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Archive for January, 2009

Cooking is an experience that I savor daily, no matter how busy I constantly seem to be.  It is one of the few times each day that I am actually living in the moment.  Instead of worrying, running through an endless task list, etc., I am simply thinking about what I am doing.  Actually, I am also greatly anticipating the meal that I will soon be eating, so I suppose I’m not totally in the moment… Cooking, EATING, preparing a meal for someone – this is truly a pleasure to me.  Pairing simple, whole ingredients together to make something gloriously delicious not only sustains my body, but it also sustains me in a holistic way that I can’t completely describe.  It just feels good.   

There is something very special about soup.  Why is cooking a giant pot of soup so satisfying?  Maybe for me it is because of the memories I have attached to the first bubbling batch of soup that I cooked soon after I got married.  The first cold weekend in Atlanta spurred a craving for minestrone.  After much slicing, dicing and patience, I tasted what would become my most favorite soup.  Ever since then, the first minestrone of the season has been a celebratory occasion.  It always takes me back to that lovely, chilly weekend.  Or perhaps it is because any good soup requires a very intentional process of pairing fresh and honest ingredients together to make something complex and lovely, yet simple in its ability to warm and comfort.  Ingredients that on their own are simple, overlooked even (um, celery), come together to make something fabulous.  A good soup takes a little bit of time; not only in the prep work, but also as you slowly add the various layers of flavor, as it simmers and comes together.  Soup is the ultimate slow food.  My need for instant gratification has me waiting anxiously until it is ready to be enjoyed; the anticipation and my impatience only adding to the gratification of that first, steaming bite.  Another point in favor of soup is that you usually have enough to enjoy it again later, discovering that it continues to improve in flavor as it waits for you in the fridge.  Warm it on the stove and your home is once again filled with the delicious fragrance of your efforts. 

This particular minestrone takes a little bit of time and effort, but I promise that it is worth it.  This recipe is the result of many additions, subtractions, and variations, and is the one I like best.  Prepare it exactly as written or make it your own, but please be sure and take time to enjoy the process – it is tremendously rewarding.  If you’re like me and you love on others with food, then consider this soup an extra portion of affection.  I lavish love on my husband by cooking a meal (or two, or three) for him everyday.  He almost always accepts my efforts and intentions with a passionate (albeit repetitive!) exclamation of, “this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth!”  That alone will send me back to the kitchen, joyously, time and time again…       

minestrone

  • a generous glug of olive oil (maybe 2 tbsp)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled or scrubbed well, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4-5 oz thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large head of escarole (substitute chard if you can’t find), rinsed or soaked VERY well
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 can of cannelinni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans of low sodium beef broth
  • a chunk of a parmesan cheese rind (don’t leave this out!  this flavor is what makes this soup)
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. heat the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat and add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, pancetta, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté about 10 minutes until onions are translucent and veggies are just beginning to brown lightly
  2. add escarole and potato and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine and allow escarole to wilt
  3. add the can of tomatoes and the rosemary, and cook for about 10 more minutes, allowing tomatoes to break down some and release their juices
  4. meanwhile, blend about 3/4 cup of cannellini beans, tomato paste, and about 1/4 cup of beef broth in a blender or food processor
  5. add the puréed bean mixture, remaining broth and cheese rind to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes
  6. stir in the rest of the beans and cook about 2 minutes more
  7. serve with freshly grated parmesan and toasty, crusty garlic bread

garlic bread

  • 1 French or Italian baguette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  1. slice your bread and place under a broiler (watch it closely! it can burn in a matter of seconds) or in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
  2. remove bread from the oven, and rub each piece generously with the garlic clove
  3. drizzle with olive oil, and season with freshly ground sea salt and pepper

 

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tashreeb2I am passionately in love with Middle Eastern cuisine.  I crave it, think about it, dream about it.  I search for it in every new city that we travel to.  While some may be dreaming of a vacation, a new house, worrying over the economy, I am deeply pondering the best ingredient combinations for fatoush (a fantastic salad served throughout the Middle East).

My love affair with Middle Eastern food intensified after a long, miserable visit to Lynchburg, Virginia (of all places…).  My husband and I went to VA, planning to stay one week for my father in law’s bypass surgery.  One week turned into three as he clung to life by a thread in the ICU.  Diana is a gorgeous Lebanese student who lived in my in law’s basement.  With a graduate degree in counseling and an expertise in cooking Lebanese dishes, she rescued us with compassion and heaping plates of sumptuous food.  She is a saint or an angel, and I love her.  We eat at least one of the dishes that she prepared for us once a week in our home.

