Herbed Chicken Breasts

I love things that can be prepped ahead and then cooked quickly. I also like to feed my family as if they are guests so when I make these lovely, light and flavorful chicken breasts, I’m happy to make a weekday dinner into an occasion. There is no careful measuring and I can make as few as two chicken breasts or as many as a dozen. These could be grilled or made in the oven as I do since I do not own a grill. The chicken is best prepped so that it sits overnight in the fridge, but even a few hours ahead of cooking will work. The flavors and aromas are so bright and the chicken is so tender and moist that you forget that it is simply a boring boneless, skinless chicken breast. I serve them with herbed roasted potatoes and a crispy veg like barely steamed broccoli, but the sides are up to you. I would only make these with fresh herbs. And the added bonus to this dish is that the preparation is a wonderful way to work out any of your aggression from the day!

Herbed Chicken Breasts

Yield: That is up to you!

Ingredients for 2 chicken breasts

Roasted Herbed Chicken6

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2-3 Tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh herbs (My favorites are rosemary and Greek Oregano, but thyme is also good. I would not use a softer herb like basil for this.)

1-2 lemons, with the ends trimmed off and thinly sliced

2 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced Roasted Herbed Chicken3

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

EVOO (flavored if you have it – I used Meyer lemon EVOO)

Hungarian sweet paprika for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

  1. Place your chicken breast about 3 inches apart between two sheets of parchment that is placed over a cutting board (the board will absorb some of the pounding). Roasted Herbed Chicken5Using a meat tenderizer (the round flat kind pictured above) or a small, heavy frying pan, pound each breast until it is flattened and even in thickness. The breast should be about twice the size of the original. Use even pressure so as not to tear the meat. A little tearing is no big deal, but you want one nice, flat breast.
  2. Salt and pepper each side of the chicken Roasted Herbed Chicken4and carefully place in a plastic zip-lock bag or in a glass dish. Drizzle with EVOO – about 1-2 Tablespoons.
  3. Add the thinly sliced lemons, placing half on one side of the bag and the other half on the other side. Distribute the herbs and garlic in the same manner. Roasted Herbed ChickenSeal the bag, getting out as much of the air as you can. With your hand, gently massage the herbs, lemon, garlic and EVOO into the breasts. Place the bag in the fridge, keeping it flat if possible.
  4. When you are ready to cook the chicken, heat your oven to 425 degrees F with the pan in the oven. If you have a grill pan, this would be a great use for it. Otherwise, a shallow baking pan covered with foil will work. When the oven and the pan have come to temperature, drizzle a little EVOO in the pan. Using tongs,  place the chicken breasts,without any liquid that may have collected in the bag, on the pan. Place the lemons around, but not on the chicken. Distribute any herbs and garlic.  Sprinkle with a bit of paprika if you like. Drizzle with EVOO. Roast for about 9 minutes a side, turning once. You will have to watch the chicken since the sizes of the breasts these days are so variable and tend to be large. They could take a little longer or shorter, but you want the chicken to be totally cooked through without being over-cooked. If you have a broiler in your oven, I like to turn it on for the final few minutes of cooking to give a really good color to the chicken and lemons. If you don’t have a broiler, just cook the chicken until nicely browned. When you are plating the chicken, place a couple of slices of the lemon along with some of the herbs and garlic on each piece. I love to eat the roasted lemon, but that is up to you.

Roasted Herbed Chicken8

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I love vegetables and I love lamb. Mediterraneans stuff all kinds of vegetables and the ingredients and seasonings are only limited by your imagination and personal tastes. You can keep the dish vegetarian – as I do at times – or you can blend grains with ground lamb or beef. This time I decided to stuff my eggplant and zucchini with ground lamb mixed with cooked bulghur wheat, onions, garlic and Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice mix.   My spice mix came from Kalustyan and combines, coriander, cumin, fennel, allspice, cinnamon, anise, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, rose petals, lavender and black pepper. Any good spice store or Middle Eastern market should carry it and each will have its own combination of spices. You can, of course, make your own and adjust the mix to suit your own personal tastes.

