Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha)

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Today is World Food Day. I’m not going to lie, when I saw that name, I thought – “Yesssssss, a day dedicated to my favorite thing, food! Let’s eat tons of food in the name of this brilliant holiday!” Well, I guess that’s sort of true, but come to find out, there’s a lot more behind this holiday than my original superficial thoughts. World Food Day was created by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization to commemorate the founding of that branch of the UN. Their goal for this day and its events around the world is to “promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all.” Check out their website for more information and details.

Each year, World Food Day has a theme, usually reflective of the geopolitical issues of the world. The theme relates back to one of the organization’s overall goals – #ZeroHunger by 2030. For example, 2016’s WFD concentrated on climate change, 2011’s on food pricing, 1998’s on women, and 1987’s on small farmers. The theme for 2017 focuses on the vast numbers of migrants and refugees through the lens of food. Their focus is on mitigating the need for migration through increasing food security. Of course, many migrants and refugees don’t have the option of remaining in their homes, and are at incredibly high risk for hunger and food insecurity.

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For us and this blog, this day turned out to be even more of an inspiration for our dinner (and blog post, obviously) than I originally anticipated. In honor of the day and this year’s theme, I decided to use our dinner to pay homage to the incredibly devastating humanitarian crisis coming out of Syria. The last statistics I saw stated that there are 5.1 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced people. I think sometimes, whether it’s because of the sheer volume of the negative news barrage or perhaps even personal biases, we don’t think about the individual people behind the buzz phrase “refugee crisis.” What would we do if we were in their shoes? Certainly our dinner and little blog aren’t going to improve the lives of any refugees, but it can’t hurt. Food is a great equalizer; we all need it and most of us love it. I like to think that food can be the bridge and shrink our large, scattered world, one meal at a time!

And if you had to pick a new meal to try, this would be a great one! The flavors are delicious and a quite a bit different than your average American meatball. We served it over rice and were thinking that the only thing that might make this better, would be a sprinkling of feta cheese on top!

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Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha)

(This recipe is slightly adapted from this one from syriancooking.com)
Ingredients: 
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley + more for garnish
  • 2 tsp bharat, divided [I made this mix myself, following these proportions]
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef with chopped parsley, 1 tsp bharat, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few turns of fresh ground black pepper.
  3. Roll out mixture into small, ~1 inch meatballs. Lay out on a cookie sheet lined with foil.
  4. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes so they have begun to brown.
  5. Meanwhile, in a pan with high edges, heat the oil. Once warm, add the sliced onions. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes until onions are nice and browned.
  7. Puree the tomatoes in a food processor (or dice by hand).
  8. Add the tomatoes puree to the pan with the onions. Cook for 20 minutes over medium-high heat, still stirring occasionally, as some liquid burns off and the sauce thickens.
  9. Add the meatballs to the pan. Continue to simmer the tomato sauce, lowering heat slightly, for an additional 20 minutes, coating the meatballs with the sauce.
  10. Five minutes prior to serving, stir in the remaining 1 tsp of bharat and additional salt & pepper if needed.
  11. Serve garnished with additional parsley if desired.
Serves 3-4.
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Spiced Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

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Some friends of our were getting together for a Sunday evening get together, nothing fancy, but of course we wanted to bring something tasty. Since it’s technically autumn (even though it’s 85 & humid here in SC), spiced cookies sounded delicious and with chocolate, you can’t go wrong, right? Spiced desserts are fun to make because we get to bake with some of our favorite spices like cardamom & cinnamon. Cardamom is used quite often in Turkish desserts, coffee, and chai, imparting a distinctive aromatic flavor that reminds us of being in Turkey a couple of years ago. Here’s a little piece of culinary trivia: cardamom is the 3rd most expensive spice behind vanilla and saffron.

The cookies themselves aren’t super sweet, but once you put that chocolaty goodness between two of them, lookout, they’ll go fast. Consider baking these and bringing them to Thanksgiving or Christmas, we know they’ll work well for either one. Also, have fun with cookie cutters, especially for holiday cookies. We don’t have any so instead we used the rim of a small wine glass.

Spiced Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Ingredients: 
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 6oz unsalted, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 jar chocolate almond/hazelnut spread (or any other delicious spread you prefer – ie Nutella)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together all of the dry ingredients, except for sugar (flour through allspice) and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
  4. Next add the vanilla, followed by the 2 egg yolks.
  5. Then slowly, add the dry ingredients.
  6. Once well combined, form into a big ball of dough. Knead briefly, then divide into four equal portions.
  7. Roll each into a ball and then flatten into a pancake, roughly 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate as a ball, but may need a little longer to cool completely.)
  8. Using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/6th of an inch thick.
  9. Using cookie cutters or the mouth of a glass, cut into individual cookies. [We made fairly small cookies, given that once they were sandwiches, you’d really be eating two cookies! Our were 2 1/4 inches in diameter, but you do you!]
  10. Bake, on a silpat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet, for 7 minutes.
  11. Remove to a drying rack and allow to cool completely.
  12. While cookies are cooling, boil a few cups of water. Remove from heat once boiling and then set the jar of chocolate-almond spread (still in the jar!) into the pot. Don’t submerge the jar entirely! Let it sit for a few minutes until the spread warms a bit and is more easily spreadable.
  13. Once cookies are cooled and spread is warmed, spread a generous dollop of the chocolate almond spread in between two cookies. Set aside to cool again.
Makes 2-3 dozen sandwiches, depending on size

Dijon Beef Stew

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If you’re glancing at this recipe (and skipping over this section of commentary like I usually do until I’m sure the recipe and its ingredients interest me!), you might be a little concerned about ALL THAT MUSTARD. It certainly does seem like a lot, but don’t worry! While dijon mustard is definitely the most prominent flavor in this dish, it does not taste like you’re squirting a bottle of mustard into your mouth. If you think about the ratio of mustard to beef, you’ll realize it’s about a tablespoon per 1/4 pound serving, that’s not too much.

