Q is for… Qatar; Here We Go Again

Flag of Qatar

Remember when I got to the letter O and the only country was Oman? Well here we are again at Q and the only country that starts with Q is Qatar. So we’re back in the Middle East and the same problems present themselves. To review those problems are that most Middle Eastern dishes uses ingredients that I’m allergic too and that the food, while delicious, tends to not be very country specific. Still, Qatar is what I had to work with so Qatari food it is.

As much as I love lamb and rice and Middle Eastern spices I just couldn’t bear making yet another dish in that vein so I was excited when I stumbled on some recipes for Balaleet, a Middle Eastern breakfast treat. Throughout this project I’ve done main courses, desserts and sides so doing a breakfast dish seemed like great fun.

Balaleet is a mix of sweet and savory and is often served for special occasions in Qatar. Had I planned better (and by planned better I mean cleaned my apartment) I would’ve invited a friend or two over for brunch. Unfortunately, my apartment looked like the seventh circle of hell I wasn’t prepared so I scaled this recipe back to serve one, but it would be extremely easy to multiply it for a bigger brunch.

I took two liberty’s with this recipe. Instead of buying vermicelli or angel hair I used Barilla cut spaghetti, but that was really because I had forgotten to buy angel hair at the supermarket so I ran to the bodega on my corner and grabbed the cut spaghetti. This recipe can also be made with rice vermicelli for those who are gluten free.

The other change I made was to use orange juice rather than orange flower water or rose water which all traditional recipes call for. While I try to keep these recipes authentic, it would’ve been a waste to buy orange or rose water that I’d likely never use again.

Balaleet

  • 1/2 cup Vermicelli; broken in to about 1 inch pieces (or use cut spaghetti)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 egg omelette

Boil Vermicelli about 2 minutes less than package directs. Drain then toss in to a mixing boil.

Immediately toss in sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mix well. The heat of the pasta will dissolve the sugar.

In a small non stick frying pan melt butter over medium high heat. Stir in orange juice.

Pour in noodle mixture and spread to flatten. Cover and turn heat down to medium low. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and the bottom has crisped.

Set aside noodle cake and wipe out the frying pan. Make a one egg omelette. Cut the omelette into a few large pieces and serve on top of the noodle cake.

Enjoy!

FINAL VERDICT: B-

This dish was definitely interesting and I don’t mean that in a, “Well he’s err got a great personality” kind of way. I mean it in more of a, “Ya know we had a nice time; good conversation; I’m just not sure there was spark,” kind of way.

I went light on the sugar, though most recipes call for far more, because I thought the sugar in the orange juice would add a ton of sweetness, but surprisingly it didn’t. It was actually not very sweet at all definitely should’ve added another Tablespoon of sugar.

I did like the play of textures with the crispy noodles and fluffy egg though. I would definitely try this recipe again, especially for a brunch with other people!

So you would go on a second date with me? Sweet!

N is for… Nigeria; Through Every Fault of My Own

Hello

Nigerian Flag

Last week I was tired. Tired and lazy and forgetful. Without a doubt the worst part of vacation is the part where you have to return to real life which has, shockingly, continued along in your absence. On the one hand last week I was busy playing catch up; on the other hand I was wistfully longing to be back on vacation.

I had picked up some great looking eggplant at the farmer’s market on Thursday. I threw in a green pepper for color and decided to grab some carrots too and I’d make a nice saute with herbs and spices to have a hearty vegetarian week. I forgot to get the carrots. FAIL

I’d serve my hearty, now carrot-less, vegetable saute with my Nigerian recipe, Jollof rice as in my research I’d learned that the dish is served with either chicken, mixed seafood or just vegetables. I didn’t pick up any fresh ginger, but I could just use the ground. FAIL

Even though I had little success leaving my hot peppers whole in my Haitian dish, I just was not in the mood to get out rubber gloves so I decided to just cut a few slits in the peppers and throw them in. This time it would be better because I’d be throwing them in boiling liquid. FAIL

Ok so last week was not my finest, but I promise you that I plan on coming back strong soon!

Vegetarian Joloff Rice

  • Neutral flavored oil for sauteing (peanut is traditional, but because of my nut allergy I used vegetable)
  • 1 medium onion; roughly chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes; roughly chopped
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers (don’t be a wuss like I was, cut them in half first)
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 32oz low sodium vegetable broth

In large pot, heat oil. Add onions and saute 2-3 minutes until onions just begin to soften. Then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and started to break down. Add tomato paste.

Stir in salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Using an immersion (stick) blender or transferring to a regular blender, puree until smooth.

Toss in rice and stir to coat with tomato mixture. Add hot peppers and broth, stir.

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is fully cooked.

Love love love my immersion blender!