The different parts of this dish can be assembled ahead and heated through when you are ready to serve. All that is needed to round out the meal is salad, maybe some hummus and pita and some fruit. Get creative and go stuff some vegetables!

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants (about 1.25 pounds each)

EVOO

1 cup cooked bulghur wheat, farro or rice

1 pound of ground lamb or beef

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves of peeled, minced garlic

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

About 2.5 teaspoons Ras El Hanout or other spice combination like Baharat 

28 ounces of good quality canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

2 Tablespoons of tomato paste

1 Tablespoon of either balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses

About 4 ounces of a melty cheese like a mozzarella provolone blend or a Haloumi (Optional)

Dried bread crumbs, preferably Panko (Optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. and place the rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, use a paring knife to cut around the insides of each half. Scoop out the flesh carefully so as not to go beyond your border. If you go too far the vegetable “boats” will collapse when cooked. Coarsely cut up the flesh and set aside. Stuffed eggplant with lamb and bulghur7
  3. Rub the insides of the vegetable “boats” with about 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO and season with the salt and pepper. Place the “boats” in a baking dish (or dishes as in my case) large enough to hold them fairly snugly. I like to alternate the pieces head to foot for a better fit.  Roast until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetable. You know when it is done if there is no resistance when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside.
  4. In a large frying pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO and brown the ground lamb with about 3/4  teaspoon of salt. Remove the lamb from the pan and put it in a strainer to remove any excess fat and liquid. Without cleaning the pan, add the chopped eggplant flesh, onion and garlic to the pan along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some cracked black pepper and cook until the onion begins to brown at the edges and the eggplant is cooked. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Depending on your eggplant you may need to add some additional EVOO. Add back the lamb and add the cooked bulghur and 2 teaspoons of Ras El Hanout and just cook for about another  two to three minutes, stirring through until the air is perfumed with the spice mix. Allow to cool enough until it is easy to handle. This can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. [NOTE: Any left-overs can be frozen or used later in the week for another dinner.]
  5. If using whole canned tomatoes, break them up with your hands into a bowl. Add the tomato paste, 1 Tablespoon of either balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses and some fresh cracked black pepper to the tomatoes along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of Ras El Hanout. Stir through. If you want things spicier and your Ras El Hanout did not contain chili pepper, you can add some to taste here. Add 1/2 cup of the tomato mixture to the eggplant, onion, bulghur wheat mixture and stir through. Pour the remaining tomato mixture into the bottom of the baking dish(es).
  6. When you are ready to serve, heat the broiler (or heat your oven to 450 degrees F. if you don’t have a good broiler or if your baking pan is not broiler-safe.) Take each eggplant “boat” and place onto a cutting board or work surface and fill it to the top, mounding it a bit. If you are using cheese, crumble it over the top of each eggplant “boat.” Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with EVOO. If you choose not to use the cheese, you can simply sprinkle with some bread crumbs. Stuffed eggplant with lamb and bulghur4Broil or roast until the cheese is melted and browned (or until the breadcrumbs are browned). It will be faster under the broiler but should not take long in either case so be sure to watch it. Serve each eggplant “boat” with some  of the tomato sauce and sprinkle with chopped parsley or cilantro. Any left-overs can be refrigerated and reheated. Stuffed eggplant with lamb and bulghur

Tahini and Halva Brownies

By now, putting tahini in sweet desserts is no longer a novel idea. However, using halva, which is still not commonly eaten in the United States is. Halva is a Middle Eastern confection made of sesame flour and honey or sugar with nuts or other flavorings added at times. It is often referred to as Middle Eastern “fudge.” When I first tasted halva over 50 years ago (YIKES!) I thought that it tasted like sweetened sawdust. I have since come to love it – so much so that on my last visit to Israel a few years ago, I decided to bring back a large slice of halva from simply the best halva maker in the world – Halva King in Jerusalem. The slice was brick-shaped and fairly substantial and I had it in the bottom of my carry-on luggage. When I was going through customs, I was stopped and asked to empty out my bag after it had been through the X-ray machine. I was confused as to what could have raised concern since I knew that I didn’t have any banned materials. It turned out that the piece of halva looked just like a brick of C4 explosive! Thankfully the TSA person actually knew what halva was and we were both able to laugh about the incident.

