Duck Bacon Spinach Quiche

Duck Bacon Spinach Quiche

Dear Friends, I initially wrote this post about 10 days ago. Before the world had spun on its axis and Putin had invaded – without any provocation – the free and independent country of Ukraine. It was scheduled to go live this Sunday morning Chicago time. However, I pulled it, thinking it was just too frivolous. Like most of you, I have been glued to the TV and internet, watching in disbelief as the Russian Military has brought in every horrible weapon but one in its arsenal in an attempt to drag Ukraine back under the Russian boot. I have watched as the incredibly brave and resourceful people of Ukraine have stood their ground and defended their homeland against incredible odds. And I have watched as they have held back the might of the Russian Military – not ceding territory and not giving Putin the easy win he had expected.

Just as we appear to be emerging from the pandemic of the past two years, we are again thrust into a very stressful time with a crazed Putin threatening the use of nuclear weapons. I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. We children were sent home from school to be with our families on the very real possibility of a Russian strike and possible death. Thankfully that disaster was averted and we were brought back from the brink of a nuclear war.

When I am stressed (as well as when I am happy, if I am honest) I turn to family and food for comfort and celebration. For me, if I have a big pot of soup on the stove and a bread and pie coming out of the oven, I feel just a little bit safer. It’s that warm hug that we all need at times. With that in mind, as well as hopefully providing a very brief distraction, I decided to have this post go live after all. Read this as my poke in the eye to Putin – that he will not destroy Ukraine or democracy. Let them eat quiche!

Custardy, comforting Duck Bacon Spinach Quiche is easy to make and even easier to eat. The flavor is a well-balanced blend of creamy custard with a gently savory duck bacon, gruyere and spinach filling with a hint of nutmeg all in a flaky crust. A crisp green salad is the only accompaniment needed to round out the perfect meal.

Foods and their popularity tend to go in and out of fashion. There was a time when quiche was EVERYWHERE. And then it was nowhere. When I was growing up, it was not uncommon for my parents to invite teachers to our home for a Sunday lunch or dinner. I couldn’t imagine doing that with my son’s teachers. Does anyone do that anymore?? Nevertheless, my mother’s go to teacher’s meal was a beautiful Quiche Lorraine. It was considered very avant garde at the time and the teachers were always delighted to experience it. My mother was a wonderful cook and hostess.

Quiche also went through a phase of being super-sized – the higher the filling, the better. I’m afraid that it became lost to the American tendency to make everything bigger, but rarely better. Real quiche, though, is a delightful dish that doesn’t over-power.

A word about duck bacon. Of course, you can make this with regular, thick-cut bacon. However, duck bacon is worth a try. It is meatier, with half the fat of traditional bacon. It cooks up easily and even when crisped, it retains a lovely chew for a great mouthfeel. As my readers know by now, we eat very little meat these days. So when I do eat some, I want something where a little bit goes a long way for flavor and satisfaction.

Recently I bought some duck bacon, but I didn’t actually have anything in mind to make with it at the time. My husband, however, was getting concerned that it would go to waste, so I started to think of how to use it in a way that would show it off. I almost always have cream, eggs, good cheese and either spinach or kale floating around my refrigerator, so quiche seemed like a natural solution. It had been off my rotation of foods for years and I honestly couldn’t think why.

After checking out a number of recipes, I came up with this one. My crust is from Cook’s Illustrated minus the sugar. You, however, can use any basic pie crust that you like, including one from the grocery. The only change I might make next time would be to blind bake my pie dough first. I did use a metal pie plate on top of a baking steel, so it was fine, but it could have been a bit crisper on the bottom. On the other hand, the ease of not blind baking my crust first kind of out-weighed doing it!

If you haven’t made a quiche in a long time – or ever – now is the time to do it.

Recipe

Duck Bacon Quiche

Yield: 4 to 6 generous portions

Ingredients

1 unbaked 9-inch pie dough

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup of heavy cream at room temperature

1/2 cup of 1% or 2% milk at room temperature

4 slices of cooked duck bacon, cut into dice

1 cup of loosely packed, grated gruyere, Comte, Emmenthaler or aged Swiss cheese

2.5 cups loosely packed fresh baby spinach

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

Duck Bacon Spinach Quiche

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Then add in the cream, milk salt and pepper.

Stir in half of the duck bacon and cheese. Pour this mixture into the pie crust. Place the spinach on top of the mixture and using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently submerge the spinach with some still peaking out.

Sprinkle the remaining duck bacon and cheese over the top,

Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F. Then turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F. and continue baking for about another 55 minutes. There should be a slight wobble to the filling. The filling will puff up during the baking process and then settles down as it cools. Do not over bake! I then turned off my oven, left the door open with the quiche inside for another 10 minutes.

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool for at least one hour before serving. This can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Serve a crisp salad alongside.

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken

Sticky, tart, sweet, fiery Pomegranate Molasses Chicken! That’s what’s for dinner tonight. I came across a recipe for chicken wings that was meant as a snack to be munched during the Super Bowl. However, neither my husband nor I is a sport’s fan and we rarely eat such a filling appetizer. We are far more likely to have salads or a cup of soup – maybe a dip – if we have anything at all. But I thought that if I serve these with dilled basmati rice and some side salads, it could be our dinner. And wow! was I right.