FINAL VERDICT: C

While I admit that much of went wrong with this recipe was my own fault, most of the recipes I saw out there weren’t that much more exciting than this. I definitely should’ve cut the peppers because the dish ended up having no heat and I actually sprinkled some cayenne in to it after the fact. I also should’ve used one less tomato and a bit more ginger.

Many believe that Jollof rice is the grandfather of jambalaya, a dish that I love, but other than the use of rice and tomatoes I didn’t see (or taste) much of a resemblance. Honestly even if I make all those tweaks I listed above, I can’t imagine this dish ever being more than just ok. It’s just not that exciting.

With the eggplant and peppers mixed in.

Bon Appetit!

M is for… Malta; Cleaning Out the Pantry

Hello

Flag of Malta

Guess who’s leaving for vacation on Tuesday… this girl! I’ll be gone for almost two weeks so of course I need to start emptying out my fridge. I still had some left over scallions from my Korean dish, some spinach and eggs so it seemed like the perfect time to make Froga tat-Tarja, a Maltese dish I’d read about. Malta is a country made up of a series of small islands in the Mediterranean.

With its unique position between Sicily and North Africa and history of colonization by foreign powers such as Greeks, Arabs, France and England the culture is an interesting mashup of all. The Maltese have their own language, which is actually Semitic, but they’ve borrowed heavily from Italian and English which you’ll notice it the greeting at the top of this post. Similarly the food of Malta bears many of the same dishes as Sicily, but often use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Froga tat-Tarja is a Vermicelli (or Angel Hair) omelette. In my research I found that there are only two absolutely necessary ingredients; thin pasta and eggs. Once you have that as a base you can use anything you want. My mind reeled with possibilities. Maltese cooks use leftover chicken or whatever veggies they have lying around. I’d seen several recipes online that used pancetta, a few that used ricotta and one that even used tomato sauce, but I’m leaving soon so I needed to start getting rid of what I had in the fridge. A quick look turned up some spinach, parmesan cheese and scallions still left from my Korean dish and a recipe was born!

Froga tat-Tarja

  • 3 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions or to taste
  • A couple of handfuls torn baby spinach
  • 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg or to taste
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 lb cooked Angel Hair (or other thin pasta), room temperature
  • Olive oil for frying

Crack eggs in to a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and beat eggs as you would to make scrambled eggs.

Stir in cheese, scallions, spinach and spices then fold in the pasta mixing well to make sure the pasta is coated and the mixture is well incorporated.

In a medium saute or frying pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Pour the pasta mixture in to the pan and smooth out to form an even layer. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes then flip and cook about 5 minutes more.

Turn out on to a plate, slice in to wedges and serve with a light salad.

Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 as an appetizer.

FINAL VERDICT: B

What a great use for leftovers! The texture of this dish is wonderful; crispy in the outside and sort of fluffy/spongy on the inside. I didn’t love the spice I used, but I will definitely make this again and would love to try it with ricotta, garlic and whatever else I have lying around.

I ate this with a simple tomato and cucumber salad and some leftover sauteed eggplant. Lovely with a glass of white wine

Tajba Tiekol!

********

I’ll be leaving on a jet plane tomorrow at 5:30pm. I doubt I’ll do any blogging while I’m away so don’t expect much from me for the next couple of weeks.

J is for… Japan; All You Need is An Ice Cube Tray

Japanese Flag

Like all other Asian food establishments, it’s nearly impossible for me to eat at a Japanese restaurant, what with all that sesame and soy, but I’ve actually had Sushi before. Back when I was living in Boston I had one of those tiny little original Whole Foods (I think it may have been the first on the East Coast) right near my apartment and I frequented it often. I got to know one on the Sushi chefs there and he started making me Alli-allergy-approved salmon rolls. He rolled cooked salmon (I’ve tried raw fish several times and it’s not my thing), cucumbers and carrots in a layer of nori and rice on a clean work surface free of sesame seeds. I skipped the non-Alli-allergy-friendly soy sauce and enjoyed a bit of wasabi and pickled ginger, which I could eat a bucket full of, as accompaniments.

That was 7 years ago and I’ve missed sushi ever since so when I was ready to make a recipe for the letter “J,” Japanese Sushi seemed a logical choice. Then “J” got closer and I started thinking about logistics. “Do I really want to buy a Sushi mat? How often would I really use it? What if I just made Chirashizushi, Sushi bowls, they’re legit Japanese, I know I looked it up. But that’s just too easy and boring, right? Maybe I should look up some Jamaican recipes…”

And so the inner monologue went until a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a recipe for mock soy sauce that people claimed tasted like the real thing and I reeeally reeeally wanted to make Sushi! Still the logistical problems remained so I did what anyone would do in 2012, I took to Wikipedia and looked up the various types of Sushi. My best bet seemed Oshizushi or box sushi, a specialty in Osaka where the ingredients are placed on the bottom of a box, rice is placed on top and then the whole thing is pressed together firmly, unmolded, cut in to squares and served. Oshizushi Seemed like the best bet, but where to get the box? Then it occurred to me; ice cube tray sushi.