Shortly thereafter, we went to Greece and Israel.  Oh, how I ate and ate and ate and ate!  At one particular restaurant, the waiters asked for my permission (we are sitting at tables of 12) to take the empty dishes away.  They spied me literally bringing a bowl to my lips and drinking the salad dressing.  This incited quite a bit of snickering amongst the wait staff, as well as looks of horror from my husband who was whispering, “I think you’ve gone a bit crazy.  You’re in a frenzy.”  What can I say?  We had a table covered in the creamiest hummus I have ever eaten, fresh and perfect baba ganoush, bowls of fatoush, flat bread straight from the oven, soft grape leaves delicately wrapping little dollops of spiced meat and rice… the list goes on and I digress.  However, if you ever travel to Israel (and I hope that you do) you must dine at Shalizar in the city of Jerusalem.  You will have one of the best meals of your life, dining under ancient stone vaulted ceilings with a view of a courtyard overflowing with citrus trees and trailing geraniums.  Unfortunately, so many travel tours take you to places that serve what they think you want to eat; usually poor interpretations of bland American dishes.  If I ever take a group to Israel, we will NOT be eating chicken and French fries.  Shalizar will be the first stop (after a stop at the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem).

I also love Middle Eastern food because it makes me feel connected with something very ancient.  So many of these  foods have ties that go back to Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations of the region, with traditions and recipes passed orally through generation after generation.  If you do a little research, you can discover when certain spices entered the mix as trade opened up with neighboring villages, cities, and later other countries.  Typically, this cuisine is prepared with a multitude of spices, which in and of itself feels inherently exotic.  Add to that the fact that a generous serving of garlic and lemon juice accompany most everything that’s served, and you have a truly sexy dish.  The ancient history of the Middle East is certainly marred with oppression, but freedom of expression has not always been so limited.  Today the climate of that region is currently under the veil (literally for women) of self-denial, legalism and prohibition of pleasure and expression; however, the food and flavors of the Middle East remain vibrant, forward, and fragrantly exotic.  You must try it.  You MUST.  I love the fact that food is still telling the story of a continent of people who can claim some of the most ancient written history and global cultural influence.

There are many resources for the purchase of spices and the procurement of recipes that I plan to post at some point in the future.  However, today I will simply recommend that you do not buy these spices at your regular grocery store.  If you live in Georgia, make a trip to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market (definitely expect more on this later) where you will pay an average of fifty cents for several ounces of spice.  Absolutely incredible.  If you don’t have access to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, look up any other international market in your city and go there – it is almost guaranteed that you will pay a fraction of what you would at a major grocery store chain.

My friend Becky let me borrow one of her Saveur magazines, where I discovered this delicious recipe.  Thank you, Becky.  The author of the article spent some time with a group of young Iraqi men who had escaped the violence and religious mandates of radical Muslims in Iraq.  They are currently refugees in Lebanon with dreams to settle in Texas.  Go figure.  You never know the story behind the people that you pass in your day to day life.  They may have lived a life of adventure and heartbreak, settling for something far different from their childhood dreams, expertly preparing Tashreeb Dijaaj in some town in Texas.  🙂

The author of the article is apparently publishing a book entitled, “Day of Honey,” a memoir about food and war in the Middle East.  I can’t wait to read it.

tashreeb dijaaj (spiced chicken and chickpea stew) – serves 4 or 2 for several meals

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 small onions, quartered
  • 4 medium waxy style potatoes, peeled and quartered (I used red bliss potatoes – russet will not stand up to cooking)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp spice mixture (see below for recipe)
  • heaping 1/2 tbsp of turmeric
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 skinless chicken legs (about 1 lb – you could also use bone in chicken breast)
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb)
  • 1 19 oz can of chickpeas (dried may be substituted if properly soaked beforehand – rinse canned chickpeas to get rid of excess sodium)
  • 4 pieces of khubuz al-tannour (Iraqi flat bread), naan, or pita (rice could be substituted for all of these, but not preferable – all of these bread types can be found at DeKalb Farmer’s Market or Leon International Bakery in Atlanta)
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 tbsp dried sumac
  1. Heat oil in a 6 quart or larger pot over medium high heat, and add onions, garlic, potatoes, bay leaves, spice mixture, turmeric and salt.
  2. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the onions and potatoes are golden, about 10 minutes
  3. Add the chicken and three and a half cups of water, stirring to combine
  4. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked throughout
  5. Add chickpeas and cook five minutes more, seasoning with salt to taste
  6. Line four bowls with bread and ladle the stew over the bread; finish with a generous squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sumac
  7. Sing Hallelujah and take some tums if you aren’t used to this much spice

spice mixture

  • 1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 white or green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole allspice berries
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 chile de arbol (substitute cayenne pepper if you can’t find this)
  • 3/4 dried rose petals (optional – I didn’t use this my first time around)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  1. In a dry skillet, toast peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cardamom, allspice and cloves over medium low heat until fragrant (3 to 4 minutes)
  2. Let cool, then grind to a powder in a spice grinder with chile and rose petals
  3. transfer spices to a bowl and stir in nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric

NOTE – you could substitute all “whole” spices with “ground” spices – still toast ground spices in a dry pan

 

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This is one of the best ways that you will EVER eat fish.  This is Giada’s recipe with some of my own modifications, and it is originally supposed to go with swordfish or white fish, but I put it on salmon all the time.  I make a batch of the pesto and then divide a few other portions into bags and freeze them for future dinners.  We have a great grill pan that goes over two burners; I put the fish on one end and some asparagus or squash and zuchinni on the other.  So easy and SO, so good.  If you don’t have a grill pan, obviously just use a regular sautee pan for the fish and roast the asparagus.  If I can use a meyer lemon and a tangerine in place of a regular lemon and orange, I always do; it really makes all the difference.