I made a few changes both in ingredients and method from the original recipe and realized that this marvelous glaze would work with any cut of chicken. Wings are shown here, and we thought they made a satisfying, relatively inexpensive dinner for us. But we also no longer eat a great deal of meat. If you have teenagers, you definitely will need to choose another cut of chicken!

More meat bang would come from chicken drumsticks or thighs. Breast meat could be used but it tends to dry out and isn’t as flavorful as the darker meat. When choosing your chicken pieces, you definitely want meat on the bone and with the skin.

Depending on the cut of chicken that you use and your individual oven, the cooking time may vary. But you’ll know when it’s done. The original recipe called for 2 pounds of wings, which is what I used. My wings were on the bigger size so it turned out to be 8 wings. My husband and I were satisfied with three wings each for dinner and I ate leftovers for lunch the following day. However, the glaze easily could have worked with 3 pounds of chicken, in my opinion. Since the chicken is cooked before applying the glaze, any excess can be saved in the fridge for up to a week if you go with the lesser amount.

Pomegranate Molasses is not really a molasses at all. It is pomegranate juice that has been reduced down to a syrup. These days, it can often be found in regular supermarkets, but it is also readily available online and in Middle Eastern Grocery stores. I can’t get enough of its fruity, tartness and use it drizzled over salads and roasted veggies. Try it the next time you roast carrots or sweet potatoes! It’s also great over pound cake with berries. I’m just sayin’.

The chicken in Pomegranate Molasses Chicken first gets a dry rub and rests in the fridge. This can be quickly thrown together in the morning or the night before. Just pull your chicken out of the fridge an hour before cooking. Serve it with dilled basmati rice as I did or with any grain of your choice. Couscous, freekeh, farro, bulghur or millet would also be great choices. However, you decide to serve this yummy chicken, get ready to get sticky!

And please use fresh spices for this. If you are going with 3 pounds of chicken, use rounded or generous measurements for the dry rub. The sauce should be fine as is.

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken

Recipe

Yield: 4 as part of a dinner or 8 as a nosh

Ingredients

For the dry rub:

2 to 3 pounds of chicken wings, drumsticks or thighs – bone-in, skin on

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

For the glaze:

a generous 1/3 cup of pomegranate molasses

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 tablespoons agave or maple syrup

2 rounded Tablespoons of red harissa

1 Tablespoon of canola, safflower or coconut oil

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or good quality vegan “butter”

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken

Directions

Mix your dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. It will look like a lot of spice, but trust me, it’s the right amount.

Place the chicken (pat it dry if it seems to have a lot of moisture) in a glass or stainless bowl or freezer bag. (I chose to cut off the the tip of the wing. There is no meat there and it didn’t seem necessary to me. That was a personal choice.) Pour the dry rub mix over the chicken pieces and move the chicken around to coat them well. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour or up to overnight.

Remove the chicken from the fridge one hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

You can prepare the glaze while you wait for the chicken to come to room temperature. The glaze can also be made ahead and warmed up when you are ready to use it.

To make the glaze, place all of the ingredients, except for the butter, in a small pot. Heat on medium until the sauce begins to simmer. Allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once it has thickened, add the butter and turn off the heat. Stir through and taste the glaze. Add salt and pepper to your taste (I did not use more than 1/2 teaspoon of salt in total in the glaze since the dry rub is salty enough for me). You can also adjust the heat or sweetness by adding more harissa or agave. The amounts given were perfect for us. Set the glaze aside.

Place a wire cooling rack on top of a half sheet pan with rimmed sides. Spray the rack with a vegetable spray like PAM or lightly coat with canola or safflower oil. Place the chicken wings on top of the rack leaving about an inch or two in between pieces. It doesn’t really matter which side is facing down at this point because you will be turning the chicken a couple of times.

Place the chicken in the oven on a middle/upper rack. Cook for 15 minutes and then turn the chicken pieces over. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Now brush some of the glaze to coat over one side of the chicken. Place it back in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Turn the chicken over and glaze this side. Return it to the oven. Repeat the coating steps one more time. When your chicken looks gorgeously glazed and smells amazing, it’s done.

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken

Now enjoy!

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

Yes, nutritious and vegan tastes this great! Wonderful One-Pot Pasta with lentils is packed with vegan power and gives you a satisfying dinner in under an hour. And this one-pot method of cooking pasta right in the sauce makes clean-up a snap. Who could ask for anything more?

For the past year, I have been watching a vlog called Pick Up Limes out of the Netherlands. It’s all about the vegan life-style. The vlogger is a registered dietician and a walking advertisement for the vegan life. She is completely non-preachy and makes everything approachable. While she now spends less time on her life, which I kind of miss, she is a wonderful resource for vegan recipes and nutrition. This pasta recipe originated with her. Per usual, I made a few tweaks to portions and method. Frankly, even I was a bit surprised how much I loved this dish.

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta layers in the flavors to make a savory, thick – and very healthy – sauce. Every element plays a part. The capers and olives lend a brininess and the lentils add smooth mouthfeel and meatiness to the dish. And after eating the generous portions you feel full without any heaviness. It’s a great introduction to vegan eating.

