and the cumin seeds added that extra dimension of crunch and spice. The eggplant (buroni bonjon), about which I was slightly skeptical because it included canned tomatoes, had a complexity of flavors that I'm not sure I could do justice in writing. The lemon garlic mint yogurt sauce (seer moss)...omg...just tangy and spicy and out of this world. The spinach dip (sabse borani) was thick and rich and and complemented by the slightly sweet carmelized onions.

I offered some to the Toddler for lunch today and she gobbled down the naan and asked for more. She tasted the dips, told us she loved them, but only ate a bite of each. She wouldn't touch the eggplant, which I didn't really expect her to eat, anyway. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

While the recipes are not "last-minute dinner" compatible, with a little prep time available, they are NOT complicated to make. I strongly urge you all to give these recipes a try. You won't regret it.

To see the recipes and learn more about Afghani cooking, follow the links in this post to globaltableadventure.com.

And hopefully when next week rolls around, you'll get to read about Albanian cooking. :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shakshouka and Perfect Brown Rice

Well it certainly has been a while since we've had a good recipe post, huh?

How does shakshouka sound?

Okay, I realize not everyone has heard of this dish, but it is a Moroccan staple, according to Wikipedia, and pretty popular in Israel.

The dish consists of eggs poached on top of a sauce consisting of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices cooked up in a cast-iron skillet. Sound good to you? Then proceed...


The idea to make shakshouka was born of a conversation with my boss about "Jewish" food, and after discussing various Ashkenazi (Easter European Jewish) dishes, I mentioned that Sephardi (Spanish and Middle-Eastern Jewish) dishes are a bit different. After briefly discussing shakshouka with my boss, I went to see if I could find a recipe, since I'd never actually made it before.

The recipe I found was over on The Shiksa in The Kitchen, and I started out with that recipe followed to a "T" and then made a few minor changes based on personal taste when I made it again last night. The Huz absolutely loved it and insisted it become part of our dinner recipe rotation (along with pizza, one-pot pasta, and stuffed portobella mushrooms). I have yet to convince the toddler to try it, but I wouldn't take her opinion too seriously. Her idea of a gourmet meal is yogurt...wait for it...with fruit on the bottom.

Another pretty important factor in last night's dinner came about as a result of two things: #1, a lack of good bread for sopping up the sauces, and #2, the brand new rice maker sitting on my counter.

I've had a rice maker on my wish-list for a while, but couldn't decide on which one to buy. After one of my nearest and dearest friends gave me an Amazon gift card as a birthday present, I figured it was time to get decisive and make this purchase. So I bought an Aroma brand model which came last week. Now I just needed an excuse to make rice, and there it was: Shakshouka.

I used it to make brown rice, which came out perfectly fluffy, and was the ultimate complement to that spicy, juicy, tangy, delicious Middle-Eastern/North-African dish.

So try it out, and enjoy!

Shakshouka (adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen)
(note: this makes a great dinner for 2-3 people, but if you make the shakshouka and leave off the eggs, it's also a great salad to put on the shabbos table.)

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced (shallots would be good in this, too)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small-to-medium zucchini, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 medium-large eggplant diced (optional)
  • 4oz of fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped (though I used both)
  • 2 14oz cans diced tomatoes (I used one plain diced, and one fire-roasted, just for fun)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp chili powder (mild)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • cayenne pepper to taste. Be careful not to overdue it unless you LOVE that kick.
  • about 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs (or more, depending on how many people you're feeding.)
Instructions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. If you have cast-iron, go for it. I don't, so I used my stainless steel chef's pan. Add in the onions and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes.
  2. Add in the eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms, if using and saute for another 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. (A note about the eggplant - I find that eggplant comes out best if it's salted for a little before you use it. I generally sprinkle with some kosher salt after I slice it, let it sit for about 5-10 minutes, then rinse it, pat dry, and dice.)
  3. Add in peppers and saute until the colors brighten a little (that means it's JUST starting to cook)
  4. Add in tomatoes, paste, and seasonings and allow it to simmer for about 5-7 minutes over medium heat, until it just starts to reduce.
  5. Crack the eggs directly into the sauce, spacing them around the pan so that they don't spread into each other. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over the eggs (and maybe some garlic powder, like I did.) Cover and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. A note about simmering time: The original recipe calls for 10-15 minutes, which is fine if you like your egg fully cooked through (and maybe slightly overcooked), but I personally like my eggs just a little runny or gummy in the middle. I would suggest shortening simmering time to 6-8 minutes to achieve that effect. Basically, cook it to taste.
  7. Plate it, top with some chopped parsley and/or some feta cheese. Serve with rice or good crusty bread. Enjoy! :)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Garden Fresh Carrots And Veggie Pot Pie

Wow, it really has been a long time since my last update. I won't bore you with the details of my life in the past year, but I do have a lot of recipes to post and catch up on. It's just been a busy year, and it's not getting better.

I'm about to start an internship and my last year of grad school, so figure I'll be pretty out of commission as far as my blog is concerned.

