A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY DINNER

The planning of my beloved’s Birthday dinner went all backwards. First I settled on the dessert, covered in my previous two posts. You know, the dessert that almost killed me. Then, I chose the side dish. Rice. Rice for a Birthday dinner? Yes. But let me explain. Ever since I met Phil he talks about this Persian rice his roommate used to prepare when they lived in their communal house. I call those times his hippie-days, I’ve seen pictures, and can tell you he was almost as handsome then as he is today. Back to rice. It is very traditional in Persian cuisine, countless ways to make it, probably each family has its own way, like feijoada for Brazilians. The ultimate goal is to produce a golden crust at the bottom of the pan, which when the rice is served, ends up on top. You break that crust and enjoy it with the perfectly cooked and perfumed rice underneath it.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally make it at home, but better late than never. And with the side dish decided, I picked a main dish to match:  chicken thighs braised in Middle-Eastern spices, cooked with dried apricots and prunes. Green beans tied it all together…

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So let’s start with the rice. The crust (tahdig)  in this case was a mixture of butter and grapeseed oil, which has a very mild taste, and helps prevent the butter from browning too much. That would make the rice bitter. Some recipes elaborate on this simple concept by making the crust with thin slices of pita bread, for instance. Or using yogurt, even potatoes. A nice culinary project to play with. I ended up using inspiration from several sources, but kept it simple, butter it was.

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CHELOW (PERSIAN RICE)
(adapted from several sources)

1 + ¾ cups Basmati rice
2 Tablespoons salt for cooking rice
A pinch of saffron strands
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp very hot water
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp grapeseed oil

Rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in a large bowl of water for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes. The grains should still be pretty firm at this point. Drain, rinse briefly with cold water to prevent it from cooking any further. Reserve.

Make the saffron infusion by using a pestle and mortar to grind the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar and salt, then dissolve it with the very hot water.   Leave to steep for a few minutes. To make a plain tahdig for this amount of rice, you need an 8-inch nonstick saucepan with a snug-fitting lid. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the grapeseed oil over medium heat on an 8-inch nonstick pan.  Add 1 tablespoon of the saffron liquid. When the oil is hot, sprinkle a thin layer of rice over the bottom and firmly press it down, covering the bottom of the pan. Carefully lay the rest of the rice on top, allowing it to form a domed shape at the center. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make a few holes in the rice, almost reaching the bottom of the pan.

Place the remaining tablespoon of butter, cut in little pieces, in the holes you formed.  Sprinkle the rest of the saffron liquid on top of the rice, then put either a tea towel or four layers of paper towels on the surface, tucking the edges in. Cook the rice on medium heat for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down, as low as your stove will go, and cook for 15 minutes longer.  Take it off the heat and allow it to sit for a few minutes, while you fill your sink with a couple of inches of very cold water.

Place the saucepan in the water. That will loosen the crust at the bottom, and should allow you to un-mold it nicely.  Take the lid off, put a large plate on top, and without hesitation, flip the pan over to release the rice on the plate. If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful rice “cake”, a nice crust on top of perfectly cooked Basmati rice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I wanted to follow the recipe quite closely, so I was compelled to get a mortar and pestle for it. I know, life can be tough. But the Force was with me, because Marshalls had a few for sale – cannot beat their prices –  in fact they had two kinds, and I brought one home with me. The method of choice to deal with saffron in Middle Eastern cuisine is to crush it with a little sugar and a little salt. Water then is added to solubilize it as best as possible, and that beautiful golden liquid is used in the recipe.

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My heart was beating fast when I un-molded the pan, but it worked like a charm!  That crust is simply addictive. Even though Phil was the guest of honor for obvious reasons, I put up a mild fight for the real crusty bits, after all, I slaved away at the whole menu. Carioca Cake, remember? That should give me bids on 85% of the rice crust. But because I am of magnanimous nature, I settled for 60%.

Now let’s move to the main dish…

chicken

CHICKEN BRAISED WITH APRICOTS AND PRUNES
(adapted from The Saffron Tales, pressure cooker optional)

Grapeseed oil
2 shallots, finely chopped (or 1 large onion)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
1 + 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 + 1/2 cups chicken stock (approximately)
12 dried apricots
12 prunes
good pinch of saffron
pinch of sugar and salt
2 tablespoons very hot water
lemon juice to taste (a tablespoon or so)

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan and fry the shallots over very low heat until golden brown, take your time and allow the deep flavors to develop. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt, add to the saute pan with the caramelized shallots, then add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon,  turmeric and black pepper.   Cook until the chicken is golden on all sides, then transfer to a pressure cooker. Add one cup of stock, if it almost cover the meat it will be enough, if not add another half a cup. Close the pressure cooker and once it reaches full pressure, cook for 18 minutes.  In the meantime, add boiling water to the apricots and prunes in a small bowl, and let them sit to soften slightly. At the end of 18 minutes, release the pressure running the pan under the faucet with cold water.

Grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar and salt in the pestle and mortar and then transfer to a cup and leave to steep in very hot water for 2 minutes.

When the chicken is ready, add the softened fruit, along with the lemon juice and the saffron liquid. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes with the lid off, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Adjust seasoning and serve over rice, or another side dish of your choice.

No pressure cooker? Use any heavy pan with a tight lid and cook the chicken for about 40 minutes, until very tender, then proceed with the addition of fruits and saffron liquid.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

sauteeing

Comments: Most important step of this recipe, taking your time to caramelize those shallots (or onions, if you prefer). I used the pressure cooker because I love the texture it gives to the meat, and also it speeds the preparation so much. But, you can definitely use a regular pan. This is a recipe that gets better next day, so you can make it in advance. I actually made it in the morning and we enjoyed it at dinner, when all I had to do was warm it up, and take care of the Persian rice and the green beans.  It was a delightful meal…

birthdaybw

One more Birthday celebration together!
Great food is mandatory, dressing up is optional… 

😉

a-special-persian-dinner-from-bewitching-kitchen

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ONE YEAR AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

TWO YEARS AGO: Tuscan Grilled Chicken and Sausage Skewers

THREE YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with Pork Tenderloin & Apples

FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

SIX YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: FALAFEL & A BONUS RECIPE

The Secret Recipe Club is an event that pairs two food bloggers in secret. Once we get our “assignment”, we have about 3 weeks to browse through the site, choose a recipe from it, cook and blog about it at midnight of Reveal Monday. I’ve been a member for a long time, but I still remember exactly how it felt when I joined. Those “newbie” feelings, never quite sure if your write-up, photos, chosen recipe were good enough. I got to know amazing food blogs through the SRC, and that is a bonus like no other. Long before I joined the club, I was a faithful follower of a very unique blog, called Chef in Disguise. At some point in the not too distant past, Sawsan, the hostess of that site, joined The Secret Recipe Club, and when I learned about that, my heart missed a beat, out of pure thrill. And then it missed another beat, from disappointment. Disappointment because she was not in my group. At that time there were four different groups. I was part of Group D, she was placed in Group A. Bummer. But it so happens that major changes took place, instead of four separate groups we now have three, bloggers moved around, and voilà: I found myself sitting in Group A.  But, what’s even better, today I have the greatest honor and pleasure of cooking from her site.  Those are incredibly big shoes to fill, Sawsan is an outstanding cook, photographer, and writer. But having interacted with her over many years through emails and comments I also know she is an amazing human being. Kind, generous, loving, devoted to her family, friends, profession, and culture. Through her blog, I learned so much more than cooking. Just to offer you a very small but representative example: in this post she explains Ramadan and does so in a beautiful, profound and touching way.  But that’s just one example. Sawsan’s mission is to open her kitchen and home to people all over the world. You’ll find stories of her family as she grew up, stories of her kids adventures in school or how they are all dealing with moving from Jordan to UAE.  You will also find recipes ranging from straightforward to incredibly sophisticated. There is simply nothing she won’t try and then excel at. You don’t believe me? Take a look at this cake she made for her son. Or this one for her daughter. And when she does this type of challenging projects, she makes sure that anyone can follow her steps, by writing very detailed tutorials.  These “how to” posts are amazing sources of information, a bit like having a teacher holding your hand.

As usual, I like to make a list of the recipes that I considered for this Reveal Day. From Chef in Disguise, my list was a mile long, but I will take a minimalist approach: Pão de Queijo (because I was thrilled to see her making a typical Brazilian concoction),  Date Bread Rings, Cheese and Anise Flat Bread,  Mille-feuille for home-made Napoleon, Braided Date Bread (almost made this one…), Lavender Chicken, Pavlova (always wanted to give this one a try), Kabsa (irresistible rice and meat concoction from the Arabian gulf).  But I also want to offer you four examples of tutorials that are a must-read: How to make Labneh Cheese How to make Feta Cheese…  How to make mozzarella and armenian string cheese… and another one very dear to my heart: Sourdough starter 101: how to create your sourdough starter from scratch.

So, what did I pick? For starters, Falafel. Not an easy choice, because a couple of years ago I had an epic disaster in the kitchen attempting to make them. Our dear friend Cindy had traveled all the way from Oklahoma to visit us and one of our goals was to make falafel together. Things seemed to be going well, but when we got to the part of frying them, they disintegrated in the oil, every single one of them!  It was a royal mess, we had to resort to a plan B for our dinner. I confess that when I have this type of problem with a recipe, I usually avoid attempting it again for a while (in Sally’s speak: for a while = forever).  But Sawsan’s post was my chance to do it right.  I was quite nervous about it, but here I am to report back: HUGE SUCCESS!  A personal culinary demon has been exorcised for good!