I served this with broccolini that I lightly sautéed in a pan with just salt, pepper, grated garlic and lemon zest. The crunch of the broccolini was a perfect accompaniment to the unctuous pasta. A small salad instead wouldn’t go amiss and some good bread to lap up every bit of the delicious sauce.

There are a few shortcuts that you can take even though I chose not to. With a pantry full of dried lentils and beans, I cooked mine up in the morning. Unlike some legumes, most lentils do not require pre-soaking and a long, slow cooking. These only take a good rinsing and 15 minutes of cooking to be ready. However, prepared lentils are often available in the produce department in vacuum-sealed bags if you choose to go that route.

And normally, if I had thought ahead, I would have bought pitted olives for the dish. Since I had some lovely picholine olives from Morocco with pits I used those. It took a few minutes longer to cut the flesh off of the pits, but not much more. Kalamata olives, which are black, are readily available pitted and would be just as good here.

I did use the recommended spinach. While it added to the nutrition of the dish, it didn’t contribute much in the way of flavor in my opinion. So as a consequence, I have made it optional. Don’t forego making this pasta if you are out of fresh spinach! The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes. My husband and I do not like every meal to be spicy, so I only used a sprinkling and might even leave it out altogether the next time. All of the other ingredients are essential to the overall mix of nutrition and flavor.

When I saw the original amount of pasta called for, I thought there is no way that the portions would be generous. Boy, was I wrong. Somehow, 300 g or 10.5 ounces of pasta resulted in a very generous four portions. If you wish to increase the portions to make this for a bigger crowd, the Pick Up Limes website has a conversion table on the recipe.

We ended up using some grated Parmesan on top, but afterwards my husband and I both agreed that it was not needed. So if you are not going full-blown vegan, you can use it or not. And while I have not tasted them myself, there are also vegan “cheese” options out there. It’s up to you.

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

For a non-vegan one-pot pasta dish that is quite good:

One-Pot Pasta Puttanesca

Recipe

Yield: 4 very generous portions

Ingredients

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

1.5 Tablespoons Olive Oil (Canola or sunflower could also be used)

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

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

1 vegetable bouillon cube

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon ground dried fennel

Up to 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (Optional)

10.5 oz. (300 g) dry spaghetti noodles

3 cups (720 ml) tomato sauce

2 cups (480 ml) water

2 cups (360 g) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 to 3 cups (225 g) cooked lentils (brown, green or whole red lentils) (I was fine with 2 cups; my husband wanted more, so I added the additional cup. The original recipe called for 1.5 cups.)

1/2 cup (68 g) green or black olives (about 20 regular olives), sliced or chopped

1/3 cup (50 g) sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped

1 Tablespoon (9 g) capers, rinsed if stored in salt

2 cups (60 g) fresh baby spinach (Optional)

Fresh Basil (Optional Garnish)

Directions

Dissolve the bouillon cube in the 2 cups of water. Add the oil to a large pot on medium-high heat.

When hot, sauté the onion, garlic, herbs and chili flakes, if using for 3 minutes.

Now add the pasta, pasta sauce, water, cherry or grape tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and capers to the pot. Bring everything to a simmer. Using tongs or a wooden spoon, push the pasta into the sauce as it begins to soften. The pasta will need to be fully submerged in the sauce to cook properly. [I got a bit impatient here. To speed things up, you can break the pasta in half – a heresy, I know. Otherwise, just be patient. It will take a few minutes.]

Once simmering, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the brand of pasta. Keep checking after 10 minutes. You want the pasta cooked but al dente. 10 minutes into the cooking time, add in the cooked lentils. Stir through.

At the very end, stir through the spinach if using. Serve it generously and garnish with fresh basil, if using. Now enjoy!

Lentil and Chard Soup(Adas bi Hamoud)

Lentil and Chard Soup

Lentil and Chard Soup is one of those traditional soups which each family makes its own. I looked at several recipes for this delicious and nutritious vegan soup before making it. As always, I took what I liked from each to make it my own. Initially I read that it was a Syrian soup, but most of the recipes that I found online said that it was Lebanese. Whatever its origins, Lentil and Chard Soup is tangy from the lemons and chard with enough heft from the lentils and potatoes to make this a meal with some good bread and perhaps a salad or some hummus on the side.

If you are unfamiliar with chard (Swiss chard, Rainbow chard, Silverbeet, Perpetual Spinach) you should make friends quickly. This green, leafy vegetable is loaded with vitamins and as part of a healthy diet, it can help lower blood pressure and combat certain cancers. While in the beet family, chard can substitute in most recipes calling for spinach or kale. You should note that chard takes longer to cook than spinach – around the same time it takes to cook kale.

Winter has finally well and truly arrived in Chicago and we have been having frigid temperatures and snow. My husband and I still take our long, almost daily walks and are undeterred.

Snowy January 2022 Chicago

However, I do love to return home to a pot of soup to warm my insides. It’s like getting a big hug – nothing cozier. Lentil and Chard Soup comes together quickly and easily can be doubled to feed a crowd.