So when I came across this Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh recipe I thought it would be fun to try. I tried it, carefully measuring and weighing everything, but the brownies just were sooooooooooooooooo gooey that you couldn’t cut a clean piece – and they never firmed up. And the walnuts were a complete waste of ingredients since the flavor couldn’t fight its way through. I then came across this version that is converted into ounces and measuring cups which came from the Ottolenghi and Goh cookbook Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi. There are some pretty significant differences between this version and the one that is on Ottolenghi’s UK website so go figure. This second version is what I have presented here and which corrected all of my problems with the first version that I tried. I finally made these brownies to my satisfaction. It won’t replace my favorite Java Brownies which are still the best brownies – ever – but my husband says that these are a pretty close contender.

Halva comes in many varieties and some are drier than others and the number of flavors is only limited by your imagination. Not being overwhelmed with options that were easily accessible, however, I went with a “plain” vanilla halva by Ziyad brand. It was moderately dry but moist enough to be able to cut into pieces without it totally crumbling.  This final version, which I baked for the full 40 minutes, has a good balance of gooey goodness along with the slightly crispier edges, which I love. We always fight over the corners in my house!

Tahini and Halva Brownies by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh and ever-so-slightly tweaked by me

Tahini and Halva Brownies11

Yield: About 20 brownies

Ingredients

1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes

11 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into 1½-inch pieces

5 large eggs

1¾ cups granulated sugar

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon salt

7 to 8¾ ounces halva, broken into ¾-inch pieces (I used Ziyad plain halva with vanilla)

Up to ⅓ cup tahini paste

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch pan and line with enough parchment to create a 3/4-inch overhang.
  2. You want to melt the butter with the chocolate. You can do this over a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, but I found that it was quicker and less to clean up using the microwave. I placed the chocolate and butter in a bowl and microwaved it on high for 45 seconds, I removed the bowl, gave everything a stir and returned it to the microwave for another 30 seconds. I then stirred the chocolate and melted butter until all of the chocolate was melted. I allowed the mixture to cool to just barely warm.
  3. Sift the flour and cocoa together and add the salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs until light in color and thickened. It should form ribbons when you lift the beaters. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture by hand. Do not over mix. Then fold in the flour and cocoa just until incorporated. Finally add the halva pieces and gently fold through. (I actually cut my halva pieces into odd-sized chunks with most being a little smaller than was recommended. I remembered from the first version that I ended up with rather obvious chunks of halva, which were okay, but gave an odd mouth-feel. These smaller pieces gave the flavor and a little texture but were not as obvious when you bit into the brownie. This is personal choice.) 

  5. Pour the mixture into the parchment-lined pan and spread to an even layer. Using a spoon, dollop the tahini over the brownie mixture. Don’t worry overmuch about being especially neat or perfect. Using a spoon or skewer, swirl the tahini through the mixture. You don’t want to be too perfect or too even. It should be marbled. Tahini and Halva Brownies3
  6. Place the pan in the center of your oven. You want to bake them until the top is crisp and the middle is a bit wobbly – between 36-40 minutes. Ovens do vary so you will just have to watch them. Tahini and Halva Brownies13If you are not a lover of the crispy corners, then you likely will go with the shorter baking time. Either way, there will be some jiggle to the center, but once they cool they will firm up some yet retain their gooeyness. In theory, the brownies can last up to 5 days in an airtight container, but who are we kidding?! They also freeze although I have not personally tried this.

Fresh Fig and Walnut Bread

About 10 years ago, I brought a group of Catholic High School teachers to Israel for a program that I created. Among the many wonderful things that we did during that visit was to travel to the Catholic Maronite Palestinian village of Fassuta on the Lebanon border in the Upper Galilee. We were given a tour of the village by the then mayor, who seemed to know everyone there. We were unable to move more than a few feet without someone greeting us and inviting us in for fruit or coffee or juice. One older woman had a small but beautiful garden with fig trees and grapes. We happened to be there at the exact moment of fig ripeness perfection and she immediately started plucking these plump beauties right off of the tree and passing them around. I probably ate six or eight of them before I had to cry “uncle.” I have been spoiled for fresh figs ever since and have never been able to find any in my market that even come close to tasting like those figs from a garden in Fassuta.