Fish with Citrus Pesto

  • one bunch of fresh, washed basil (about three cups torn – if you have less, no big deal)
  • 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts (I just dry toast in a little pan on the stove, over medium, until warm and fragrant)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 orange or tangerine, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • some freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan (ONLY use freshly grated, as in you just grated it off of a block of cheese!)
  • a few boneless, skinless fish fillets
  1. add the basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, salt and pepper to a food processor or blender, and pulse or blend until well chopped and combined
  2. slowly pour olive oil into the mixture as you continue to blend or process
  3. pour mixture into a bowl and stir in grated parmesan
  4. rub your fish fillets with olive oil and salt and pepper, and grill or pan sautee for about 3 minutes per side (turning only once) depending on the size of your fish, over medium to medium high heat (a delicious crust should develop on the meatier fish varieties)

GRILLED OR ROASTED ASPARAGUS

  • one bunch or more of asparagus, rinsed with woody ends snapped off
  • extra virgin olive oil (or garlic infused olive oil)
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper or garlic salt
  1. if using a grill pan, simply give the asparagus a good douse in olive oil and seasonings, and put on the grill for about 10 minutes, turning periodically
  2. if roasting, give the asparagus a light coat of olive oil and seasonings, and roast for 20-25 minutes (depending on size of asparagus) at 425 degrees

If asparagus is very out of season or overly pricey, I often substitute summer squash and zuchinni.  I just slice them into quarter inch rounds, season them the same, but squeeze a bit of lemon on towards the end of either method of cooking.  They are especially tasty on the grill.  Finish them with a little bit of freshly grated parmesan.  If roasting, up your oven temperature just a little.

If you make this pesto ahead and freeze some, you can have dinner ready in less than 15 minutes.  Lovely.

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This is a quick and tasty little dinner.  We ate it last night, and it is consistently delicious.  The recipe for the sole came from Gourmet magazine.  While there aren’t many ingredients, you do have to pay attention and prepare this properly, or your almonds and butter will burn.  The texture and taste of the sole really compliments this preparation, and because of this, I don’t think any white fish would do as a substitution.  If there isn’t any sole at the market, trout may work well. 

Very tasty with some sauteed haricot vert (little french green beans – I buy bags of frozen from Trader Joe’s) and shallots, sprinkled generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Sole Almandine – Serves 2

  • 2 sole filets – skinned
  • 3 tbsp butter (I use smart balance sticks) – divided
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds, or just  a generous handful
  • a lemon
  • a little flour, salt and pepper, and canola oil
  1. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil and 1 tbsp of the butter over medium high heat in a flat bottomed sautee pan
  2. Gently salt and pepper the filets and dust them with flour
  3. Cook the fillets in the pan, about one and a half minutes per side – very quick!  Remove them from the pan and put a fillet on each plate
  4. Dump the oil and fat from the pan, wiping out any excess
  5. Add the other 2 tbsp of butter and your almonds, cooking over LOW for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently
  6. Remove the pan from the heat, and squeeze your lemon juice into the pan
  7. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve – so tasty

Sauteed Haricot Vert or regular Green Beans – Serves 2

  • a few generous handfuls of the veggies (if using regular green beans, snap the ends)
  • one medium shallot, cut into half rings or very coarsly chopped (you could do an onion if you don’t have shallot, but for this I prefer the delicate flavor and size of a shallot)
  • olive oil, salt and pepper
  1. add a few glugs of olive oil to a pan, heated over medium
  2. throw in the shallots with a little bit of salt, and cook for a minute or two
  3. add your green beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for five to seven minutes, or until starting to brown a little (sometimes I blanche frozen green beans in a little bit of boiling hot water first, but it isn’t totally necessary)
  4. finish with some sea salt and a generous grind of pepper

This is a quick and easy dinner.  It’s not too terrible for you; although some could make an argument about the butter.  Oh well… it tastes delicious.  🙂

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a small start

Hello, Friends.  This is my small attempt at sharing all of the things that I love with the people that I love.  I will just start adding lovely things to be eaten, read, viewed and generally enjoyed with fervent passion.  Please add your own comments, recipes, suggestions and experiences.  This is only fun if we are sharing in experience.  In the meantime, please contemplate one of my favorite scriptures, written by the wisest man who ever lived:

“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of his life God has given him under the sun.”  – King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 8:15

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