Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Cacio e Pepe 0

Posted on August 29, 2014 by Sahar

Like many of you, no doubt, I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain. I’ve read several of his books, watched his TV shows in their various incarnations, and have even seen him live here in Austin several times.

Why am I telling you this? Because he gave me the inspiration to try this most simple of pasta dishes, Cacio e Pepe.  I was watching his show on Rome and this dish was being prepared by a chef at one of his favorite restaurants.  I knew I had to make it.

Cacio e Pepe (meaning “cheese and pepper”) has been made in and around the Roma region since ancient times.  It was often one of the first solid foods eaten by infants and was a staple in the Roman Legion.  The traditional recipe has only pepper, Pecorino Romano, and pasta.

Like all recipes with few ingredients (or any recipe, for that matter), it will behoove you to buy the best that you can find or afford.  The pepper should be fresh ground and the cheese should be from Italy. (America does not make good hard Italian cheeses; they tend to be too salty or have a waxy quality.)

 

A few notes:

1.  I do stray from the traditional here with the addition of Parmesan cheese in the recipe.  In doing my research, I found many recipes that included Parmesan with the Romano.  Since I have done this with other recipes in the past and like the combination, I did it here as well.  However, you can simply use Romano if you like.

2.  I like to serve this in a Frico.  This is basically a fried cheese wafer from the Friuli region (NE Italy).  I saw the pasta being served in one of these on Bourdain’s Rome show and just had to do it. You can certainly skip this step if you like; however, I have included the recipe.

I mean, who doesn’t love fried cheese?

3.  A very important component of this dish is the pasta water.  Be sure to have a measuring cup nearby so you can retrieve at least 1 cup before you drain the pasta.  The pasta water contains starch that will help the sauce adhere to the pasta.

4.  Some recipes call for butter instead of or with the olive oil.  My own personal preference is for just olive oil.  You can certainly experiment and adjust to your taste.

4.  You want to drain the pasta when it has about 1 minute left of cooking time.  You will finish it in the skillet.  If you cook it all the way to al dente, then drain and add to the skillet, you run the risk of soggy pasta.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Top: Pecorino Romano; bottom: Parmigiano Reggiano.  The difference in the colors comes from the tyep of milk used in each cheese and how long they are aged.

Top: Pecorino Romano; bottom: Parmigiano Reggiano. The difference in the colors comes from the type of milk used in each cheese and how long they are aged.  Romano is made with sheep’s milk cheese and is typically aged for one year.  Parmigiano is made from cow’s milk and is aged for at least 18 months and up to 5 years. The little white dots on the Parmigiano are the calcification of the milk solids.  They are nothing to worry about and actually enhance the flavor of the cheese.

8 oz. pasta, like spaghetti, tonnarelli, tagliatoni, or bucatini

1 c. reserved pasta water, more if needed

1 c. shredded Pecorino Romano

1/2 c. shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. fresh ground black pepper

Additional Romano cheese for garnish

 

1.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions, minus 1 minute.  Reserve at least 1 cup of the pasta liquid.  Drain the pasta and set aside.

2.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and pepper.  Cook until the pepper begins to have a fragrance, about 30 seconds.

Cooking the pepper in the oil.

Cooking the pepper in the oil. Be sure to not let the pepper burn.  You just want a fragrance to come up.

Add 3/4 cup of the water and bring to a boil.

Adding the water. You need to work fast at this point.

Adding the water. You need to work fast at this point.

3.  Add the drained pasta and toss.  It will continue cooking while it absorbs the water and becomes coated in the oil and pepper.

The pasta coated with the oil and pepper. It has absorbed most of the water at this point.

The pasta coated with the oil and pepper. It has absorbed most of the water at this point.

 

4.  Remove the skillet from the heat and add the cheese.  Toss until the cheese has melted.  If necessary, add the rest of the pasta water to keep the cheese from clumping up and make a fairly creamy sauce.

Adding the cheese.  Use the remainder of your pasta water, if necessary, to keep the cheese from clumping and make a creamier sauce.

Adding the cheese. Use the remainder of your pasta water, if necessary, to keep the cheese from clumping and make a creamier sauce.

5.  To serve: If you are using a Frico cup (recipe follows), put a serving in the cup and sprinkle over some additional Romano cheese.  Otherwise, serve in a warmed pasta bowl with some additional Romano sprinkled over the top.  Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Buon Appetito!

 

Frico:

Top: shredded Pecorino Romano; bottom: shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Top: shredded Pecorino Romano; bottom: shredded Parmigiano Reggiano. I do recommend that you use either a larger shred on your cheese or grate it.  I did use Microplaned cheese.  It does make a lovely Frico, but it’s harder to work with.

1/2 lb. Parmigiano, shredded (preferably not with the Microplane) or grated (you can grate your cheese by breaking it down into small pieces and grinding them in the food processor)

-or-

Up to 1/2 lb. combination of Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago, and/or Pecorino Romano

 

1.  Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle about ¼ cup of cheese over the bottom of the pan. Cheese will begin to melt, then bubble and brown on the edges.

Cheese in the pan.

Cheese in the pan.

When the cheese begns browning around the edges, I like to start trying to lift the edges of the frico.

When the cheese begins browning around the edges, I like to start trying to lift the edges of the Frico.

2.  Use a fork or a small spatula to lift edges and loosen the Frico from the pan. When it is browned on one side, carefully flip the Frico over for a few seconds (this does take practice).

The flipped frico. You can skip this step. Most people do.

The flipped Frico. You can skip this step. Most people do.

Note:  I will say, however, if you decide not to flip the Frico, it’s just fine. It does make things easier.  Most people don’t, anyway.

3.  When the Frico is done, remove the cheese from the pan and either cool flat on a plate or flip (very quickly) the cheese onto and overturned drinking glass (or anything that will give it a bowl-like shape) and let cool in a rough concave shape.

Flipping the Frico onto an overturned Ball jar. Let it stay there until it cools.

Flipping the Frico onto an overturned Ball jar. Let it stay there until it cools.

The finished Frico cup ready for the Cacio e Pepe.

The finished Frico cup ready for the Cacio e Pepe.