However, I was watching a video from POV Italian Cooking about making fig bread from slightly over-ripe fresh figs and decided that the figs that I could find in my market would probably work for this recipe. I made a couple of small changes, including adding toasted walnuts and the result is an AMAZING “tea” cake. If I close my eyes, it can make me conjure up that beautiful garden in the Galilee.

Fig and Walnut Bread8

Fresh Fig and Walnut Bread from POV Italian Cooking and tweaked by me

Yield: One 9 x 5 inch loaf

Ingredients

1 pint (2 cups) fresh, ripe figs

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature

2 large eggs, lightly whisked with the vanilla

1 cup plus 2 rounded Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (or substitute 1/4 cup for whole wheat flour)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 packet Lievito Pane Degli Angeli OR 1.5 teaspoons baking soda plus 1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 Tablespoon cognac (Even though there is vanilla in the Lievito Pane degli Angeli, I like to add additional vanilla.)

1 cup toasted and coarsely broken walnuts

Fig and Walnut Bread7

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. with the rack in the center. Lavishly butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (preferably non-stick) and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper which you then also butter. Pour 2 rounded Tablespoons of granulated sugar into the bottom. Carefully angle and tap the pan so that the sugar coats the bottom and sides. This gives a lovely sugary crust to the outside of the bread. Fig and Walnut Bread4
  2. Cut off the bottom and stem of each fig. Split the fig into quarters and cut the quarters into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on the size of the fig. Place in a bowl and with the back of a fork, slightly mash the figs. Take 2 tablespoons of the flour you will measure out and toss it with the figs. This will prevent the fig pieces from all falling to the bottom. Set aside.
  3. In a standing mixer (or by hand) cream the softened butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix through.
  4. In a medium bowl, measure out the flour, salt and Lievito Pane degli Angeli or the baking soda and stir through to mix.
  5. In 2 or 3 additions, mix the dry ingredients with the butter, sugar and egg mixture until you have a fairly thick batter. Fold through the walnuts and figs by hand. Don’t worry too much about smushing the figs, although try not to over-do it!
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is a lovely dark brown and the smell is intoxicating. And yes, when a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean! Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 20 minutes on a cooling rack. Fig and Walnut Bread3By then you should be able to handle the pan with your bare hands. Run a thin spatula or knife around the edges of the pan. Turn the bread out onto the rack, remove the parchment and allow it to cool completely (if you can wait that long.) The bread is then ready to eat.

Budino al Cioccolato (Chocolate Crème Caramel)

I knew that I could get my husband moving quickly – something that simply isn’t in his nature – if I told him that my half & half had spoiled and if he wanted budino for dessert tonight I needed him to run to the store NOW to buy more. Andrew loves all custards and puddings and this version is rich and sophisticated yet simple to make. Oh, and did I say that it has dark bittersweet chocolate?! And the hint of lemon in the caramel is a surprising twist. This is truly a wonderful dessert – delicious any time of the year.

I found this recipe years ago in the New New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey and I have been making it ever since. I believe this cookbook is now out of print, but copies are still available through used book dealers. It contains many wonderful older recipes.

Budino is not difficult to make. The trickiest part is making the caramel, but once you have learned how to do that, you will be able to make flan and caramel sauce with ease. And if you mess it up the first time, remember that it is only sugar and you can easily start again. Follow my directions exactly and you will likely get it in one.

Budino can be made the day before but it at least should be made 4 to 6 hours before you wish to serve it, giving it enough time to set and chill. I make mine with half & half, but you can use whole milk. If you go with anything thinner – well, it just won’t be the same. If it makes you feel any better, there is only a quarter cup of the half & half per serving. You want to use the best eggs and a good quality dark chocolate. I like to go with a 64% to 70% cacao. Left-overs will keep for several days un-molded in the refrigerator. Once you taste this you will wonder why you haven’t made it before.