Silicon trays work best

Using an ice cube tray to make sushi was something I’d heard about awhile ago and filed somewhere in the back of my mind (a scary, messy, disorganized space; I assure you!). I’d seen the idea in several places touted as a way to get kids to try Sushi* and I just adored it (kids in the kitchen yeah!), but I realized there was no reason I couldn’t use an ice cube tray too. Ok, ok so it’s not really authentic, but I’ve been really good up until now so cut me a little slack!

I had a hard time deciding on toppings because I wanted to at least keep that part authentic, but sushi has become so ubiqutes these days that it’s hard to tell what’s authentically Japanese and what’s not at this point so I kept it simple. I decided on thinly sliced cucumber, thin Japanese omelette and salmon roe. The roe was a bit of a splurge, but once in a while you just have to!

I followed Alton Brown’s recipe for making Sushi Rice which could not have been easier. I put a slice of cucumber in each square of the tray, followed buy a few strips of omelette, another piece of cucumber and then the rice and packed everything down firmly and unmolded them on to a plate and topped them with the roe. Of course there was wasabi, pickled ginger and mock soy sauce on the side too. And…

It. Was. Amazing!!

FINAL VERDICT: A

I’m sorry that there’s not really a recipe with this, but it’s really more of a technique then a recipe. I will so so soooo be making this again with a variety of different ingredients, authentic and otherwise. The only change I’d make is that I think I’ll just mold the rice in the trays and then stack everything else on top. Some of the toppings slipped off a bit after unmolding and I realized it’s really only necessary to mold the rice.

PS- *For anyone saying, “Kids won’t eat Sushi, they only eat chicken fingers,” go visit my friend Erin’s blog and ask her what her beautiful daughter eats!

Erin- I fully expect Katherine to be eating ice cube tray Sushi some time in the next few years.

Summer “Pasta” (Zucchini Ribbons with Sauteed Veggies and Mascarpone)

Last night I made one of my absolute favorite meals, zucchini “pasta” with seasonal veggies and mascarpone cheese. If I had to list the top 10 dishes I make, this meal would very likely be on it. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it also speaks so much to how I see food. It uses local seasonal ingredients I bought at the farmers market and it makes the veggies the star of the show. I limit meat consumption not only by eating plenty of vegetarian meals, but also by making dishes where the meat is the guest star and not the main act. This whole recipe uses only 1/4 pound of pancetta for the whole dish (and certainly could be made totally vegetarian). This recipe also represents so much of what I believe about healthy living and eating. Now, take a deep breath and put that frozen “Jenny Craig monosodiumdycalcitride glucolaurelatepathos may contain rat poison, but it only has 2 grams of fat and 100 calories” meal down and listen to me; I used 1/4 pound of pancetta and 2 oz of mascarpone. I used very small amounts of two fairly fatty foods to add a ton of flavor. So I used a little and got a lot, got it? Plus this meal was fresh, natural and had a ton of nutrients from all the vegetables and I’ll take a little real fat over fat-free chemicals any day!

Zucchini “Pasta” with Seasonal Veggies and Mascarpone

  • 4 medium zucchini (I like using 2 green and 2 yellow because it looks prettier)
  • 1/4lb pancetta (optional if making vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion; sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 oz mascarpone cheese

Using a vegetable peeler make thin strips of zucchini, working down all sides until you get to the seeds. Set ribbons aside and cube up the inside, seeded part of the zucchini (You could just discard them, but I think that’s a waste of food and they’re delicious). Set aside.

Cut pancetta in small cubes, then in large saute pan cook over medium high meat until pancetta is crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon remove pancetta to a plate covered with paper towels. Drain then transfer to a serving bowl. Do not discard the fat from the pan, if there is too much fat pour some out to leave you with a couple of tablespoons in the pan. If you’re keeping the recipe vegetarian skip and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the next step.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is boiling add salt and zucchini ribbons and cooks for about 5 minutes until ribbons are tender. Strain through colander then set aside in serving bowl with pancetta.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and cubed zucchini to the pancetta grease with some salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt since pancetta is salty, if you’re not using pancetta you can be a little more liberal) and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 more minutes.

Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes just begin to soften and lose their shape a bit, about 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the tomatoes to turn to mush.

Gently toss the sautéed veggie mixture into the “pasta” and pancetta. Stir in the basil. Gently fold in the mascarpone until it’s all melted and the veggies are coated.