Mmm...

Mmm…

 

Frico can be made ahead and kept at room temperature in a sealed container for 3 – 4 days.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Panzanella 0

Posted on August 25, 2014 by Sahar

Panzanella is one of those dishes that simply screams summer.  It is at its best when tomatoes are in season, and, especially, fresh from your own garden.

Panzanella (literally meaning “bread in a small basket) is a Tuscan recipe that, before the 20th Century, was based on onions, bread, olive oil, and basil.  It wasn’t until the 20th Century that tomatoes were added; no doubt out of desperation and poverty.

The earliest known description of Panzanella is by the painter Angolo di Cosimo (“Bronzino”; 1503 – 1572).  He sings the praises of onions with oil and vinegar served with toast and, a page later, speaks of a salad of onions, purslane, and cucumbers.

The best things about this recipe? It’s easy, fast, and there’s no cooking involved. More reasons it’s perfect for summer.

(some information from wikipedia.org)

A few notes:

1.  This should go without saying, but use the best ingredients you can find and/or afford.  Panzanella traditionally has few ingredients, so they all need to shine.  There’s no way to mask indifferent ingredients in this recipe.

2.  Use at least day-old bread.  If your bread is too fresh, it will become gummy.  Also, use a good European-style crusty bread.  Most American-style breads don’t have the hard crust needed.

3.  Some Panzanella recipes soak the bread in water and then squeeze it out before using.  Others will have the bread soak in olive oil.  I use the latter method.  I prefer some bite to my bread; I find the water method makes the bread too soggy for my taste.  However, if the bread you are using is very hard, then the water method may be the way to go. Be sure to slice the bread into thick slices and soak for about 20 minutes.  Squeeze out the water before cutting or tearing the bread. (Perhaps even do half-and-half water and tomato juice.)

4.  The traditional Tuscan recipe has tomatoes, onions, basil, bread, olive oil, salt & pepper.  However, other recipes may include: cucumbers, lettuce, olives, fresh mozzarella, celery, carrots, parsley, chopped eggs, tuna, anchovies, bell peppers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, anchovies, and garlic.  A Tuscan would frown upon these additions; however, feel free to add them if you like. (I do use garlic. Sometimes red wine vinegar.)

5.  This salad is really best the day it’s made.  You can eat it the next day (just let it come to room temperature after you take it out of the fridge), but the bread will be soggy.  Unless that’s what you prefer.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients (the tomatoes I chose to use were small-to-medium sized, but they still added up to roughly 2 lbs.)

1 med. loaf day-old (at least) crusty bread, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces

The cubed bread. I used an Italian rustic whole-wheat bread.

The cubed bread. I used an Italian rustic whole-wheat bread.

6 large tomatoes (approximately 2 lbs.), roughly chopped (don’t seed the tomatoes; you want the juice)

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, more if needed

1 bu. basil, chopped or torn

2 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 of a medium red onion, very thinly sliced

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Mix together the bread, tomatoes, and olive oil.  Mix thoroughly and let sit for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour at room temperature.

The first three ingredients mixed together. Now, the waiting begins.

The first three ingredients mixed together. Now, the waiting begins.

2.  Add the remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly.  Taste for seasoning and saturation of the bread.  Adjust as needed.  Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Buon Appetito!

Typically, this is served alone.  However, it will go well with just about any protein – especially grilled meat.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Three Dressings 0

Posted on July 30, 2014 by Sahar

Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island.  Three dressings that have been ubiquitous  on the American Dinner Table for decades.  Of course, being American, these dressings have been adapted to serve other purposes than just coating lettuce.  They are used for dipping vegetables, marinating, as a sandwich ingredient, and for mitigating the heat of Buffalo Wings.

Each one of these has an origin story that shows off, even in some small way, American ingenuity, taste, and not a little desperation.

Ranch Dressing was created on the true-life Hidden Valley Ranch (a dude ranch) near Santa Barbara, CA.  The originator, Steve Henson, was said to have come up with the original recipe while working as an electrical contractor in Alaska.  When he and his wife opened their dude ranch in the early 1950’s, they served the dressing to guests and it became a hit.  They began selling kits to guests to take home and make their own dressing (just add buttermilk).  The Hensons managed to build a small empire on their dressing, eventually selling their company to Clorox in the early 1970’s (the company still owns the brand).

Thousand Island Dressing has a slightly more murky history.  One story is that Oscar (Oscar of the Waldorf) Tschirky introduced the dressing to patrons of the Waldorf Hotel in New York via his boss, George Boldt, who was served the dressing while on a boat tour in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  It was said the chef on board basically threw together a salad dressing with whatever he had on hand, and it became a hit.  Another story, probably the more likely one, is that Sophia LaLonde, the wife of the fishing guide at the Herald House on the Thousand Islands, came up with the recipe in or around 1911 to serve at the hotel and shore dinners there.  The Broadway actress May Irwin enjoyed the dressing so much she asked for the recipe.  Mrs. LaLonde obliged, and Ms. Irwin took it back to New York and gave the recipe to Mr. Boldt so the kitchen could prepare it for her.  Once the Waldorf began offering the dressing to its patrons, the dressing became popular throughout the country.  The Holiday House Hotel in the Thousand Islands still sells the original recipe dressing at the hotel and online.

Blue Cheese Dressing has a very murky origin story.  It has been suggested that it originated in France, but that’s highly unlikely.  The French prefer lighter vinaigrette-style dressing on their salad; it’s doubtful that putting cheese in their salads would even occur to the French.  Blue cheese has been in America since at least the Revolution where that well-noted Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, enjoyed it at his dinner table.  The first recorded evidence of Blue Cheese Dressing as we’ve come to know it (Then known as Roquefort Dressing) was in Edgewater Hotel Salad Book in 1928.  An earlier version of the dressing appears in the Fannie Farmer’s 1918 Cookbook.  By the 1930’s the dressing had spread in popularity not only through Fannie Farmer, but also through Irma Rombauer’s ubiquitous book, The Joy of Cooking.