That being said, I've been searching the internet for work/school lunch ideas. Primarily, I've been looking for freezable options that can be prepped in single servings.

Last week, I made a batch of Spinach Ricotta Rolls to send with the toddler to preschool and they were a big success. This week I plan to try out sandwich ideas I've found on pinterest, including cheese avocado roll-ups.

In other big news, we tried our hands at some simple gardening over the Spring/Summer.  Way back in May we bought a large planter and dropped in a few carrot seeds.


Then we just waited and waited and waited and waited...Until at long last...


 The glorious bounty arrived!


SO GLORIOUS! AND BOUNTIFUL!


Ok, it wasn't all that glorious or bountiful. They were tiny, weird, and there were maybe a dozen of them. But the toddler was very impressed. Most importantly, she learned where carrots come from. It was a good lesson.

But back to work lunches. Today I took a little time to try out a recipe I've been eying for a while: Vegan Pot Pies. They looked heavenly and sounded delicious and, more importantly, portable and freezable. So today I gathered together my ingredients and got down to business.



The original recipe says these should take under an hour to make, but they honestly took me an hour and half. I also changed a couple things, though nothing too major. I added mushrooms and used a different biscuit recipe, then added cheese to the biscuits. And when the time came to cut out the biscuits, the first cookie cutter I found was flower shaped, so I went for it.


The filling on these is amazing. I was tempted to add more seasoning than the recipe called for, but they really came out flavorful as is. The bay leaf, salt and pepper is really all it needs.

So here's the recipe, adapted from Minimalist Baker:

Veggie Pot Pie

  • 3/4 cup chopped yellow onion (~ 1/2 medium onion)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Cup fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 2 Cups veggie broth
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (corn, green beans, carrots | or sub fresh)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour (or sub other thickener of choice)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 batch of Whole Foods Coconut Oil Biscuit Dough
Instructions:
  1.  Put about 2 tsps of olive oil in the bottom of a sauce pan and saute onions, garlic, and salt until just translucent.
  2. Add mushrooms and saute another few minutes until soft.
  3. Add flour, stirring it in with the mushrooms and onions, then slowly add in broth and milk, whisking until smooth. Add the bay leaves. The original recipe allows the broth to simmer until it starts to thicken (about 10 minutes) and then adds in the frozen veggies, but I added the frozen veggies here and it turned out fine. If you add them later, give them another 4-6 minutes to simmer until the veggies are soft. If you add them now, just add that time on to the total simmering time.
  4. While the filling is simmering, prep the biscuit dough. I decided to knead some shredded cheese into mine for funsies. Comes out great either way. I've also made those biscuits with both all-purpose and whole wheat flour. Do your thing.
  5. Spoon your filling into ramekins or, in my case, aluminum foil ramekins. Top each one with biscuit dough IN ANY SHAPE WHICH PLEASES YOU! Don't let the man tell you what shape your biscuits need to be!
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes until the biscuits are brown and the filling is nice and bubbly.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Veggie Calzones

Last week, as celebration for finally finishing my Big Scary Paper, we had a few good friends over for Bad Movie Night.

The essential components of Bad Movie Night are:
  1. A very very bad movie
  2. Lots of alcohol to get through said movie
  3. Junk food
Well for this night, we chose Sharknado for the bad movie. Friends supplied the alcohol, and I made a veggie platter because apparently I don't understand the concept of junk food.

Surprisingly, the veggie platter was practically gone at the end of the evening (and I still have alcohol in my fridge and bag of caramel corn. Apparently my friends have their priorities all wrong.)


Even so, I still had a bag of straggling vegetables that didn't get consumed at the party.  Come Thursday evening, I felt I should use them before they started to go bad. So the veggie calzone was born.


I roasted all the veggies in a pan with some olive oil, s&p, and garlic powder.  Then I made my pizza dough recipe, cut it into two pieces, rolled them out, filled them with veggies and cheese, and sealed the edges. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.


In retrospect, I forgot to make slits in the top to avoid the air pocket, but they still tasted delicious.

And sorry for being too lazy to post an actual recipe. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Celebratory Dinner

If you've been wondering where I've been, you may be surprised to learn that a lot has happened in the last few months.

I started grad school

We bought a house.

We moved.

And that may be a short list, but I'm sure you know that can keep a person pretty busy.

Well today I finally finished writing the Big Scary Paper (BSP) that's been consuming all of my time for the past couple of months. This monster tips the scales at 93 pages, and as you can imagine, I'm thrilled to be done with it. At the same time, I'm way too exhausted to make "real food."

So tonight I indulged in a grilled cheese sandwich.

A really amazing grilled cheese sandwich.

With pear...

...and cheddar...



...and spinach...

...and cottage cheese...

...on thick slices of Italian bread...



...with butter. Because if you're gonna make grilled cheese for dinner, you better be willing to go all the way.

So I hope the Fall has been good to you all, but I'm really looking forward to the winter.

I've got some baking to do...