For another delicious way to prepare chard, try:

Swiss Chard Sauté

Lentil and Chard Soup

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

Lentil and Chard Soup

1.5 cups of brown or green lentils, rinsed well and drained (I like Pardina lentils because they hold their shape when cooked.)

4 cups vegetable stock

4 to 6 cups water (or more stock)

2 bunches of chard (any variety), cleaned and coarsely chopped

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I like Golden potatoes)

7 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 – 3 Tablespoons EVOO

Up to 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (Start adding slowly and taste before adding more. The soup should be tangy from the lemon.)

Heaping 1/2 Tablespoon (1.5 teaspoons) dried mint

3 teaspoons ground cumin

A good dash of ground cinnamon

A handful of fresh cilantro (coriander leaves), chopped

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions begin to be golden. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 3 more minutes – just to mellow out the garlic.

Lentil and Chard Soup

In a large pot, add the lentils, potatoes, stock and water if used. At this point, just add about 8 cups of liquid. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Then add 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir through. Add the chard, onions, garlic and cumin. Give a good stir. There should be enough liquid to cover the potatoes and lentils by 2 inches. Add more water as needed. Partially cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes and lentils are tender. This will take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes.

Lentil and Chard Soup

Add the lemon juice, cinnamon and mint and taste to see if you require more salt. I didn’t. Add the cilantro just before serving.

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Chickpea Spinach Curry, is ready in under 45 min. and packs a punch of flavors and nutrition. This vegan curry is a great option for nights when everyone is hungry and you are short on time. Or if you are trying to eat more plant-based meals and want a delicious option. It’s an easy-to-prepare dish that comes together with mostly pantry items. While I generally cook my own beans and almost always have them in my fridge, canned chickpeas (garbanzo) would work well here. We did eat this with a dollop of plain, whole milk Bulgarian-style yogurt. However, it can be eaten as is or by using a plant-based yogurt. Serve it over rice (brown rice pictured here) or any other grain you prefer.

Chickpea Spinach Curry came onto my roster because I had just bought a box of spinach for something that it turned out I wasn’t in the mood to make. I didn’t want it to go to waste. I always have chickpeas on hand and the spices in my pantry so I searched online until I found this recipe. As always, when preparing to make something new, I look at 5 or 6 versions online or in cookbooks and then pick and choose the parts I like best. I only made a couple of tweaks to this recipe to suit our tastes. While I wasn’t familiar with the website, I’ve become quite good at knowing if a recipe will work just from reading it.

As I have mentioned many times, my husband and I eat and both bake a lot of bread in our house. So I served this with store-bought naan, warmed in the oven. If you are in the mood or made it ahead, my Flaky Flatbread would also be a wonderful accompaniment. I love to make the flaky flatbread or a stuffed spinach flatbread, which I hope to post soon. They freeze beautifully and also keep well wrapped up in the refrigerator. So when I have the time and am in the mood, I make a stack to have on hand.

A simple winter dessert of spiced fruit compote that I made last week, with some gingersnaps on the side made for a satisfying and mostly very healthy meal. Every winter I prepare compote made from dried fruits in a spiced sugar syrup. It lasts most of the winter in a glass jar in the fridge. Wonderful as is or over any simple pound cake or olive oil cake, it makes a lovely end to a simple meal. It is especially great after a spicy meal, balancing out the spiciness to perfection.

Whether you are going for a meatless Monday or are vegetarian or vegan, this meal will not disappoint!

Recipe

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 large onion finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 inch ginger, finely grated (No need to remove the skin)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 Tablespoon ground turmeric
1/2 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chili flakes
1.5 cups crushed tomatoes (400g) (An average 14.5 oz. can)
3 cups cooked chickpeas (500g) (About 2 average cans. Exact amounts are not essential here)
3/4 cup vegetable stock (177 ml) or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup of water.
1 cup frozen chopped spinach or 142 gm fresh/frozen chopped spinach (5 oz. box)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste (I used 1/2 of a juicy lemon)


OPTIONAL:

About 5oz. full-fat coconut milk or unsweetened coconut creme (148 ml) (The coconut creme available to me comes in a 5 oz. can which was perfect. If you use up coconut milk pretty quickly then leftover milk from a larger can is no problem. You can also freeze leftover coconut milk in an ice cube tray and pop them out whenever needed.)

Garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander leaves)

Yogurt (milk or non-dairy)

Directions

Chickpea Spinach Curry


Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-high setting. Sauté the finely chopped onion until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the crushed or minced garlic and grated ginger and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic doesn’t smell raw anymore.

Mix in the next four ingredients (ground coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne) and toast for two minutes stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chickpeas and vegetable stock. Increase the heat to high and
once boiling, lower to medium-low to maintain at a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now
and then.

Add 1/2 tsp salt, the sugar, and the spinach. If the spinach is frozen increase the heat until the
curry is bubbling away again. Simmer for an additional five minutes.

Add the garam masala, lemon juice and coconut milk and stir. Sprinkle over the chopped
cilantro leaves and serve hot.