(some historical information from wikipedia.org, justserved.onthetable.us, thousandislandslife.com)

A few notes:

1.  All three of these recipes can easily be made vegan.

For the Ranch:  Omit the sour cream; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk.

For the Blue Cheese:  Omit the sour cream and cheese; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk; use crumbled hard

tofu to get the texture of the cheese; add tahini and apple cider vinegar (start with just a small

amount and add to taste).  If you have some nutritional yeast, you can also use that for additional cheesy flavor.

For the Thousand Island:  Substitute the mayonnaise for vegan mayonnaise.

2.  If you can find it (and it’s getting easier to), use “country style” buttermilk.  The flavor and thickness make so much difference in the finished dressing.

3.  If you must use dried herbs in the Ranch Dressing, use 1/2 the amount of the fresh in the recipe.  The dressing will need to  sit for an hour for the herbs to infuse their flavor.

4.  For the Blue Cheese Dressing, I used Amish Blue.  I have used gorgonzola, roquefort, and Stilton in the past.  Extravagant, but delicious.   You can use any type of blue cheese you like – as your cheese department and budget will allow.

5.  For the Thousand Island, I usually add more than 1 teaspoon of horseradish depending on what I’ll use it for (i.e. Reubens). So, adjust according to your taste.

6.  You can substitute low-fat yogurt for some or all of the sour cream.  If you must.

7.  All of these dressings will last up to a week.  If they begin to separate, just give them a stir.  The Blue Cheese Dressing, will, however, thin out considerably as it sits.  Just add more mayonnaise and sour cream to thicken.

Now, I will say, these are my versions of these dressings (and, no doubt, many others have made these same adjustments).  You can certainly add, subtract, and/or change ingredients.  For example, the original Thousand Island Dressing uses finely chopped egg in the recipe; I don’t. The original Ranch Dressing is made with buttermilk only; I’ve added mayonnaise.  I’ve added lemon juice to the Blue Cheese Dressing. I, like many, have also added bacon from time to time (it’s excellent on burgers when you feel like indulging).

Sometimes, I like to go all ’70’s and use an Iceberg wedge when I serve any of these dressings.  A dear, late friend of mine, Chef Roger Mollett, used to say, “Iceberg is the polyester of lettuce”.  He’s right, you know.

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

 

All of these dressings are made the same way:

1.  Add the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.

2.  Let sit for at least an hour, taste and adjust for seasoning.

3. Serve with salad or other food of your choice.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Ranch Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. sour cream

1/4 c. buttermilk

1 clove garlic, very finely minced

1 tbsp. chives or scallion tops, very thinly sliced

If you don't have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

If you don’t have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

2 tbsp. dill, finely minced

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

1/4 c. parsley, finely minced

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Everything in the bowl.

Everything in the bowl.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Not pretty. But it's damn indulgent.

Not pretty. But it’s damn indulgent.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/2 c. sour cream

1 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. black pepper

Buttermilk, as needed

Mixing in the blue cheese. It's a lot. If you have to cruble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes.  It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the blue cheese. It’s a lot.
If you have to crumble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes. It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

My favorite.

My favorite.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

Thousand Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. ketchup

1 tbsp. onion, very finely minced

1 1/2 tbsp. sweet relish

1 1/2 tbsp. dill relish

1 tsp. horseradish

From top right, clockwise:

From top right, clockwise: minced onion (I had some scallion, so I used that), dill relish, sweet relish, horseradish, pepper, salt

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & Pepper to taste

Mixing

Mixing

Sweet-tart goodness

Sweet-tart goodness

The best way to test a dressing – any dressing – is to use some of the greens you’ll be serving it with to better gauge the flavors and how they taste together.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Plus, as well know, when you’re adjusting recipes standing up in the kitchen, the calories don’t count. Plus, hey, it’s lettuce.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Waldorf Salad – My Version 0

Posted on July 08, 2014 by Sahar

The origin story of Waldorf Salad is a fairly straightforward and simple one.  It was the creation of the long-time maitre d’ of the Waldorf Hotel (later to become the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) in New York City, Oscar (“Oscar of the Waldorf”) Tschirky, in 1896.  It became an instant favorite with diners at the hotel.  Oscar, while not a chef, was the creator and inspiration of many of the dishes in the Waldorf’s first half-century. (He stayed with the hotel from 1893 until his retirement n 1943).

The original recipe consisted of simply apples, celery, and mayonnaise.  Not long afterwards, walnuts were added and became an important component of the salad.

Later variations have included turkey or chicken, dried fruit (especially raisins), lemon juice, orange zest, grapes, and yogurt.

It’s really a dish that simply lends itself to interpretation.

While I’ve stayed with the basic version of the salad, I have added my own variations as well.  Somewhere along the way, I thought, why not add some blue cheese?  It goes well with apples and walnuts as well as cutting some of the sweetness of the dried fruit.  Besides, I just like blue cheese.

 

A few notes:

1.  I like to use a mix of apples.  As always, whenever I use apples in a recipe, Granny Smith apples are my base.  I’ll add Pink Ladies, Gala, MacIntosh, or, if I’m feeling extravagant, Honeycrisp.  The flavor contrast works well.

2.  I’ve used both walnuts and pecans in this recipe.  It just depends what I have on hand.

3.  If you want to use yogurt in the salad, I would recommend going half-and-half with the mayonnaise.  Yogurt alone would be too strong a flavor.  Also, use a full-fat yogurt.  Fat-free – yuk.

4.  My preferred blue cheese in this recipe is either Amish Blue or Maytag Blue.  These are both excellent American blue cheeses and are readily available.  European-style blue cheeses (i.e. Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Cabrales), while delicious, are simply too strong.

5.  I don’t peel my apples.  You shouldn’t either.

6.  I use very little celery in my recipe.  Unlike the original recipe, I use it for flavoring, not as a main component.  However, if you prefer to use more celery, feel free.

7.  To make this dish vegan, simply omit the cheese (if you still want the cheese flavor, use nutritional yeast to taste), and use vegan mayonnaise.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Maytag Blue Cheese

Maytag Blue Cheese. Good stuff.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

 

4 lg. apples, approx. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs.