(Just when I finished editing and scheduling this post, Sawsan published a new article.
I won’t say a word about it. Because once again, she’s said it all).

served-3

 

FALAFEL
(slightly adapted from Sawsan’s Chef in Disguise)

This recipe makes 35 falafel patties

500 g soaked chickpeas (measured after soaking)
125 g soaked peeled fava beans (measured after soaking)
½ cup parsley leaves (remove stems)
½ cup cilantro leaves (remove stems)
1 medium shallot
¾ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon all spice
½ teaspoon black pepper

to add 10 minutes before cooking
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda

for the tahini sauce:
2 Tablespoons of yogurt
1 tablespoon Tahini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
a dash of salt

Prepare the Falafel Mix: Soak the fava beans and the chickpeas in water in separate containers overnight. The following day drain the fava beans and the chickpeas, rinse them with fresh water. You should weigh them after soaking, and place the required amount in the bowl of a food processor. Process the grains together until smooth, remove from the processor and add the shallot, parsley, cilantro, salt, peppers, and spices to the empty processor. Process until a paste forms, add the grains back and process everything together until very smooth.  Scrape the sides of the bowl a couple of times so that  you’ll end up without large chunks of grains.  You can freeze the mixture at this point or place it in the fridge for a few days.

Ten minutes before frying, sprinkle baking soda and baking powder on the falafel mix, knead and let rest.

When ready heat 1 inch deep of cooking oil in the frying pan on medium heat. Scoop the falafel by using a specialized Falafel scoop, an ice cream scoop, or by using 2 spoons whereby you scoop the falafel paste in one, and press the other spoon against it to compact it into an oval shape. You can also use your hands to roll the falafel into balls. Drop the falafel gently into the frying pan. no more than 4-5 because if you add too many the oil will cool down and the falafel will fall apart Fry for a few minutes until the falafel turns brownish, flipping it once to brown both sides.  Take the falafel out and place it on a paper towel to get rid of excess oil.

Make the sauce: mix the Tahini sauce ingredients in a small bowl until you get the right texture, you can add a bit more water or lemon juice if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve as a dip or spoon some over the falafel on your plate.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe click here 

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Comments: To make this wonderful recipe, you’ll need two special items. First dried, peeled fava beans (although you could use all garbanzo beans if you cannot find fava). I will add a little note here. Sawsan once offered to send me a bag of dried favas straight from Jordan, so that I could have the best possible product to make falafel from scratch!  Can you imagine? I told you she is very kind… So, for this recipe I searched for the very best product I could find through amazon.com as far as reviews from customers go.  The second item, which is not mandatory, is a falafel maker. You can see what it looks like in the photo below  I advise you to buy a large one, because some available are way too small. The one I got is this model. It is described as extra-large. Trust me, you don’t want anything smaller. Of course, you can make falafel shaped with spoons or your hands, but I wanted to make sure I did a good job. Remember, it’s Sawsan’s blog I am talking about…

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I made the falafel mixture two days before actually frying them.  Kept the bowl in the fridge, then kneaded the baking powder and baking soda right before cooking them, as instructed by Sawsan. To my amazement, not a single one dissolved in the oil, and the taste… out of this world delicious! I used a heavy hand with the herbs, so mine turned out a bit more green than Sawsan’s.

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These tender, flavorful little morsels were perfect served with the tahini sauce…

Falafel, from Beiwtching Kitchen


BONUS RECIPE

And now that we got the Falafel talked about, I must share with you a bonus recipe. In part, I made it because I wanted to have a backup post in case the falafel turned into oily crumbs. But I am so glad I picked this salad, because it was one of the best things I cooked so far this year.  Grilled peaches ROCK!

Grilled Peach Salad with Lavender Dressing

GRILLED PEACH FETA SALAD WITH LAVENDER DRESSING
(slightly modified from Sawsan’s Chef in Disguise)

for the salad:
3 cups greens (I used a spring mix)
3 tablespoons of feta crumbled, or to taste
2 peaches cut into segments

for the lavender dressing:
4 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard
½ teaspoon dried lavender flowers
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)

Make the dressing: In a bowl add the lemon juice, salt, mustard ,lavender, and balsamic vinegar and whisk Slowly drizzle the olive oil while you continue whisking until you have added the entire amount.

Prepare the salad: On the grill or in a pan on the stove top, lightly grill the peach segments. In your serving plate, arrange the greens, topped with the grilled peach segments. Crumble the feta cheese on top.

Drizzle the dressing on the salad right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: What a wonderful salad this was!  I made the dressing one hour before dinner, because I wanted to make sure the lavender taste would sip through the dressing, and I think that was a good move… I coated the grill pan very lightly with a coconut oil spray, and the peaches were done in a couple of minutes, beautiful marks all around. I allowed the slices to come to room temperature before assembling the salad. A winner, all the way!  I am definitely incorporating grilled peaches in our diet, and might even be daring and grill some fresh apricots next time, use a mixture of the two fruits…


Grilled Peach Salad, from Bewitching Kitchen

Sawsan, I cannot tell you how happy I was to get your blog to cook from! Having been a reader for so long, your place feels like home in the blogosphere…  I hope you also enjoyed your assignment this month!  Happy Reveal Day!