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

These Syrian Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce are a fruity, tangy crowd pleaser. We have our son, daughter-in-law Frances and granddaughter visiting us this week. Originally scheduled to come for New Year’s and our son’s birthday, when my husband contracted Covid and the trip was postponed. Airlines were cancelling flights right and left as well. It had been so long since we had had them for a visit to Chicago that I had begun to feel that this day would never come. Thankfully, my husband recovered and because we both had been vaccinated and boostered, I managed to remain negative!

I had been dreaming of their visit forever and all of the things that we would do and meals that I would cook. Well, unfortunately the weather has been quite cold and they are used to California temperatures. So between that and Covid restrictions, a trip to the grocery store and one walk along the river is as exciting as it got. However, Nana and Grandpa made sure that we had lots of stories to read and toys to play with and Juliana helped Nana cook. Our granddaughter is only two so she has not yet been vaccinated and we wanted to be careful.

Well, I may not be able to control very much these days, but I could at least feed everyone well. As soon as I came across this recipe for Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce, I knew that I had a winner. I did make a few changes to quantities and method, but there is no one way to make these and every family has their own version.

These delicious meatballs are often served for Jewish Holidays, including Passover. Mine were made using breadcrumbs, but equal amounts of matzah meal could easily be swapped out to make them Kosher for Passover. Of course, you don’t have to Jewish to enjoy these yummy and satisfying meatballs and they likely are also made in non-Jewish Syrian communities. Traditionally served with rice, I used whole wheat couscous when I served them.

The meatballs call for a fairly large quantity of pine nuts, which are not inexpensive. A reasonable substitute would be blanched slivered almonds. However, if pine nuts are within your budget, I would encourage you to use them. Their unique flavor, especially when lightly toasted, just makes this dish truly celebratory.

The seasonings are warming baharat , Aleppo pepper and allspice with loads of chopped fresh herbs. And tamarind, which can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores is readily available online or in many spice stores these days.

The recipe I made called for ground beef, but ground lamb could be used instead. Meat has become quite expensive and normally my husband and I only eat it once a week, if that. However, the recipe does make 40 meatballs and will feed a crowd, especially with the usual array of salads and dips that are a part of every Middle Eastern/North African meal. Everyone, including my 2-year old granddaughter loved this dish!

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Recipe

Yield: 40 golf-size meatballs

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

About 1 Tablespoon EVOO, Grapeseed or other oil

3 pounds of ground beef

5 large eggs

1.5 cups of pan-toasted pine nuts

3/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs (or matza meal)

About 2 cups of bread crumbs or matza meal for lightly coating the meatballs (I used a mix of Panko and regular fine dry bread crumbs.)

1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

1 heaping Tablespoon of baharat or allspice

1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

2 large handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped. (Parsley, cilantro, dill and mint are wonderful)

For the sauce

2 teaspoons EVOO

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

4 cups water

10 Tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) good quality tamarind paste in concentrated form

6 ounces tomato paste

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil two sheet pans with about 1/2 Tablespoon on each pan.

Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl except for the oil. I like to use glass or stainless steel when working with raw meat. Wearing disposable gloves or with your hands moistened with cold water, roll the meatballs into golf-sized balls. You should get about 40 meatballs.

Place the 2 cups of bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Roll each meatball in the crumbs for a light coating. Add breadcrumbs as necessary. Place 20 meatballs on each sheet pan, with about 1 inch in between.

Place the pans in the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until well-browned.

Meanwhile in one or two large skillets, mix the ingredients for the sauce. Stir and simmer while the meatballs cook.

When the meatballs are browned and the sauce has simmered, add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes, The sauce should have thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs and serve over rice or couscous.

Poppy Seed Window Cookies

Poppy Seed Window Cookies

Poppy Seed Window Cookies are a buttery delight with the zing of blood orange marmalade. Some people think that Christmas marks the beginning of an end to cookie season. But Christmas has always been a non-event for me. I am happily and proudly Jewish and have never felt a longing for a Christmas tree or waited for Santa to come down the chimney. So I think any season is cookie season!

This type of cookie has many different names. Sometimes called “lunette” cookies by the French because they resemble eyeglasses or Occhio di Bue Biscotti in Italian which means bulls’ eye. Also similar to a linzer cookie. What they all have in common is a buttery, eggy rich cookie dough with some kind of filling. They are a wonderful cookie to gift because they hold up beautifully. Fillings are only limited by your imagination, but blood orange marmalade, which was used here, is a wonderful foil for the rich dough. I had never seen these made with poppy seed before reading a piece on cookies by Susan Spungen in the New York Times.

After reading comments and making a couple of batches, I have made a few small changes to the directions. Normally, I tend to like things well-done. I always buy the darkest, crustiest bread I can find! But despite the instructions, I found that I liked these best when they were fully baked but not yet golden. I think that it preserved the clean buttery taste and prevents them from drying out too quickly. The only change to the ingredients that I made was to add 3/4 teaspoon of pure almond extract to the dough in addition to the vanilla. Almonds, poppy seed and orange are simply a match made in heaven.

A nice thing about these cookies is that you can make the different parts over a couple of days. The dough, itself will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator if tightly wrapped. And straining the marmalade isn’t difficult, but it is slightly tedious. That can also be done separately.