1 lg. stalk celery, finely diced

1 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, chopped (If you would like to toast them, put the nuts in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Let cool before adding to the salad.)

1 1/2 c. dried fruit – one of each or a combination: cherries, cranberries, diced apricots, raisins, sultanas (gold raisins)

4 oz. (1/2 c.) Amish Blue or Maytag Blue Cheese, crumbled

1 c. mayonnaise

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Cut and core the apples.  I like to use a melon baller to core out the apple and cut out the blossom and stem ends with a “v” shape cut.  With the flat side down, cut the apple in to 1/2-inch thick slices.  Then, with 2 – 3 slices laying flat on the cutting board, cut the apples into 1/2-inch dice.  Place the apples into the bowl.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it's safer than either a knife or an apple corer.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it’s safer than either a knife or an apple corer. (I frankly find apple corers to be completely useless.)

Core. Out.

Core. Out.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Blossom end cut out.

Blossom end cut out.

Apples cored, cleaned,  and ready

Apples cored, cleaned, and ready

2.  Add the celery, nuts, and dried fruit.  Toss together.

All mixed together.

All mixed together.

3.  Add the cheese and mayonnaise.  Mix together until well incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ready.

Ready.

4.  Traditionally, Waldorf Salad is served on a bed of lettuce.  I generally don’t.  However, if you would like to, go ahead.   I like to serve the salad with crackers or a good crusty bread.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Fattoush فتوش 0

Posted on June 24, 2014 by Sahar

Fattoush is another one of those Middle Eastern salads can be as simple or as complex as you like.  It is ubiquitous throughout the region, including Turkey.  While it can contain different ingredients, the base is always stale toasted or fried bread.

The word Fattoush comes from a mix of Arabic (fatt فت – meaning “broken”) and Turkish (ush).

The chief ingredients are generally tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon.  Other ingredients can be radishes, lettuce, cabbage, bell peppers, pickled chiles, olives, sumac, garlic, and pomegranate syrup.

 

A few notes:

1.  While I have given some measurements here, there are no hard and fast rules other than the bread.

2.  English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers are preferable.  They have less water, fewer seeds, and don’t need to be peeled.  If you need to use the more familiar salad cucumber, then you will need to peel it (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.

3.  If you use large tomatoes, be sure to seed them.  If you use cherry tomatoes, don’t bother with seeding.  Just cut them in half.

4.  Curly parsley is more traditional.  However, flat leaf (Italian) is fine.

5.  If you use garlic, use less than you think you need.  Raw garlic is powerful stuff and can easily take over the rest of the salad.

6.  You don’t need to cut the vegetables fine.  They can simply be chopped.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

2 loaves pita bread, preferably day-old

1 cucumber, preferably hothouse (English) -or- 2-3 Persian cucumbers, cut into large dice or sliced roughly 1/4″ thick

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch mint, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste

1/4 – 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Prepare the bread: If you are toasting the bread, preheat the oven to 450F.  Split the loaves around the outside edge.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Don’t worry if the loaves aren’t split cleanly.  You’ll be breaking them up after they’ve been toasted.

The split loaves. if they;re not perfext, don't worry. They're going to get broken up anyway.

The split loaves. if they’re not perfect, don’t worry. They’re going to get broken up anyway.

Place the split bread directly on the oven rack and let toast until it is a golden brown.  Try not to let the bread get too dark or will add a bitter flavor to the finished salad.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes for the bread to toast.

The toasted bread. Once it's cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

The toasted bread. Once it’s cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

Let the bread cool and then break it up into bite-sized pieces.  I generally like to accomplish this by putting the bread into a large zip bag and breaking it up. No mess and the bag can be re-used.

If you decide to fry the bread, heat your oil to 375F.  A mix of vegetable and olive oil works well for the flavor. (use pure olive oil, not extra virgin.) Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and separate them.  Fry the bread in batches until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2.  Place all of the prepared vegetables in a large bowl.  Add the bread and toss.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss again.  Taste for seasoning.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes, then serve.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

The salad will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it’s really best the day it’s made.

 

سحتين!

 

Caesar Salad 0

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Sahar

The classic Caesar Salad can make a diner recall the days of martini lunches, 2-inch steaks, paneled dining rooms, and the Rat Pack.  In short, it’s an American classic.

An American classic that originated in Tijuana, Mexico.

Legend has it that Caesar Cardini, a restauranteur in San Diego, invented the salad in 1924.  He also operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition.  According to his daughter, the Caesar Salad was invented out of sheer necessity when the kitchen supplies were depleted.

After a rush on the restaurant one July evening,  Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the tableside preparation by the chef.  And thousands of tableside performances were born.

So, now you know. It has nothing to do with Julius Caesar (other than the fact that both he and Caesar Cardini were both Italian – technically). And, when my sisters and & I were kids, our dad try to convince us that it was invented by Caesar Romero. (You know, the Joker in the 1960’s “Batman” series.)

*******************

A few notes:

1.  I (and many others) use anchovies in the dressing.  The original recipe didn’t use them; the anchovy flavor came from Worchestershire sauce.  If you would prefer to leave them out, go ahead.

2. To make this dressing vegetarian/vegan, omit the egg, anchovies, and Worchestershire Sauce and use vegan mayonnaise and vegetarian Worchestershire Sauce.

3.  If you find the addition of all extra virgin olive oil too strong, you can cut it with half pure olive oil or an unflavored oil like vegetable or grapeseed.

4.  Since this recipe does use raw egg yolks, it is best not to serve this to anyone who might have a compromised immune system. Healthy adults should be fine  – especially if the eggs are fresh.  However, if you are concerned about using raw eggs, substitute the mayonnaise.

5.  Croutons are essential in this recipe.  You can buy them, but they are easy to make.  I’ve included instructions.

6.  When you grate the cheese, don’t use a Microplane; the cheese will be too fine.  Either do shavings of cheese with a vegetable peeler or a larger grater.

7.  The most common proteins served with Caesar Salad are grilled chicken or shrimp.  However, this does go with almost anything. Or, alone.