I invite my readers to click on the blue frog. She will take you to the collection of recipes my virtual friends prepared this month. And of course, I wish everyone in the USA a Happy 4th of July!

 

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2015

TWO YEARS AGO: Sous-vide Pork Chops with Roasted Poblano Butter

THREE YEARS AGO: Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet

FOUR YEARS AGO: Amazing Ribs for the 4th of July!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Baby Back Ribs on the 4th of July

SIX YEARS AGO: Blueberry Muffins

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Pie for your 4th of July

QUINOA SALAD WITH RED GRAPES AND AVOCADO

This salad was based on a recipe by Katie Lee featured on the FoodTV show The Kitchen. It was originally made with green grapes, avocados, cucumbers, and a lime dressing. Obviously,  the idea was to have a sort of monochromatic green salad with bright and sharp flavors.  I changed things around by using red grapes instead. Red grapes are quite a bit sweeter, and added a contrast of color I found particularly pleasing. But, let me tell you, no matter what you decide to add to your quinoa salad, please try the cooking method I describe after the recipe.  It is nothing short of life-changing.  Yeah, you read me correctly. Life-changing. For better.

Quinoa SaladQUINOA SALAD WITH RED GRAPES AND AVOCADO 
(adapted from Food TV Network)

(as written, it makes a lot of salad, I more or less halved this recipe, eyeballing most ingredients. I kept the amount of dressing unchanged)

Zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
4 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
2 cups green grapes, halved
1 1/2 cups diced cucumbers
fresh parsley, roughly chopped (or fresh cilantro)
1 avocado, diced

In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest, lime juice and olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Toss the quinoa, grapes, cucumbers, parsley, and avocados together with the dressing. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Now, take a moment to look at the beauty of this  perfectly cooked quinoa.

cooked Quinoa
It is really too bad you cannot taste it through the screen, because the texture turned out sublime. The secret? Cooking the seeds in less water than most recipes recommend, and simmering them for only 6 minutes.  I cannot take credit for it, so here is the link to Elaine’s blog, where I found it.

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And here is what I did…

For each cup of quinoa, add 1 + 1/3 cup lightly salted water

Bring to a boil in a saucepan…

Reduce heat, simmer for exactly 6 minutes. That is 360 seconds. Do not open the pan. DO NOT. (I will slap your hand if you try to open it… )

Turn the heat off.  Wait 20 minutes with the pan covered. DO NOT PEEK. DO NOT.

Open the pan (finally!), be mesmerized, amazed, awed by the beauty of the perfectly cooked quinoa, fluff the seeds gently with a fork and use them in any preparation you like.

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For the salad, I simply allowed the cooked quinoa to cool to room temperature, and added all the ingredients plus the simple dressing. The salad keeps well in the fridge for several days and is a great option for a light lunch, if you so desire. Another tip I’d like to share with you: make sure the avocado has a firm texture and only add the pieces when you are about to serve the quinoa.  I did not care for the mushy texture of overly ripe avocados I used the first time I made this dish.  On my second time around, I also added sliced celery.  Turned out delicious, very refreshing. But, you know by now how much we love our celery…

Elaine, thanks so much for sharing your method for perfectly cooked quinoa!  
I won’t be cooking it any other way from now on…  
My life is changed. For better.

🙂

ONE YEAR AGO: Strawberry Coffee Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

THREE YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Brownies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Tacos

FIVE YEARS AGOCinnamon Turban Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: GREEN RICE

THREE YEARS AS A MEMBER OF THE SECRET RECIPE CLUB!

Last Monday of the month. You probably expect me to whine about the cold, but guess what?  As you read this post, I should  be far, far away in Brazil, enjoying balmy temperatures, wearing shorts, t-shirts, and recharging my batteries to face the frigid months ahead.  But the last Monday means fun, because it’s Reveal Day for The Secret Recipe Club! I was paired with the blog “A Day in the Life on the Farm“, hosted by Wendy. Her story is fascinating: she and her husband were police officers in a large city (which of course meant a ton of trouble in their hands…), but when they retired they moved to a tiny little town of 4,000 people, and bought a house on 12 acres of land.  They raise meat chickens, turkeys, and pigs, and Wendy – to fight her empty nest syndrome  –  decided to host foreign students in their place.  Now she works part-time for the World Heritage, placing students into homes for a year of schooling here in the US.  Being in academia and therefore often exposed to the troubles that foreign students face (plus, I was one myself), I know how important this type of work can be.  Please, stop by her about page and read more about their life on the farm, and how on top of everything she also takes care of her Mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She actually devotes a section in her blog to talk about it, under Life with Mom. Beautiful, touching, and at times funny.