Chilling the raw cookies before baking is really important. It helps keep the cookies from puffing up and spreading during baking. Since I certainly don’t have room in my fridge or freezer for a half-sheet cookie sheet, I improvised. While it is still unseasonably warm for a Chicago winter, it is cold enough on my terrace to place my cookie trays outside covered in the step before baking. Worked like a charm.

Ovens vary tremendously as will the size and thickness of your cookie. I am giving a suggested size for the cookies as well as a thickness, but you can make these with any set or shape of cookie cutters that you wish.

When making a recipe with multiple parts, I find it easiest to read it through first several times. Then I carefully measure and prep each section so that when I am ready to bake or assemble, I am not suddenly scrambling or forgetting something. Sometimes it means washing one or two extra bowls, but in the long-run it makes things much simpler to accomplish the desired results.

While the blood orange marmalade is a wonderful filling, I did play around with some extra dough that I had. Skipped the window and used Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) as the filling. Then dipped the cookies in a chocolate glaze flavored with a bit of Cointreau. AMAZING! I do need to work on my glaze a bit for it to be perfectly glossy, and my dipping technique, but it was definitely a winner. So have fun making these. And if blood orange isn’t your jam, raspberry jam would be equally delish.

Purim begins at sundown on March 16. Normally I make my delicious Queen Esther poppy seed cookies along with hamantaschen, but I think this year I might just make these instead.

Recipe

Yield: About 2 dozen sandwich cookies depending on size

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened

⅔ cup/135 grams granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature (The whites can be saved and used in an omelet or another cookie.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

2 tablespoons buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons milk
mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 2 T kefir)

1 cup blood orange marmalade, with the solids strained out

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions

In a medium bowl, sift your flour and baking soda. Add the poppy seeds and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes – until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extracts and beat well on medium speed, scraping the bowl down as needed.

With the beater on low speed, add half of the flour mixture and just mix until barely combined. Add all of the buttermilk and the remaining flour. Beat on low speed just until combined. Then turn the speed up to medium and beat until the dough begins to clump, scraping down the sides a couple of times.

Divide the dough into 2 balls that have been flattened into disks. Wrap them in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least one hour or up until 5 days.

At any point before assembling the cookies, you can prepare the marmalade. Place spoonfuls of a good quality blood orange or other marmalade in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Push the clear liquid part through the strainer. The solids are still edible and can be reserved or you can discard them. Cover the strained jam and set it aside until you are ready to use it.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, remove one of the disks from the fridge. It will need to warm up for about 15 minutes before you can roll it out. Flour a sheet of parchment that fits a half-sheet baking pan or a silicone mat. Roll the slightly softened dough out, adding flour as necessary until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick. If your kitchen is very warm and the dough starts to get sticky, you can always pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. Using a cookie cutter or glass that is about 2 to 2.75 inches in diameter cut out the shapes. Take half of the cut-out dough and using a cutter that is about 1.5 to 1.75 inches, cut out the centers. The cut-outs can be re-rolled along with any excess dough to make more cookies. Keep doing this until you use up the dough. The cookies will not spread much. I was able to easily get 12 cookies on a half sheet pan. When the pan is filled, lightly cover it with a towel and chill for about 15 minutes.

While the cookies are chilling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. with the rack in the middle. Bake the chilled cookies for 12 to 16 minutes or until they look done but are not yet golden. If the bottom or edges just are starting to get a bit golden, they are done! Remove the pan to a wire rack and after 2 minutes, carefully take the cookies off of the pan and place them directly on the rack to cool completely.

Continue this process until all of the dough is used or do some now and some another day. When the cookie parts are baked and fully cooled, separate your top sections (the ones with the cut-out) onto a single cooling rack or piece of parchment. Generously rain powdered (confectioner’s or icing sugar) down over them through a strainer.

Spread a generous teaspoonful of jam over the bottoms. Carefully lay a top cookie over the jam. If desired, you can sprinkle some poppy seeds over part of the visible jam in the window.

Now enjoy!

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

This Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is a great weeknight meal with lots of bold flavor. And it’s ready in under an hour. It is a feel-good meal that even meat lovers can enjoy. The thick-cut Portobello mushrooms can be purchased pre-sliced in most stores these days to speed up the process even further. And their meaty texture and taste have just the right mouthfeel for a satisfying dinner.

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is wonderful stuffed into a pita with all the toppings. It would also be equally delicious on a bed of steamed Basmati rice or couscous with the salad on the side. And let’s talk about those sides. You are only limited by your time and imagination. Some things are easily bought if you are really short on time or inclination and others are quickly made while the shawarma cooks.

I always like to have a number of salads and dips on hand. With pre-cooked beets (canned or from the produce section) you can easily have Moroccan Beet Salad ready in minutes. And while nothing beats my homemade hummus, there are a number of respectable options available in grocery stores. Persian cucumbers diced with cut-up tomatoes, olives and lots of mint, dill and fresh cilantro is another easy option.

If you have lentil or chickpea salad on hand, these are also great accompaniments.