Serve with an extra dollop of mascarpone and more basil on top.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Tips:

I think this recipe might look prettier if you didn’t mix the sauce into the ribbons in a big serving bowl and instead put the “pasta” in your individual bowl and then piled the veggie/mascarpone mixture on top. I put everything in one bowl because space is at a premium in my apartment.

If you keep this vegetarian I might try adding some parmesan cheese for a salty kick. Or if you find mascarpone too bland without the pancetta, you could replace it with creme fraiche, which is a totally different flavor, but adds a great tang.

April Showers Bring Delicious Pasta and Jersey Housewives

After a series of absolutely beautiful spring days, Mother Nature gave us New Yorkers a bitch slap this past Sunday. Luckily I had all that I needed for a rainy day; The Real Housewives of New Jersey season premier and some great ingredients (or ingredientses as Real Housewife Teresa Guidice would say).

Prep work

I am a total Farmer’s Market addict. I just love strolling to the different booths and seeing all the beautiful, fresh, local harvest. Since it’s only April it’s still a bit of slim pickins’ out there, but the first Spring vegetables are starting to pop up. So, on my last trip to the market I picked up some (more) ramps and asparagus as well as creme fraiche from my favorite local dairy. All I needed was some pasta and organic lemons to make a fantastic meal.

If you’ve never had creme fraiche you must try it. Imagine if Butter and Sour Cream met, fell madly in love and decided to have a baby; that beautiful baby would be Creme Fraiche. It’s like the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt of dairy products.

I also decided to drizzle the pasta with a balsamic reduction which sent this dish right over the top on the deliciousness charts.

April Pasta

For the pasta:

  • 12 oz Penne or other small pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 large bunch Asparagus; woody ends removed, chopped in to bite size pieces
  • 1 large bunch Ramps; white part separated from green, white chopped in to chunks, leaves chopped finely
  • Zest of 2 small organic lemons
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Large pinch Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cups Creme Fraiche
  • 1/2 cup Reserved pasta water
  • Balsamic drizzle (see recipe below)

    Sautéing the veggies

Bring large pot of water to boil.

Heat olive in large sauté pan. Add asparagus and cook 3-4 minutes. When asparagus has just barely begun to soften add white part of ramps and cook 5 more minutes. Add ramp leaves and cook until wilted and asparagus and ramp bulbs are fork tender , about 5 more minutes. Stir in lemon zest, juice, red pepper flakes salt and pepper and cook for one more minute.

Meanwhile cook pasta in salted water, one minute less than the package instructs. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss pasta in vegetable mix and cook for another minute or two until pasta is cooked through.

Transfer pasta and vegetables to a large bowl (or just use the pot you cooked the pasta in like I did). Fold in creme fraiche and half of the reserved pasta cooking water. If sauce seems too thick add more of the water, otherwise discard.

Serve pasta with balsamic reduction drizzled over the top.

For Balsamic drizzle:

  • 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 small bay leaf (or a bay leaf torn in half- I probably use 3/4 of a medium leaf)

Mix all ingredients in small sauce pan and bring to a gently boil. Turn down heat to the barest simmer and cook until mixture has reduced by a third and has a thick syrupy consistency. Once mixture has cooled eat a few spoonfuls straight out of the pot because it’s just so delicious you can’t wait store in airtight container. Balsamic reduction will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Enjoy with a glass of wine and some trashy reality TV

Did you guys watch the RHNJ season premier? What did you think?I am so Team Manzo and Team Gorga. Can you believe that Teresa told Joe that Melissa would leave him for a richer man!? What an insecure jerk she’s making herself out to be.

Simple Suppers: Jamie Knows Best

I’m always shocked when people tell me that they rely on take out or convenience foods because they just can’t find the time to make dinner. I know that everyone’s life is different and has its own set of stresses, but even if you only know the very basics of cooking, it’s really easy to throw together a quick dinner. So, for a little inspiration, I’ve decided to post the occasional “Simple Supper.”

This was my dinner on Sunday night, a spinach, Kalamata olive and feta omelette with a slice of whole wheat toast. It was awesome.

I didn't let the pan cool down enough after I made the spinach so I got a tad too much color.

Omelettes are super quick to make, nutritious and yummy. Eggs are a great vehicle for just about anything so omelettes or egg scrambles are also a great way to use leftovers.

I tried to cut it open in the middle to show the filling.

Omelettes can be one of those foods that you can never get quit as good (read light and fluffy) at home as you do in a restaurant, but after watching this video from one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Jamie Oliver, I must say my omelettes are pretty damn awesome.

PS- I’m calling this “Simple Suppers” because it’s alliterative and I ♥ alliteration, but I don’t think anyone in the New York metropolitan area would ever actually refer to dinner as supper!