We had so much going on this past month, that I needed to jump on my assignment right away.  The recipe I set my eyes on was a drool-inducing dessert, a Caramelized Almond Apple Upside Down Cake. But, I decided against it.  Why? With Thanksgiving saying hello, then the holidays, a lot of heavy food will be popping everywhere.  I did not want to start early with the excesses, so this cake shall wait. Sorry, folks, but better safe than sorry.  Then, I almost went with her cute Pretzel Dogs. Finally it was a tough decision between Zucchini Enchiladas, or Green Rice.  As you can see, I went green.  Green is good for you, and this was one of the most flavorful rice dishes I’ve made.

Green Rice

GREEN RICE
(very slightly modified from A Day in the Life on the Farm)

2 poblano chile peppers
1 green pepper (I used half a Serrano)
1 cup long grain rice
1 large bunch of cilantro
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley
2 cups chicken stock
1/2  teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil (I used grapeseed)
1 small shallot, minced
Dry roast the peppers in a griddle pan (or on a grill), turning frequently so the skins blacken but the flesh doesn’t burn.  Place in a strong plastic bag, seal and set aside for 20 minutes
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Put the rice in a heat proof bowl, pour in boiling water to cover and let stand 20 minutes.
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Drain the rice, rinse well under cold water and drain again.  Remove the peppers from the bag and peel off the skins.  Remove any stems, then slit the peppers and scrape out seeds with a sharp knife.
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Put the peppers in a food processor, strip the leaves from the cilantro and parsley and add to peppers.  Pour in half the chicken stock and process until smooth.  Add remaining stock and puree again.
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Heat oil in a saucepan, add the rice and minced shallot and fry for 5 minutes over med heat until the rice is golden and the shallot is translucent.  Add the salt, stir in the green puree, lower heat, cover and cook for 25-30 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed  and the rice is just tender. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
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ENJOY!
to print the recipe, click here
 
Comments:  Lately I’ve been quite smitten with poblano peppers.  Very little heat, but so much flavor! Our stove did a great job charring them, I don’t think I was ever able to get such a beautiful blackened skin with almost no effort.   Using a paper towel to remove the charred skin was also a great move, a tip I got from watching Marcela Valladolid in her show Mexican Made Easy.  I never liked the idea of rinsing the peppers because there’s quite a bit of flavor loss if you do that.  The paper towels removed just the skin and I could leave little bits here and there for an extra smoky flavor.   Aren’t they cute?

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Adding boiling water to the rice and waiting for 20 minutes was also something I had never done, and I liked the texture of the finished product.  If you are a cilantro-hater, this rice is not for you, its flavor is obviously very prominent.  You could substitute spinach.

GreenRiceServed
This was a delicious dinner!  Green rice, simple roasted carrots, and for our protein a few slices of center-cut pork chops, cooked sous-vide, and finished off on the grill.   Life is good!

Wendy, I hope you had a great time this month with your assignment!  It was wonderful to browse through your site, I read all your posts about your Mom, and am still in awe of your ability to do so much Everyday in your Life on the Farm… 

For my readers: if you want to see what my fellow Secret Friends cooked up this month, give a little click on the blue frog at the end of this post.   Normally Groups C and D would take a break in the month of December, but apparently me and Dorothy from Shockingly Delicious whined so much about withdrawal syndrome, that The Secret Recipe Club will have a little surprise reserved for both groups.  It will be awesome, so stay tuned!

ONE YEAR AGO: Potato-Crusted Italian Mini-Quiches

TWO YEARS AGO: Beetroot Sourdough for the Holidays

THREE YEARS AGO: Cod Filet with Mustard Tarragon Crust

FOUR YEARS AGO: Soba Noodles: Light and Healthy

FIVE YEARS AGO: Potato-Rosemary Bread

MILLET COUSCOUS WITH ROASTED CARROTS

Saw this recipe in Bon Appetit.  Made it that same evening for dinner. Lightning speed. Not that usual for me, but I had all the ingredients and was also anxious to cook millet for the first time. One of our grocery stores carries a very nice assortment of grains, seeds & flours in bulk. It is quite convenient when I feel like baking a special bread but do not want to carry home 1kg of oat flour or some other exotic being.  Millet was one of the goodies I brought home from a recent visit.   This recipe, a perfect way to welcome it in our kitchen.

MilletCouscous3

 

MILLET COUSCOUS WITH ROASTED CARROTS
(from Bon Appetit)

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided (I used a bit less)
1 cup millet
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 + ¼ cups chicken broth
6 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1” pieces
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
¼ cup roasted almonds, chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems (I omitted, did not have any around)

Heat oven to 400°. Toss carrots with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add millet and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until millet is tender, 25–35 minutes (it took me closer to 35 minutes).

Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil (I used about 1 teaspoon instead) in a small skillet over low heat; cook almonds and cayenne, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Serve millet topped with carrots, cilantro, and almond mixture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

comosite
When I told Phil we were not having “real couscous”, he was a bit surprised. It looks almost exactly the same as semolina couscous. It takes longer to cook, though, and has a firmer texture. The flavor is slightly more “nutty”, but still quite mild.  I imagine most people will love it, there’s really nothing not to like about it. Plus, like your regular couscous, it will absorb the flavors of everything else you cook with it. Use  a flavorful chicken or veggie stock if you have it around.  The roasted carrots and sautéed almonds turn it into almost a complete meal.  Of course, we enjoyed it with a nice roast chicken, just because… Full disclosure: the roast chicken was prepared at the grocery store.  And I am not even slightly ashamed to admit it.

On a slight tangent,  a couple of years ago I read a pretty good article written by one of the popular celebrity chefs, I don’t remember who it was,  it was not Thomas Keller, but some other star almost as bright.  Anyway, he went on and on about never buying a roast chicken from a rotisserie. That he could have a much better dinner by buying the chicken (organic, of course), sticking it in the oven with just a sprinkle of salt, pepper, a lemon or two quickly placed inside the bird.  I am all for cooking from scratch, but I must say a chicken ready for me on my way home from work is very handy. It makes life so much easier! I don’t have to deal with the raw chicken, I don’t have to wait for my oven to warm up to temperature (it does take a while with our potent Supernova), and I can concentrate on making a quick and easy side dish such as couscous, or from now on, millet…   So, yes, 8 times out of 10, I reach for a rotisserie chicken.  And 6 times out of 10, I resort to cheese pre-shredded, from a bag.

Confession: good for the food blogger 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Mozarella-Stuffed Turkey Burger

TWO YEARS AGO: Happy Halloween!

THREE YEARS AGO: Clay Pot Roast Pork

FOUR YEARS AGO: Panmarino

FIVE YEARS AGO:  A Classic Roast Chicken

 

 

 

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: QUINOA FRIED RICE

Did you miss my Bewitching party? Click here to enter the giveaway… 

The month of June brought with it a ton of activities. School is out, so a lot more work in the lab, my blog turned 5 years old, and the World Cup of Indescribable Ordeal is on.  I used to root for one country only, but now two teams make me shout expletives at referees and goal keepers, as well as scream instructions to the players, fuming like a mad woman because they simply  do not listen. But, let’s leave soccer behind and concentrate on things that don’t have the potential to induce a fatal coronary.  Like Reveal Day of  The Secret Recipe Club, always a pleasure, always something I look forward to. This month I got one of the most entertaining food blogs ever!  Starting with its name, 84th and 3rd. Here’s what JJ, an American living in Sydney has to say about it:

84th & 3rd is an ordinary corner, not particularly remarkable, in the most remarkable city in the world. But it was only meters from that corner that a seed was planted, a dream of doing something that she loves and being able to share it with others. 84thand3rd.com is that something.

She divulges just enough to perk my curiosity, and make me want to be there right now. In fact, Australia is one place I long to visit, and hope that one day our adventures will take us there. When I got my assignment, I thought about taking a quick look at the site, but instead I literally had to drag myself away from the computer, because I could not stop reading. Just to give you a small taste of her writing style, here’s a paragraph from one of her posts, in which she talks about her partner…

.… When I met RJ he used to eat at least 4 slices of white bread a day. Not necessarily as part of a meal mind you, but just because. Toast for breakfast, toast before dinner [no matter what or when dinner was], bread with dinner. Sliced, white, from a plastic bag, every time. It appalled me just a bit – as did putting ketchup/tomato sauce on beef stew but we’ll save that one for later… *waves at RJ* hi mate, yes, I’m talking about you again –

 Isn’t she a hoot?  She also describes herself as someone who “Practices yoga to stay calm[ish], runs to stay sane[ish], and does both to eat cake”… I must say I detect some similarities here, although I would substitute bread for cake.  😉 So, after spending a lot of time amusing myself with her stories and recipes, I assembled a list of possibilities for this month’s assignment.  Here they are:  Mushroom-quinoa meatballs with Rustic Pasta Sauce, Strawberry Cucumber Coconut-water Slushy,  Rocket Parsley Pepita Pesto,  Spiced Pear & Red Wine Chocolate Cake, Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde, and this chocolate tarte that I swear I am making before the month of July is over. Yeah, public commitment, you guys and girls better be ready for it… But now it’s time to reveal the recipe that crossed the finish line of this month’s culinary marathon…

Quinoa Fried Rice
QUINOA FRIED RICE
(slightly modified from 84th & 3rd)

2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled (I used red quinoa)
a little olive oil
4 slices ginger, sliced into thin strips
1 small Serrano chili, finely diced
1 bunch of cilantro leaves, minced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
large handful green beans, cut into small lengths
2 medium zucchini, diced
3 scallions ,white and light green part only, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

Add a small splash of olive oil to the hot pan. Fry ginger and garlic for 30 sec stirring constantly, add chili and cilantro and fry for a further 30 sec.