Budino al Cioccolato (Chocolate Crème Caramel) Budino al Cioccolato

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the caramel

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons water

Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the custard

1 cup of half & half or whole milk

2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks from large eggs

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

Pinch of Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Boil 3 cups of water and keep warm.
  2. Set out 4 half cup oven-proof custard molds on a cooling rack.
  3. Combine the 1/2 cup of sugar, water and lemon juice in a light-colored saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. (If you use a dark pan, it will be difficult to impossible to see when the sugar has become just the right color. This is one of those things that you wait for and the ALL of a SUDDEN – it’s done.)Allow the mixture to boil WITHOUT STIRRING AND DO NOT TOUCH! If you stir, the sugar will evaporate before it ever caramelizes and nothing burns like hot sugar. You are looking for the mixture to become a light amber color. It will take about 8 to 10 minutes(ish).

    Just be patient and DO NOT walk away! Nothing much will happen for the first 6 minutes or so. And then all of a sudden, you have caramel. If the sugar gets too dark, it will taste bitter so REALLY, DON’T WALK AWAY! Okay, this is the hardest part and you got it in one. Now quickly divide the caramel into each custard cup and swirl the liquid so it climbs part way up the sides of the mold. Be careful because the sugar is still very hot, but do it right away before it sets.

  4. While the caramel is cooling, heat the half & half or milk with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.
  5. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar until smooth. Slowly whisk the chocolate milk mixture into the eggs. You don’t want the eggs to curdle so you need to bring them up to the same temperature as the hot liquid which is easily done if you pour in just a little of the hot mixture at a time. Budino al Cioccolato10
  6. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the custard into a bowl with a lip or a large measuring cup. Discard the foam.
  7. Divide the custard into the prepared custard cups and place them in a baking dish large enough to easily hold them. Place the dish in the oven and carefully pour enough boiling water around the cups to come about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Bake until the custard is set – about 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool. Once you can easily handle the cups, remove them from the water and place them on the rack to cool completely. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate the custard for at least several hours. Budino al Cioccolato2
  9. When you are ready to serve, take a thin, sharp knife or metal spatula and run it around the edge of the custard. Place a shallow bowl over the custard cup, flip the dish and the mold over and give one firm plop. The custard should come out in one piece along with the caramel.

    A small disk of the caramel might remain in the dish. That’s fine. You can wash it out with hot water – it’s sugar after all – or you can chip out pieces and suck on them like candy. I’m not judging.

 

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins

I have a fairly extensive collection of cookbooks that I have amassed over the years. I enjoy reading them the way other people enjoy novels, although I like those too. I recently picked up my cookbook from Macrina, a popular artisanal bakery in Seattle. I recall buying the cookbook for a particular recipe that I had seen somewhere, only to find that it wasn’t actually included in this collection. Oh well. I hadn’t really made anything from the cookbook yet, but in glancing through it, I came across this vegan recipe for a breakfast muffin. Not actually being vegan, I will only bake things that would be delicious to a non-vegan and which doesn’t require that I purchase a lot of flours and ingredients that I wouldn’t otherwise normally use. This recipe fits that bill. The only purchase I needed to make was for an egg replacement since up until now I have used aquafaba or applesauce. This recipe does not require any special skills or techniques and results in 8 fluffy, fragrant and filling muffins. The texture is light and this recipe produces one of THE best muffins I have ever had. The ginger is a back-note so if you are not a ginger person, don’t let this put you off. Give them a try – you won’t be disappointed! Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins8

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins from More from Macrina by Leslie Mackie with Lisa Gordanier

Yield: 8 standard-size muffins

Ingredients

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins5

1.25 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons egg replacement (I used Bob’s Mill)

1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup walnut halves and pieces, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 ripe medium bananas (I like mine almost black for baking when the flavor is the most developed)

2 teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger (I always have a jar of this in the fridge for and find that it works beautifully and cuts down on my effort!)