 

The Crouton Ingredients

The Crouton Ingredients

The seasonings I used:

The crouton seasonings I used: (clockwise from top: Italian Seasoning; Kosher Salt; Cayenne Pepper; ground Black Pepper)

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

 

2 heads Romaine Lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces

 

Croutons:

4 c. day-old bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/4 c. olive oil (you can use either extra virgin or pure)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

up to 2 tsp. additional seasoning, if desired

 

Dressing:

3 cloves garlic

6 ea. anchovy filets

2 egg yolks  -or- 1/4 c. mayonnaise

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Grated Parmesan, Grana Padana, or Romano cheese

 

1.  Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line a large baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with pan spray or line with parchment paper.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the oil, salt & pepper, and whatever other seasonings you like.  Spread the cubes out in an even layer on the baking sheet and place in the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

2.  Bake them for one hour, or until they are dried and crispy.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

3.  Meanwhile, make the dressing: Have a blender or food processor running.  Drop in the garlic and anchovies and let them chop.  Turn off the blender or processor and add all of the other ingredients, except the oil.  Blend or process until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Everything except the oil

Everything except the oil.

4.  With the processor or blender running, slowly add the oil.  (You don’t want to add it too fast or it won’t incorporate and your dressing will separate.)

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

When you’re done processing/blending the dressing, taste it for seasoning.  It will be thick.

The finished dressing.

The finished dressing.

5.  Place a couple of big handfuls of the lettuce in a large bowl.  Drizzle over about a tablespoon or two of the dressing and toss until the leaves are lightly coated. (You don’t want the leaves soggy, just lightly coated.)  Place the lettuce on a plate and add some of the cheese and croutons on top.  Some people also like to sprinkle on some additional black pepper as well.  Have a bowl of the dressing on the side in case anyone wants more.

Buen Apetito!

Buen Apetito!

The dressing will last 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator if you use eggs and up to 1 week if you use mayonnaise.  The croutons will keep a week in an airtight container.

 

Salade Niçoise 0

Posted on June 11, 2014 by Sahar

Salade Niçoise has its origins in Nice, Provence, France.   No one really knows the complete origin story of this dish.  However, there is the ongoing legend that Catherine d’Medici brought a form of it to France before her marriage to Henri II.  How much credibility this has, I don’t know; but Nice is less than 20 miles across the Mediterranean from Italy.

The basis for this salad is its seasonality.  You use what you have fresh and in season.  Few, if any, of the ingredients are to be cooked (although, more modern versions certainly ignore this edict).  And, because of Nice’s proximity to the Mediterranean (and Italy), tuna and anchovies were added somewhere along the way.

The always main components of this dish are eggs (usually hard-boiled; sometimes poached), tomatoes, black (preferably niçoise) olives, green beans, and either tuna, anchovies, or both. It is always dressed with a vinaigrette. There are recipes that include artichoke hearts, white beans, radishes, potatoes, beets, corn, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, green olives, mayonnaise, mushrooms, basil, tarragon, rosemary, and scallions.  Just to name a few.

So, basically, a French Cobb Salad made with whatever the chef has fresh in their kitchen.

I myself prefer a much more simplified version.  I try to stay as close to the traditional as possible.  By keeping it simple, I feel, each component can come through.  According to David Lebovitz’s post on Salade Niçoise (http://tinyurl.com/4rfsgjf), the original recipe stated that you don’t use anything cooked in the salad except for the eggs.  Nor are tuna and anchovies ever in the salad together. Well, I certainly bucked that tradition.  I think it’s all right in this case since cooks in Provence skirt the rules on this as well.

A few notes:

1.  You can use canned tuna in place of the tuna steak.  2 cans should be sufficient (but you can use more if you like).  Be sure to use a good quality brand packed in olive oil.  Be sure to read the label and avoid any that have extra flavoring (StarKist comes to mind).  Drain off the oil before you add the tuna to the salad.

2.  if you can’t find Niçoise olives, you can use Kalamata.  Just be sure to chop them a bit before adding to the salad.

3.  If you are using pitted olives, be aware that pits can still occur (especially with Kalamatas).  Whether you’re using whole or pitted olives, warn your guests about the pits.

4.  If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, omit the anchovies, tuna, and eggs.  Use chopped garbanzo beans in place of the tuna (or, use a good recipe for “garbanzo tuna”; there are many available) and soft or firm-silken tofu cut into bite-sized pieces in place of the eggs.

5.  Some will lay the salad components on the serving dish separately, while others make more of a tossed salad-style.  It’s up to you how you like to serve.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna,  but fresh is better.

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna, but fresh is better.

Nicoise Olives. These have a slightly smoky, peppery flavor.  These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

Nicoise Olives. They are a small olive with a slightly smoky, peppery flavor. These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

 

From the top and l-r:

From the top and l-r: olive oil; sugar; minced garlic, anchovies, Dijon mustard; black pepper, kosher salt, red wine vinegar

 

Vinaigrette

2 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. shallot or onion, minced

1/2 tsp. each salt, black pepper, sugar

3 – 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

 

About 1 lb. fresh tuna steak -or- 2 to 3 cans good quality olive oil packed tuna

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pt. cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 c. red onion, very thinly sliced

1 c. black olives, preferably Niçoise (if you can get pitted, all the better)

1 c. green beans, preferably haricot vert, cut into 1/2-inch pieces -or- fresh fava beans -or- edamame beans

1 bu. Italian parsley, chopped

4 ea. hard boiled eggs

4 ea. anchovies, minced

4 c. mixed greens (any you like; my personal preference is baby spinach & arugula)

 

 

1.  Make the vinaigrette: In either a medium bowl (if making by hand) or in a food processor or blender, mix together all of the ingredients except for the oil.  Either constantly whisking the mixture by hand or with the food processor or blender turned on, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream. (You don’t want to add the oil too quickly; it won’t incorporate and the vinaigrette will separate.)

Once you have mixed in all the oil, taste for seasoning and adjust if you like.   Set the vinaigrette aside.

The finsihed vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side.  If you want a milder flavor, use more oil.

The finished vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side. If you want a milder flavor, add more oil.