Add bell pepper and beans, toss or stir for a couple of minutes. Add zucchini and green onions and toss for a couple of minutes more.

Push veggies to edges to make a hole in the center. Drizzle in 2 tsp sesame oil, wait for it to heat up and dump in quinoa. Stir in center of pan for 30 seconds then toss with veggies to mix everything together.

Drizzle in tamari and toss to combine. Serve with extra scallions, and cilantro.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Ingredients
Comments: This was absolutely delicious!  As you can read on her original post, this is the type of recipe you can use to clean up your fridge of all those veggies that wave at you when you open it, begging for attention. It is also a perfect use for leftover quinoa, although I cooked some earlier in the day just to have this side dish as our dinner. Asparagus would work great, but really any veggie could work, even chunks of roasted butternut squash, or eggplant.   Just keep the soy, the sesame oil at the end, and don’t leave out the fresh ginger.

Zucchini-side
I close this post with another excerpt from JJ, which expresses exactly how I feel about blogging.

“Blogging is an interesting beast. It is a person sitting in front of a computer expressing things in pictures and words, terribly solitary from the outside peering in… or so you’d think. But when you look a bit closer you realise that many of those people sitting at their computers have formed little communities. Sometimes online, sometimes in person, generally with people they never would have met otherwise, and it really doesn’t matter how the community works or where it came from but simply that it is there.”
(JJ, from 84th & 3rd)

That’s it, folks.  Could not have said it better!  JJ, it was great to receive your blog as my assignment this  month, I will be following you from now on, looking forward to your adventures! As usual, if you want to check what my fellow secret bloggers cooked up this month, poke the frog below. She is cute and loves attention…

ONE YEAR AGO: Carrot Flan with Greens and Lemon Vinaigrette
TWO YEARS AGO: The Secret Recipe Club: Granola Bars
THREE YEARS AGO:  Awesome Broccolini
FOUR YEARS AGO:  A Twist on Pesto
FIVE YEARS AGO: Ciabatta: Judging a bread by its holes

ALMONDS, A COOKBOOK REVIEW

New Year Resolutions are so much fun to break!  I was doing reasonably well on the “no more cookbooks” scenario, but then I read a post on Taste Food that changed all that.  Lynda announced that her recipes would be featured in a soon-to-be-released cookbook, a collaborative effort with Barbara Bryant & Betsy Fentress.  I did not even blink: pre-ordered it right away at amazon.com.  A full cookbook devoted to almonds, with recipes from one of my favorite food bloggers!  That should not (and will not) count as breaking a decision. I had no choice. It was meant to be.

The book is called “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture“, and you can get it with a simple click here. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with amazon.com, will receive no compensation whatsoever if you get the book. I just happen to think it is a wonderful publication that my readers will certainly enjoy as much as I did.

513TibFiWyL

Almonds are a favorite ingredient of mine.  Interestingly enough, Lynda opened my horizons to almond butter a year or so ago, when she published a post on cookies using it. I made those cookies, and  have been a huge fond of almond butter ever since.  Clearly, you will all agree that her cookbook had to be in my kitchen. It was meant to be.  Have I said that already?  Hummmm…..   Without further delay, I share with you the first recipe I made from Lynda’s book.

FarroRisotto1

FARRO RISOTTO WITH ALMONDS, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND BALSAMIC-GLAZED RADICCHIO
(from Almonds, reprinted with permission)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cups (45g) minced shallots
8 ounces (225g) shiitake mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 + 1/2 cups (300g) farro
1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
1 + 1/2 cups (375 mL) chicken stock
1 small radicchio, cored and sliced
1/4 cup (60 mL) balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup (60g) raw almonds, roasted, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (60g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Saute until the mushrooms begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme. Continue to cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, about 2 minutes more. Add the farro and stir to coat. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Add the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

While the farro is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the radicchio and saute for 1 minute. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring, until vinegar has thickened and coats the radicchio, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

When the farro is tender, stir in the radicchio, half of the almonds, half of the cheese, and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Place the farro in a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining almonds and the remaining cheese.  Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 

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Comments:  It took me quite some time to decide which recipe to feature, but I am glad I chose this one, even though I knew it would be tricky to get a good picture. It’s the karma of brown food, so unkind to the camera.  The flavors in this whole-grain risotto are simply spectacular, each component playing an important role, like musical instruments in an orchestra. The grains of farro will have just a little bite left, so the almonds, added in chunks, give this risotto a delightful crunch.  But, in my opinion, the addition of radicchio glazed with balsamic is the touch of genius!  I used a syrupy white balsamic, but I am sure any regular balsamic vinegar will be great too.  Radicchio can be bitter, in this preparation it mellows down and plays nicely with the almonds and the farro. Simply put: a perfect dish, hearty enough to stand by itself as a main dish, but by now you are probably not going to be surprised that we added a little bit of animal protein to our plates.   Sorry, Lynda, I hope you won’t mind…

FarroRisottoServed

 

Let’s take a virtual tour of this beautiful cookbook, shall we? 