Below you will see that this recipe includes a quickly pickled cabbage to put on top of the shawarma. Fresh arugula would also be delicious or pickled onion instead or in addition. The salads and sides lend bright colors and textures and we do eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. So if you think going meatless has to be dull, think again! This is a great Meatless Monday option, but also great any day of the week.

Salatim

Recipe

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

12 ounces Portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into 1/3-inch wedges

3 Tablespoons EVOO

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground paprika (sweet or smoked)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

For Serving

4 pitas (I like whole wheat) or cooked basmati rice or couscous

Easy yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) topping mixed with turmeric, salt and pepper OR tahini mixed with lemon juice, garlic, salt and ice water

Pickled cabbage (See below)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Raise the oven rack to the next to highest level so that it is about 6 to 8 inches from the heat element.

Place the mushroom slices and the onion wedges on a rimmed half sheet pan. Mix all of the spices, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Using clean hands (or tongs), toss the mushrooms and onion with 3 Tablespoons of EVOO and the spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer.

Easy Peasy Vegan Mushroom Shawarma

Roast until tender and browned. About 20 minutes. However, ovens vary so check it at 18 minutes.

Warm the pita for serving.

Pickled Cabbage

Thinly slice about 3 cups of cabbage. Red or green cabbage works and you can usually purchase these pre-sliced if you prefer. Place in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of EVOO, juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. If you have it, sprinkle with ground sumac and some freshly chopped cilantro. This can be made earlier in the day or while the mushrooms cook.

Pickled Cabbage

Garnish with freshly chopped herbs – whatever you have on hand works. Now eat!

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Chocolate Marble Cake

Chocolate Marble Cake

Growing up I had a very Manichean approach to dessert. My favorite cookie was a Black & White. My favorite ice cream was a soft-serve twist of chocolate and vanilla from Carvel. And my favorite cake was Chocolate Marble Cake from our local bakery. In New York, where I lived until I was fourteen, these desserts were ubiquitous. Every good deli and bakery carried the cookie and cake of my dreams. And in those days, a Carvel sign could be seen at most off-ramps all over New York. The truth is, I have never outgrown these loves, although finding really good versions of them in the Midwest is more challenging. So I was VERY excited when I came across this recipe for Black & White Pound Cake using black cocoa powder.

Black Cocoa Powder is what gives Oreos (or Hydrox Cookies, which is what I ate growing up and believe to be superior) their color and unique almost dry chocolate flavor. I had only used Dutch cocoa before. That will work here but the look and flavor will be different. The recipe comes from Sohla El-Waylly, a Food 52 star baker. She is very fun to watch and has several YouTube offerings. Sohla has a slightly funky vibe and a natural charm. I’ve made a few things of hers and the results have always been successful.

Now the one part of this recipe that caused a lot of debate in the comments section was the so-called streusel, which is used in both the middle of the cake and on top. I say so-called because it isn’t really like any other streusel I’ve eaten. It’s quite dry and the whole cake when it comes out of the pan, kind of looks as if it had been rescued from a fire and was covered in coal dust. I know, I know – this doesn’t sound as if I am making a case for the topping. But the funny thing is that as I ate the cake, the not-very-sweet topping grew on me. The part that went in the middle just melted into the cake and was delicious. The stuff on top crumbled off these dark, deep Oreo-like bits which were not overly sweet, but had a certain somethin/somethin.

It would be completely understandable if you chose to leave it off of the top and the cake would be AMAZING. But if you are open to giving it a chance, I would encourage you to do so. Either way, I would definitely use it in the middle of the cake as given in the recipe.

The finished cake when cut is an ever-changing work of art. Each slice is unique in it’s design and all are beautiful. It’s edible modern art, with dark beautiful veins of deliciousness. And while it may appear to be difficult to achieve, it really isn’t. I won’t lie. The cake is a bit fussy, takes a little time and uses several bowls, but there are no special techniques to making this. Just REALLY, REALLY, REALLY read the directions through several times before starting. And I also found that by measuring everything out before I began actually making the cake made things much easier. Yes, it does create more bowls and dishes to wash, but it also means that there is no scrambling to measure and possibly mis-reading things. Directions are crucial here.

I have mentioned it in other posts, but it’s worth saying again. I have become a BIG fan of weighing most of my ingredients when baking. It really is so much more accurate than simply measuring. Kitchen scales are readily available and cost around $25 – money well spent. I have included both measurements and weights where appropriate.

The other thing I learned when making this cake is how transformative long creaming of your butter and sugar can be. Until Sohla, I had never, ever creamed butter and sugar this long. However, I will now never, ever cream butter and sugar anything but this long again! Who knew how light and fluffy the mixture could become? And it is essential that ALL of your ingredients are at room temperature for best results.

Recipe

Chocolate Marble Cake

Yield: One 9 X 5-inch loaf

Ingredients

For the Streusel (Optional)

1 1/4 cup (156 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (20 grams) black cocoa powder (or Dutched or natural cocoa powder)
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons (82 grams) cold butter, cut into cubes

For the Cake

14 tablespoons (196 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/4 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup (187 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (15 grams) black cocoa powder (or Dutched or natural cocoa powder)
1 tablespoon milk or water

Chocolate Marble Cake

Directions

For the Streusel

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, and salt. Add the cubed
butter and rub the mixture together with your fingers until it comes together into clumps; set aside. [Mine never quite formed clumps and I tend to agree with most of the comments that felt it needed more butter for this to happen. However, it did surprisingly stay together on the cake and when eaten was the texture of a thick Oreo dust. Not especially sweet.]