2.  Prepare the fava beans (if using):  As you probably noticed in the main ingredient photo, fava bean pods are quite large.  To open them, you will need to press the pod lightly on the seam and pry open with your fingers (it’s easier than it sounds).  Remove the seeds and place them into a bowl.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They're thick with an almost cottony inside and anywhere from 3 - 5 beans inside.  The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots.  The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you'll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown, discard them.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They’re thick with an almost cottony inside with any where from 3 – 5 beans. The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots. The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you’ll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown or shriveled, discard them.

The shelled beans.

The shelled beans.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  Add the fava beans and blanch for 3 – 5 minutes.  Drain the beans and either run them under cold water or plunge them into ice water.  Drain.

The beans after boiling.

The beans after boiling.  Notice how the skins are loosened.

Here’s how to remove the skins from the beans in 3 easy photos:

Getting ready to peel the bean.

Getting ready to peel the bean.

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean...

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin.  Add the beans to the bowl.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin. Add the beans to the bowl.

Easy.

If you can’t get fava beans (they’re still fairly seasonal), you can either use blanched French green beans (haricot vert – a very thin green bean) cut into 1/2″ lengths or edamame beans (If you use frozen, just cook them according to the direction on the package and let cool.)

3.  Boil the eggs:  There are no doubt a thousand ways to boil and peel eggs.  Some work, some don’t.  For me, the best way I’ve found is to place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring it to a boil.  As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.

Drain off the water and immediately place the eggs into ice water and crack the shells (leave the eggs under the water).  This allows the water the get between the shell and egg and make it easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells.  The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells. The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

ta da!

ta da!

Cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise and set aside.

3.  Cook the tuna:  Lightly coat the tuna in olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper on each side.  Heat a skillet over high heat on the stove.  When the skillet is hot, lay the tuna steak in the skillet and let it sear until the side is lightly browned.  Turn the steak over and sear the other side.

Now, if you like your tuna very rare, you can stop at this point.  If you prefer medium-rare to medium, continue to cook the tuna on the stove, turning once more, until it’s done to your preference.

If you prefer your tuna well-done (as my husband does – at least for this), have your oven preheated to 450F.  If your skillet is oven-proof, take the skillet off the heat and place it in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna steak.

Searing the tuna.

Searing the tuna.

Remove the skillet from the heat, take the tuna out of the skillet and set it on a plate to cool slightly.  When it is cool enough to handle, either cut the tuna into bite-sized pieces (as I prefer), or you can chop it so that it resembles canned tuna.

4.  Place all of the vegetables (except the mixed greens), olives, eggs, anchovies, and tuna into a large bowl.

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette. Pretty, isn’t it?

Pour over the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.

5.  Place a large handful of the greens on a plate.  Take a couple of large scoops of the salad and place it on top of the greens.  Be sure to get a little of everything.   Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

 

Tabouleh تبولة 0

Posted on June 06, 2014 by Sahar

Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread.  Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.

Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that).  The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”.  There are, of course, regional variations.  In  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.

(some information from www.wikipedia.org)

********************

There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh.  Every region, every household, has its own version.  The most common ingredients are:

Bulghur Wheat

Tomatoes

Cucumber

Parsley

Mint

Onion (yellow or green)

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil

 

Some of the variations include:

radishes

lettuce

couscous

garlic

oregano

thyme (za’atar)

 

I’ve also seen recipes that include:

olives

corn

cilantro

bell peppers

vinegar

 

For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.

The ingredients

The ingredients

So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)

Mint, minced

Parsley, minced

Green Onions, sliced very thin

Cucumber, diced

Lemon juice, to taste

Tomatoes, seeded and diced

Garlic, minced

Olive Oil

Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained

Salt to taste

 

A few notes on the ingredients:

1.  If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers.  They have a lower water content and fewer seeds.  Plus, they don’t need peeling.  However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.  I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.

2.  Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced.  Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes.  Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.

3.  The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly.  However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine.  I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.

4.  If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts.  If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince.  Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.

5.  If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced.  And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff.  Begin by using less than you think you should use.  Once the salad is finished, taste.  You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower.  Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.

The same can be said for any of the seasonings.

 

I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.

That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.

 

As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind.  I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.

Bulgher Wheat. Medium coarse.

Bulgher Wheat.  It’s basically wheat that has been parboiled, dried, then cracked. It’s also known as “cracked wheat”.

There are four different grinds of bulghur:

#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh

#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh

#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs

#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute

 

You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables.  There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging.  The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat).  Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente.  The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.

Soaking the wheat.

Soaking the wheat.

While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.  There shouldn’t be too much water left.  If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.

The soaked bulghur.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume.

The soaked bulghur. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume. (Compare to the one above.)

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste.  Mix again.  Taste again.  If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sahtein! سحتين

Sahtein! سحتين

The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.

It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves محشي ورق عنب 1

Posted on May 28, 2014 by Sahar

Stuffed Grape Leaves. In Arabic, محشي ورق عنب, or, spelled phonetically, mishi waraq ‘einab.  It was another one of those dishes my sisters & I ate gleefully growing up.  When Mom would make stuffed grape leaves, it was cause for great rejoicing. Especially for Dad.

Many know the Greek word, Dolmas.  Dolma comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be stuffed”.  In Arabic, “mishi” means “stuffed”.  There are literally dozens of variations of stuffed grape leaves all over the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Probably the most common way to make the grape leaves is to cook them in an olive oil – lemon juice based-sauce.  However, the way I was taught to make grape leaves was the way my grandmother made them; with a tomato-based sauce.

I was talking to my mom about this one day.  She said the first time she ever ate grape leaves, the sauce was made from sour grapes.  She said it was awful.  The next time she had the dish, my dad had made it the way he preferred and the way his mother made them – with tomatoes.

I like to call it Palestinian-style.

**********************

If you would like to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, substitute an equal amount of roasted eggplant for the meat, vegetable broth for the beef broth, and add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the stuffing (this will help the filling bind together).

If you would like to use brown rice in place of the white rice, be sure to add 20 – 30 minutes to the cooking time.

**********************

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The spices clockwise from right:

The spices clockwise from right: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt

The grape leaves. be sure to rinse them thoroughly after remaoving them from the brine.