The book opens up with an introduction about almonds, in which you will learn a lot about this exotic, versatile fruit, which is in fact not a true fruit, but a drupe.  From its origins in the Middle East, to the way it is farmed today, and its absolute requirement of bees for pollination. Did you know that to make sure the almond trees will bear fruit, farmers in California often have to order special shipments of bees, that travel by trucks sometimes all the way from Texas?  I had no idea. I often skip introductory chapters in cookbooks because I find them for the most part quite boring. For instance, cookbooks that start with “equipment needed”, “ingredients”, or “useful gadgets” just make me roll my eyes to the ceiling and skip those pages without feeling guilty. Not the case in this book. I savored each paragraph and could not put the book down.  The photos in the introduction are spectacular, and that quality is maintained throughout the whole book, almost every single recipe has a photo that goes along with it.  Very few exceptions.

IntroPhoto

And now, onto the recipes.  The book is divided in courses, and I will list the recipes that tempted me the most in which chapter.

Starters & Snacks : Salted and Spiced Green Almonds: this one made me dream, because I probably will never be able to get green almonds. They are available only for a very short time, and I am sure Californians won’t allow them to move too far from their trees…   Burnt Sugar Almonds…  Green Olive and Almond Tapenade: quite a change from the regular black olive concoction… White Gaspacho with Green Grapes and Almonds,  described as light and refreshing, perfect for Summer days. The photo alone made me swoon…  Almond Chai with Dates and Honey... In this page, a reproduction of one of my favorite paintings of Van Gogh, Almond Brunches in Bloom.  A touch of class. In fact, the book is full of reproductions of artwork relevant to the subject.  Humans have been in love with almonds for a very long time, a love absolutely justified.  😉

Salads & Vegetables : I wanted to make every single recipe of this chapter, but just to list a few, here we go: Asian Citrus and Almond SlawProvencal Tuna Salad with Almonds, Olives and Capers in Lettuce Cups…  Winter Kale and Quinoa Salad with Carrots and Raisins (amazing colors!)…  Zucchini Carpaccio with Toasted Almonds.

Soba

Pasta & Grains :   Soba Noodles with Spicy Almond Butter Sauce, depicted in the photo above…  I have a very soft spot for soba noodles, so this was a heavy contender for featured recipe in this post.  But there is also Toasted Pearl Couscous with Almonds and Harrissa (I know this one will be a total winner!), Almond and Saffron Rice Pilaf (a classic),  Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas, Pomegranate Seeds, and AlmondsBuccatini with Pesto Trepanese...

Land & Sea : One of my favorite sections of the book. Just to list a few recipes, she starts with Almond-Crusted Pork Chops with Sweet-and Sour Apricot Glaze (need I say more?), follows with Pulled Pork with Red Mole (I almost made this one for this review)… Wine-Braised Chicken with Saffron and Almonds… Mughlai Chicken Biryani… Lamb Tagine with Apricots, Almonds and HoneyRoasted Sea Bass with Orange, Olive, and Almond Gremolata…  Almond and Lemon Crusted Salmon…

Baked Goods & Desserts : Almond Flour Bread opens this chapter. I love using almond flour, so you can bet I’ll be making this bread in the near future,  the photo shows a soft crumb, with a dark crust, perfect toasting bread.  I can imagine the taste… Almond and Cinnamon Kringle... Salted Almond Butter Cookies with Chocolate ChunksAlmond Florentines (I’ve always wanted to try to make these… Pear and Almond Frangipane Tarte (the tarte in the photo is a culinary masterpiece!)… Lemon Semolina and Almond Cake with Olive Oil and Honey...  Almond-Fig Tea CakesAlmond Granita with Raspberries…

If you are a regular visitor of Lynda’s blog, Taste Food, you’ll know what to expect from this cookbook. If you are not, I hope you add her blog to your list of tasty places to visit in the blogosphere. I’ve made several recipes (and blogged on a few) from her site, and have many on my list to prepare at some point in the future. Her site is elegant, straightforward, a real pleasure to visit.

Lynda, thank you for giving me permission to publish this delicious farro recipe, I wish you, Barbara and Betsy a ton of success with this cookbook!

 

ONE  YEAR AGO: Pomegranate-Molasses Glazed Carrots

TWO YEARS AGO: Codruta’s Rolled Oat Sourdough Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: Roasted Corn and Tomato Risotto

FOUR YEARS AGO: Light Rye Bread