2 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup amber agave syrup

3/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/3 cup canola oil

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

4 small pieces of candied (crystallized) ginger, cut in half on an angle

1/4 cup turbinado or demerara sugar (which actually I forgot to use!)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the rack in the center position. Oil the top of a standard-size muffin tin with canola oil and line 8 cups with paper liners. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, egg substitute and salt in a large bowl. Add the toasted, chopped walnuts and mix well.
  3. In a blender or food processor, puree the bananas until very smooth. Add the canola oil, orange juice, vanilla and agave syrup and pulse through. Using a spatula, mix in the lemon zest and ginger until thoroughly combined.
  4. Working quickly and gently with a rubber spatula, fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients in 2 to 3 additions. Do not over-mix which can result in tough muffins – and who wants those?) Only fold until all of the flour is moistened. Don’t worry about a few lumps.
  5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling them to the top and mounding them somewhat. (As they bake you will see why you oiled the top of the muffin tin.) Top each muffin with a piece of ginger and a sprinkle of the sugar – which I forgot. (If you use the sugar it will glisten a bit more than mine but should not be enough to really affect the flavor. I added a bit post-baking for the photos.) Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins4Bake for 30 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown on top and a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins3
  6. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then carefully lift the muffins out of the pan and directly onto the wire rack to cool completely. The muffins are still a bit soft at this point. Once cooled – yummmmmmmmmm! Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins7

Mediterranean Style Lentil Soup

Mediterranean Style Lentil Soup

My husband has a summer cold – the worst! And while normally I would make a big pot of chicken soup, I didn’t have the ingredients on hand and was feeling a bit lazy. Cold summer soups have their place and I enjoy everything from a cold cherry soup to a spicy tomato-based gazpacho, but sometimes a cold soup just won’t cut it. In the Middle East, lentil soup is ubiquitous – summer, winter, spring or fall. This version of lentil soup is ready in an hour and a half, can be made from ingredients you already should have in your pantry and is both nutritious and satisfying. What it isn’t, however, is beautiful. Of course, you can pretty it up with croutons and sprinkle it with parsley or cilantro and you can add rice or other grains to make it heartier, but at its simplest it is perfect as is. It can be “veganized”, substituting EVOO for the butter and using a good quality vegetable broth.

Mediterranean Style Lentil Soup

Yield: About 8 servings, although it will serve more if you add grains and/or serve it as a first course

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter or EVOO

1 large onion, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)

2 stalks of celery, including with leaves, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice

2 cups of brown lentils

8 cups of beef or vegetable broth

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Zest of one large lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

Juice of one large lemon, or more to taste

Garnishes

Garlic croutons

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Black sesame sticks (I buy mine from Nuts.com)

Cooked rice or other grain such as cooked bulghur

Directions

  1. Rinse and drain the lentils. Melt the butter (or heat the EVOO) in a pot with a tightly fitting lid (5 quarts or larger).
  2. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot to the pot, along with a teaspoon of salt and saute until the vegetables have softened. Add the lentils and the broth and bring to a boil. Skim the liquid if necessary. Add the turmeric and lemon zest, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 1 hour or until the lentils will smush with the back of a spoon.
  3. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Add the lemon juice, taste and adjust your seasoning. I happen to like things pretty lemony so may add as much as the juice of two lemons, but that is personal preference.
  4. Serve as is or garnish. Leftovers keep well refrigerated. Just give the soup a good stir if the liquid separates a bit.

To Make Garlic Croutons

  1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut slices of day-old bread into large dice. I like to leave on the crust. Toss them with drizzled EVOO (Garlic EVOO if you have it). Sprinkle the cubes with garlic powder and some Kosher salt.
  3. Place all of the cubes in a single layer on a baking pan. (I cover mine with foil or parchment to make clean-up easier.) 
  4. Bake, turning once for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

We’ve reached that time in the summer when heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and affordable and my herbs are growing like crazy on my terrace. I like to make do-ahead meals and when the temperatures are in the 80’s and 90’s vegetarian meals are especially welcome. The produce will never be better than it is right now.