The grape leaves. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly after removing them from the brine; otherwise, the end result will be like a salt lick.

 

1  jar grape leaves

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

2 c. long-grain white rice

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

3/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Lamb shanks, lamb chops, or beef short ribs, optional

1 large can (22 oz.) whole tomatoes

2 c. beef broth

 

 

1.  Take a large saucepan or stockpot and place a rack on the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, use a steamer that sits in the saucepan. (I like to use my pasta pot with the insert.)  This is done not only to keep the grape leaves off the bottom to keep them from burning but to help steam the stuffed leaves as they’re cooking.

If you are using shanks, chops, or ribs, place them on the rack or steamer.  Set aside.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it's an extra treat.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it’s an extra treat.

2.  Carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar (take care not to rip the leaves) and rinse thoroughly.  You want to be sure that the brine is rinsed off. Usually, you will need to separate the leaves when rinsing.  I’ll also fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes, then drain.  You want the water to be as clear as possible.

3.  Parboil the rice:  In a large saucepan, place the rice and cover it with 1″ of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir frequently to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Boil the rice until it is about halfway cooked (take some rice out of the water and test it; it should be slightly chewy with a very crunchy center).  Drain the rice in a colander and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.

The finished rice.  Let this sit until it's cool enough to handle.

The finished rice. Let this sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

4.  In a large bowl, mix together the meat and rice (it’s best to use your hands for this).  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It's best done with your hands.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It’s best done with your hands.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it's seasoned right because of the smell.  I've not yet mastered that technique.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it’s seasoned right because of the smell. I’ve not yet mastered that skill.

To taste for seasoning, take a small amount of the mixture and place in a hot skillet to cook (the flavor will be closer to what the finished dish will taste like). Adjust the spices to your taste.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning.  I also consider this cook's treat.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning. I also consider this cook’s treat.

5.  Once you have finished mixing the filling, it’s time to stuff the leaves. Which I will explain in the following photos. (My husband took these photos across from me.  I rotated them so you could see them from my perspective. So, admittedly, they may look a little skewed. Apologies.)

The most important thing to remember is to not wrap the leaves too tight.  You want snug, but not tight.  The rice will continue to expand when the stuffed leaves are cooked.  If you wrap them too tight, they’ll burst.  Conversely, if you wrap them too loosely, they’ll fall apart.  A happy medium is preferred.

Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

1. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

3.  Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape.  Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

3. Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape. Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

4.  Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

4. Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

5.  Repeat with the other side.

5. Repeat with the other side. The stuffing should be covered.

6.  Now, fold the sides over the filling.

6. Now, fold the sides over the filling.

7.  Repeat with the other side.

7. Repeat with the other side.

8.  Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Done!  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

9. Done! Now, do this another 40 times or so.  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

6.  As you make each roll, place it in the pot.  When you are about halfway through, crush a few of the tomatoes with your hands and lay them on the finished leaves.  Pour on some of the tomato juice. Finish stuffing the remaining leaves.   Crush the remaining tomatoes and place them on top.  Pour over the rest of the tomato juice and the beef broth.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

7.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to low, keep the pot covered, and cook until the rice and meat are cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes.  You’ll need to take one out to test.

8.  When the grape leaves are cooked, place a serving on a plate, carefully pull out one of the shanks or ribs, and spoon out some of the broth to pour over the leaves on the plate.  You can also have some yogurt and pita bread on the side.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

Admittedly, this is a dish that does take some time to put together.  But, the results are well worth it.

 

Sahtein!

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Final Dispatch 0

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Sahar

Finally. The last installment.  It’s admittedly a little later than I intended; but we’re now reaching the finish.

*****************

Day 4 – Saturday

Steve & I woke up with – surprisingly – no hangovers.  Must have been the rich food.

Alpine's Mural in a Weekend.  They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.

Alpine’s Mural in a Weekend. They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.  It was inspired by Jesus Helguera’s “Poco a Poquito”.

 

We soon met my parents to take a look at the Alpine Farmers Market.  It’s a rather small market.  Not much in the way of fresh produce, but there were plenty of homemade goods like preserves, goat cheese, gluten-free baked goods, and pickles.

Alpine train station

Alpine train station

At the farmers market

At the farmers market

Fresh eggs. We didn't buy any.

Fresh eggs. We didn’t buy any.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products.  I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products. I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

These folks had, oh, I don't know, about 10 flavors of preserves an chutneys.  I bought the last cranberry chutney. I'm still savoring it.

These folks had, oh, I don’t know, at least 10-12 flavors of preserves and chutneys. I bought the last cranberry chutney. I’m still savoring it.

We spent about an hour at the market and then took a walk through town.  On the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

Someone's rose bush.

Someone’s rose bush.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

When we went back across the tracks, Mom and I took a detour into a jewelry store that I frequent every time I go to Alpine, La Azteca Jewelry.  The couple that own the store design their own jewelry into one-of-a-kind pieces.  Beautiful stuff.  And very reasonably priced.  Mom fell in love with the store and bought herself a new ring. I bought two.

After this, we went our separate ways for a few hours.  Steve and I headed to the Big Bend Brewing Company (http://bigbendbrewing.com) for their big barbecue and music party.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

I offered to work the gate for Stewart.  Steve, Mom, and Dad went on in to enjoy the food, beer, and music by the Doodlin’ Hogwallops (http://www.piggigger.com).  Steve was kind enough to bring me a plate of barbecue, boudin, and potato salad.  The lady who helped me at the gate, Mary, was a volunteer for one of my classes last year.  I was happy to see her again.  She lives in Dripping Springs and has family near Fort Davis.  So, she comes out often.  She sure seems to know a lot of people.

Lines for the food & beer.

Lines for the food & beer.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops

The Doodlin’ Hogwallops

Enjoying the music and the food.

Mom & Dad enjoying the music, beer, and the food.

It was, from what I observed, the biggest event of the festival.  I felt great for not just the brewery, but Stewart, too.  It, to me anyway, was a very positive sign that  the festival is becoming successful and can be even bigger next year.

Cowboy on tank.