For the Cake

Set a rack in the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5-inch metal loaf pan with butter or cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and grease that as well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar,
baking powder, and kosher salt on medium-high speed until pale and very fluffy, stopping once during
mixing to scrape down the paddle and bowl, 6 to 8 minutes total. (You might think it’s done before that
time, but keep going all the way.)

Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl. On medium-high speed, beat in the eggs and yolk one at a
time, scraping down the paddle and the bowl after each addition. The batter should look very fluffy,
creamy, and emulsified (if not, your eggs or butter may have been not at room temperature—let the
mixture come to room temperature then try mixing it again).

Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and vanilla
until lump-free and totally smooth.

Add half of the sour cream and mix on low until just incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add half of the flour
and mix until just incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with the remaining sour cream and flour. Using
a flexible rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle and the bowl and mix the batter a few times to make sure
everything is evenly combined.

Transfer about half the batter to a medium bowl. Sift over the cocoa powder and stir into the batter along
with the milk or water.

Sifting Black Cocoa

Add half the cocoa batter and half the vanilla batter to the pan in alternating dollops. Top with half the streusel and repeat dolloping the remaining batter.

With a butter knife or offset spatula, swirl the knife through the batter to make sure it is evenly distributed
into the pan with no big air pockets and give the pan a few swift taps against the counter. Wet a butter
knife and use it to slice down the center of the loaf cake (this ensures an even crack right down the middle
of the cake). Top with remaining streusel, lightly pressing it into the batter.

Chocolate Marble Cake

Bake until the crust is deeply browned, the loaf rises and splits, and the cake feels firm and set when you
gently press the top, 65 to 75 minutes. (This is a very moist cake and it is better to overbake rather than
underbake. If the crust is looking very dark partway through, set a wire rack just above the loaf pan and
place a rimmed baking sheet on it to provide a shield.)

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula or butter knife around the sides to
loosen. Tip the cake into your hand, then place on a wire rack to fully cool before slicing.

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté makes a delicious addition to your holiday table. Once upon a time I used to make a vegetarian mushroom pâté. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was delicious. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain to make in the pre-food processor days. However, it went very well with roast turkey or chicken and was worth the extra effort for holidays and special occasions. And it was especially yummy in sandwiches the following day. But those of you who follow my blog know that I am trying to prepare more vegan dishes. I initially got interested in vegan cooking because my godson was deathly allergic to eggs AND his family keeps kosher, which means they won’t mix milk and meat – among other things. So finding – or developing – great vegan recipes became an imperative.

Now, though, I try to cook vegetarian and vegan meals for me and my husband several times a week. While my reasons are for better health as well as the welfare of the planet, I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t make meals that were delicious and satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite cuisines are Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and South Asian, both of which have a rich heritage of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

You certainly don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté. It’s a wonderful make-ahead side or appetizer that can be enjoyed by anyone – unless allergic to mushrooms or walnuts that is. So if you are looking for something a bit different to try for the holidays, give this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté a go. It still isn’t pretty (but what pâté is?) and it still is delicious! Spread it on crackers or some Melba toast and enjoy it with a Crackling Vermentino or other sparkling wine. Mmmmmmmmm!

For an alternative Vegan Mushroom Pâté that is not baked try:

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

You can’t go wrong with either one.

Recipe

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound of mushrooms, white, cremini or baby bellas, quartered

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped fresh fennel or celery

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.25 cups fine, dried bread crumbs – plain or seasoned

1 pound silken tofu

1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, basil and oregano

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

generous pinch of cayenne (Optional)

Directions

Oil or use a cooking spray to coat an 8 X 4-inch loaf pan. Line the pan with cooking parchment and oil that as well. Cut a piece of parchment large enough to sit on the top of the pâté mixture in the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the EVOO in a large sauté pan and add the chopped shallot and fennel or celery. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté until the mixture begins to soften. Then add the chopped parsley and bread crumbs. Stir through to moisten everything. Turn off the heat.

While the vegetables were sautéing, place the mushrooms and silken tofu in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture until everything begins to break down. Add in the nutritional yeast, dried herbs and the veggie/breadcrumb mixture. Pulse until smooth.

Add in the walnuts and just pulse 3 or 4 times quickly. If you prefer not to have bits of walnut in the finished product, you can pulse the mixture a few more times, until it is smooth throughout.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Add the oiled parchment on top of the mixture so that it is right against it. Give the pan a tap on the counter to make sure that everything is even and there are no air bubbles. Place in the hot oven and bake for 1.5 hours. Allow to cool completely.

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

If you are not going to serve it as soon as it is cool, refrigerate it in the pan. Remove the pan from the fridge about an hour before you are ready to serve. Carefully remove the piece of parchment that is on top and invert the pan onto your serving plate or board. Peel off the remaining parchment paper. Garnish as desired.