I came across this recipe for a tart that with a few tweaks of my own is a perfect dish for a light summer supper or brunch. All it needs is a green salad and a crisp Chardonnay and you couldn’t ask for a more satisfying summer meal.

My recipe for the crust makes extra so you can throw together a quick galette for two later in the week.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart from Tasting Table and tweaked by me

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta

Yield: One 11-inch tart plus enough extra dough for a 7 to 8-inch galette

Ingredients

For the crust

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus up to 1/4 cup more for dusting

1 cup grated cheese (Gruyere, Parmesan, Asiago or Pecorino Romano)

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling

8 ounces whole milk ricotta

8 ounces goat cheese (chevre)

1 cup grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons lemon zest (I used 1 large lemon)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 large egg

Healthy pinch of red pepper flakes

1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

For assembly

About 1 pound of heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I also used some multi-colored grape tomatoes to fill in spaces and because I liked the look)

1 Tablespoon olive oil (I used a lemon-flavored EVOO but any will do)

1 Tablespoon honey or Agave

Flake sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for sprinkling

Fresh basil and mint leaves for garnish

Directions 

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, cheese and salt together. Cut the butter into small pieces, then add to the food processor. Pulse at 1-second intervals until butter is the size of peas—should be about 10 quick pulses. Add the ice water and pulse again about 10 times until the mixture is crumbly but holds together when pinched. Lay a clean tea towel on a work surface. Dump the crumbly dough mixture into the center of the towel. Grab the four corners of the towel together and twist to create a beggar’s purse, pressing the dough into a round. Use your hands to pack and flatten the round. Transfer to plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate for at least one hour. Any unused dough can be frozen for a future use.
  2. When you are ready to bake, roll out the dough on a floured piece of parchment or a pastry cloth to about a 14-inch round. Brush off any excess flour and drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer to the tart pan. Press the sides against the pan. In making this again, I would create a bit of a rolled over edge to my crust as I do for all my pies. [The original instructions said to use your rolling pin, run it across the top of the tart pan to trim any excess dough. I did this, which is what you see in the photo, but personally, I prefer a somewhat higher edge and will create one in future.] The excess dough can be frozen and used for a small galette. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour to reduce shrinkage.
  3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  [The original recipe said to bake at 425 degrees F. but I found that to be too high for my oven and my crust is a little darker than my ideal.]
  4. Make the filling by combining all of the filling ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Set this aside until you are ready to use it. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta7
  5. Using the tines of a fork, pierce the dough all over. Line the dough with foil and fill with baking weights or dried beans which can be stored when cool to use over and over. Bake until the dough is puffed and golden along the edges, about 15 minutes.  Remove the weights and foil and continue baking for about 10 minutes more. Remove the tart shell from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Do NOT turn off the oven. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta5
  6. Pour the filling into the tart shell and smooth it with a spatula. Layer the tomatoes in a concentric circle (or any pattern you like) over the filling. Drizzle with the olive oil and the honey and sprinkle the tomatoes with the flake salt and cracked black pepper. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta4Bake until the tomatoes are wilted and the filling is set, about 30 minutes. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta3Allow the tart to cool completely. Garnish with fresh mint and basil leaves, then slice and serve. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta8

 

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Dal is a cornerstone of Indian meals. They are wonderful with lamb and chicken or as part of a healthy vegetarian meal. And while I truly love Indian food, I have to be honest – it doesn’t make the most compelling photographs. Don’t be put off by that. The flavors in this dal are rich and smoky and yet mellow all at the same time. It’s very easy to make and if you get into South Asian or Middle eastern cooking, all of the ingredients will become staples in your kitchen as they are now in mine. Make the full amount since left-overs will not go uneaten.

I highly recommend the cookbook linked below. It is full of step by step instructions and photos so that even a novice cook can make successful meals.