Cowboy on tank.

By about 3pm, traffic into the brewery was had slowed considerably (the event was to end at 4), so Stewart let me leave.  Mom, Dad, and Steve were off doing their own things – Dad went back to his hotel to rest; Mom and Steve to a Tito’s Vodka Infusion Class.  I took advantage of the alone time to go back to my hotel and take a quick nap.  Glorious.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

I couldn't tell what flower this was, but it's lovely.

I couldn’t tell what flower this was, but it’s lovely.

Later that evening, we went to our last planned even of the festival – Dinner at the Cow Dog.  I’ve written about Cow Dog before in one of my previous Big Bend posts, but, just in case you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that those are quite honestly the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.  And, with Hogan and Moss (https://www.facebook.com/Jonhoganband) providing the music, it was a wonderful ending to a fun festival.

Cow Dog!

Cow Dog!

The German: Sausage, Saurkraut, Caraway Seeeds, Mustard

The German: Bacon, Sauerkraut, Caraway Seeds, Mustard

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

We left the party early to head out to the McDonald Observatory for the Star Party (http://mcdonaldobservatory.org).  Steve, Dad, and I had attended a Star Party before and the night was perfect – clear with no moon.  Unfortunately, the night we went with Mom (who’d never been to the observatory), it was overcast.  Once we arrived at the observatory, there was a bit of touch-and-go as to what they were going to do if the weather didn’t clear.  Apparently, they do have contingency plans for just these sorts of events.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

One of the telecopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties.

One of the telescopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties. (This is a photo from 2012.)

When it was time for the Star Party to begin, we were informed that it was too overcast to go to the amphitheater  Instead, the employees directed us to the indoor theater to talk to us about what we would be seeing that night if it was clear.  Mom’s and my favorite part was when they displayed pictures from the Hubble Telescope on screen.  We later agreed that we could’ve sat there and just looked at more of those all night.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

Different ways people would navigate by, and study, the stars.

Different ways people would navigate by the stars.

About 30 minutes later, it was announced that it was just clear enough to go outside and hopefully catch some of the night sky.  We all got to see Jupiter.  Mom, Dad, and Steve got to see the moon.  I opted for the telescope pointed at Mars.  However, by the time I got to that telescope, it had clouded over again.  Bummer.  We left not long afterwards.  Despite the disappointing night sky, we all had a good time.

Back to Alpine.  Then, to sleep.

 

Day 5 – Sunday

With the festival officially over, it was time to head back to Austin.  However, breakfast with my parents before they left for home was in order.

Somewhere in his travels around town, Dad saw a sign for Magoos.  A Tex-Mex restaurant that served Menudo.  Well, there was no way he was going to pass that up.

Dad's Menudo. It actually wasn't too unpleasant.

Dad’s Menudo. It actually wasn’t too unpleasant.

In case you don’t know what Menudo is, I’ll tell you.  It’s a rather hearty soup made with a base of chiles, broth, and beef tripe. Sometimes hominy is also added.  You garnish the soup with onion, dried oregano, and either lemon or lime.  It’s believed to be a traditional hangover cure in Mexico.  If the tripe is cleaned properly, the soup has a rather mild and slightly gamey flavor. If the tripe isn’t cleaned properly – yuk.

I did try some of Dad’s Menudo.  It was pretty good.  It didn’t taste dirty at all.  I don’t know if I would’ve eaten a whole bowl of it, though.

Mom, Steve, and I went a little more safe:  Huevos Rancheros.  They were excellent.

 

Mine - Sunny Side Up

Mine – Sunny Side Up

Mom's - Over Easy

Mom’s – Over Easy

Steve's - Scrambled

Steve’s – Scrambled

After breakfast and hugs good-bye, Mom & Dad headed back to north Texas while Steve & I headed back to our hotel to check out and head back to Austin.

As is our wont, we decided to take an alternate route back home as opposed to driving back on IH10.  We decided on US190 to US71.  It took us about 2 hours longer than the traditional route home, but we did get to drive through some towns that time forgot and see some new scenery.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful. And lingered for miles.

While we were on US190, we passed through the towns of Girvin, McCamey Iraan, Sheffield, Ozona, El Dorado, Menard, Mason, and, finally, Llano.  Some of these towns were simply a crossroad while some were almost bustling metropolises.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Heading into Menard.

Heading into Menard.

While Steve was dozing in the passenger’s seat, I passed an old ruined fort.  I decided to turn around and check it out.  If, for no other reason than to stretch our legs.  It was Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba).

Fort San Angelo

Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba)

The original fort (presidio) was built in 1751 on the banks of the San Gabriel River.  In 1757, it was rebuilt on the banks of the San Saba River where the remains stand today.  Like many Spanish forts, it was a way to gain a foothold and hold onto conquered land, for protection, and to convert the native inhabitants to Catholicism.  The fort was abandoned after an attack by native tribes in 1772 and was basically left to the elements.  In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission made attempts to restore the fort and, frankly, did a rather poor job of it.  Most of what they restored fell to ruin once again.  The Texas Historical Commission and the town of Menard both oversee the current restoration to see that it’s done carefully and properly.

One of the facades in what was known as the "VIP Area"

Some of the walls in what was known as the “VIP Area”

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

One we hit US71, we decided to stop at our favorite barbecue joint, Cooper’s.  For me, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

Of course, we way over bought and overindulged.  Brisket, Sausage, Pork Chops, Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Bacon-Jalapeno Mac & Cheese (a new item for them; in fact, I bought more for home), and Peach and Blackberry Cobblers.

Barbecue porn.

Barbecue porn.

What the hell, we figured.  We’ll just take it home.

Another hour driving.  And, finally, home.

Steve & I decided while it was lovely to be in our own house again and settling in with the cats, we already missed Big Bend.  It just has that kind of pull on us.

I mean, how can one resist this?

I mean, how can one resist this?

Or this?

Or this?

 

Just so you can get a little taste of the fun we had, here’s link to the official trailer of the Viva Big Bend Food Festival 2014 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRm-BIZThmc).  Yes, I’m in there.

 

Hope to see you all there in 2015!

 

 

 



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