Smoky Yellow Split Peas from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Yield: About 6 cups

Ingredients

1 pound Yukon Gold or russet potatoes

1 cup split yellow peas

4 cups of water

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2-4 dried red cayenne chilies (like chili de Arbol), stems discarded

1 Tablespoon whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 medium tomato, cored and diced

1.5 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt

2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. Place the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to prevent them from darkening.
  2. Place the split peas in a 4 quart saucepan. Smoky Yellow Split Peas1Add water to cover and rinse the peas, rubbing them gently between your fingers. Remove any debris that may be lurking (pebbles or the odd skin of the pea). Drain the peas and repeat until the water runs clear. Then add the peas to 4 cups of water in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. White foam should rise to the surface. Using a spoon, remove the foam and discard it.
  3. Drain the potatoes and add them to the peas along with the turmeric. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes or until the peas are tender and the potatoes are cooked. Smoky Yellow Split Peas2
  4. In a small skillet, add the chilies, coriander and cumin Smoky Yellow Split Peas4Smoky Yellow Split Peas3and toast the spices over medium high heat, tossing them occasionally until the chilies are blackened and the coriander seeds are reddish in color. Everything will smell smoky and aromatic. Transfer the spice blend and the tomatoes into a blender and puree.
  5. Once the peas and potatoes are cooked (there will be liquid remaining in the pot), add every bit of the tomato and spice paste to the pot. Stir through. This can be made ahead to this point. Stir in the salt.
  6. Increase the heat to medium high and allow the dal to boil vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle and the dal to thicken. You can use the back of a wooden spoon to smush some of the potatoes and yellow split peas for an even thicker sauce. Garnish with cilantro when serving.

Blackberry Thyme Crisp with Pistachio Ice Cream

Berries! They are everywhere. Not too long ago, Frances and Matthew gave me a lovely cookbook from a winery that we had visited together a couple of years ago on a trip through Napa and Sonoma. It has recipes and wine pairings which is wonderful for anyone asking the question of what goes well with [fill in the blank].

I’m always looking for new desserts that are easy and delicious. This one caught my eye because it uses fresh thyme along with the now ubiquitous berries. I happen to be growing a bumper crop of lemon thyme on my terrace and it pairs beautifully with the blackberries. The cookbook gives a recipe for making your own pistachio ice cream but I a) don’t own an ice cream maker; (b) have zero freezer space to make ice cream; and c) don’t want to spend so much time making dessert, so I simply purchased a very good quality “Mediterranean” Pistachio ice cream. If you want to make your own ice cream, buy the book. DO NOT OMIT the ice cream and do not buy that phony strange green stuff. This dessert really needs the pistachio ice cream to play off of the berries. “Crisp” is a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion. I might consider doubling the topping next time I make this since it sort of disappeared as a topping, simply melding with the berries and giving the berries some heft.

The dessert is not impressive looking (which could be why there was no photo of it in the cookbook…) and you won’t think this is the greatest thing you have EVER eaten. I’m just being honest. However, after taking that first bite, you will say “Wow, this is REALLY good.” It’s also surprisingly filling, so you could get 6 portions out of it. And once I added the pistachio ice cream and took that first bite – well, it was just a bit of perfection.

I don’t happen to live where wild blackberries grow, but if you do, they would be wonderful here. My blackberries came from the produce section of my local market.

Blackberry Thyme Crisp with Pistachio Ice Cream from the Winemaker Cooks by Christine Hanna

Blackberry Thyme Crisp6

Yield: 4 to 6 servings with ice cream

Ingredients

4 cups/455 grams fresh blackberries, washed and drained

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup/65 grams granulated sugar

1 generous teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (preferably lemon thyme)

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Blackberry Thyme Crisp1

For the topping 

6 Tablespoons/45 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup/100 grams packed brown sugar/Demerara sugar

1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or fine salt

6 Tablespoons/85 grams cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes

For serving

Good quality pistachio ice cream

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/190 degrees C. Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar, cornstarch, thyme, lemon juice and vanilla. Allow it to stand for 15 minutes, while you make the topping and the oven heats up. Blackberry Thyme Crisp3 (2)
  3. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until combined. Add the butter and continue processing until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Blackberry Thyme Crisp2
  4. Turn the fruit into the prepared baking pan and spread the fruit to an even layer. evenly spread the topping over the fruit.Blackberry Thyme Crisp4Blackberry Thyme Crisp5
  5. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature with the ice cream.