Finding the right mustard to use might be the hardest.  Our Kroger didn’t have whole grain Dijon, so we bought regular (smooth) Dijon. Since we always go to Trader Joe’s when we go shopping, we of course then discovered that TJ’s had whole grain mustard. Now, I think we have 4 types of mustard in our house.  Feel free to substitute smooth Dijon mustard for the whole grain stuff if you think you’ll have picky eaters or just can’t find any.

Now, Cognac vs Armagnac

What exactly are Cognac and Armagnac? What’s the difference? Why cook with either one?  Both Cognac & Armagnac are French brandies distilled from white wine grapes.  Cognac is from the Cognac region of France (70miles or 115km north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac is from the Armagnac region of France (10miles or 15km east of Bordeaux). Both are great wine regions in their own right, but both are more known for their liquor (brandy). I think the main difference between the two, besides location, is that Cognac is twice distilled, while Armagnac is only distilled once, giving it a more unique taste and nose since it has a higher concentration of those great congeners (impurities – flavorful, yet hangover inducing molecules) due to the single distillation process.  Both are then oak barrel aged for anywhere from 2-6+ years.  Cooking with either of these is different from cooking with wine. They have a higher alcohol content (but that’s almost always cooked off) and less wine flavor since they’re distillates of wine. Plus there are the smoky, oaky, whiskey-like notes that the barrel aging process imparts on them.  Cognac & Armagnac can be inserted where wine or whiskey would normally be used, to change, ever so slightly, the flavor profile of your dish.  Give it a try and experiment with these often overlooked French liquors.

We served this over delicious homemade pasta, but would be wonderful over rice, potatoes, lentils, or whatever starch you would like to use. Selim even thinks he’d like this on a hoagie bun with some hard cheese grated on top!

 

Dijon Beef Stew

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen blog)
Ingredients: 
  • 1/4 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds beef chuck (any cut of stewing/braising beef you’d like)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup Cognac, divided
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp smooth mustard of choice (we used spicy brown)
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
Instructions: 
  1. Place a dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Once warmed, add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered.
  2. At this point, add the onions and garlic. Stir to coat in the bacon fat. Cook for several minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned. Remove to the side.
  3. Increase heat slightly, to a medium-high. Add 2 tbsp of butter and allow to melt.
  4. Cut beef into ~ 1/2 inch, uniform cubes. Dust with flour. Saute the beef in the butter, until all sides are browned and beginning to crisp.
    • (May need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the dish. Remove the first batch to the side with the onions and garlic if so. We did, and used the second 2 tbsp of butter for the second batch.)
  5. Deglaze the empty dish with 1/2 cup cognac. Scrape up any delicious stuck on bits!
  6. Now add the remaining 1/4 cup of cognac, mustards, and beef stock. Whisk together.
  7. Once liquid is well-combined, return the beef, onions, and garlic to the dish, along with the bay leaves.
  8. Bring to a light simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  9. After that hour, add the carrots. Return cover to dish. Cook for additional hour to hour & half.
Serves 6-8.

 

How To Make Basic Pasta

We’re doing our best to keep up with one of our goals on our Culinary Bucket List, to never use store-bought pasta again. Obviously, this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek goal; sometimes you just don’t have the time to whip up homemade pasta. But, not going to lie, every time we make our own pasta, it just reconfirms how much we love it and moves us slightly closer to keeping up with that goal! We’ve shared a few recipes with homemade pasta so far – see, Pappardelle with Braised RaguCacio e Pepe, & Homemade Pasta Carbonara. With all of these, we’ve developed our standard recipe for pasta dough. We thought we’d share that here as it’s own recipe for ease of browsing! Over time and trial & error, we think this is the best way to create your basic pasta blank canvas. {This recipe makes between 2 and 4 servings – let me explain. We have a bad habit of making pasta and then inhaling it, leaving us over-full. So – 2 portions. If you have more restraint and/or do not wish to need to unbutton your pants after dinner – 4 portions. We’ve easily doubled this recipe in the past with the same results.}

Basic Pasta Recipe

(Our recipe is adapted & combined from several sources: The Cook’s Book400 Sauces, & KitchenAid’s insert that accompanied our pasta attachments.)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
Instructions:
  1. In a large bowl, stir the salt into the flour. Create a well or crater in the center.
  2. Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  3. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.)
  4. Once the egg is mixed into the flour and is beginning to resemble a cohesive dough, turn out onto a clean counter-top, and switch to using your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  5. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  6. The type of pasta you want to make will dictate your next steps. Generally, you will likely cut the dough into smaller portions, flatten with a rolling pin or pasta roller, and then cut as desired.

 

Honey Baked Peaches

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You know those word association games/tests that psychologists (at least on TV) use to gain deep insight into your psyche? You know the one – they ask you to say the first word that pops into your mind when they say something seemingly innocuous like “mother” and then learn a lot about you depending on whether you reply with “love,” “lipstick,” “lazy,” or “laundry.” (Side note: this is not to say that those are my first four words for my mother; I was just going for some alliteration for your Sunday evening!) Well somehow I got to thinking about this in terms of dessert. If you were said imaginary psychologist and prompted me with “dessert,” these would be my words: “baking,” “oven,” “chocolate,” “sugar,” “sweet,” and “timer.” In my own self-psycho-analysis, I’ve concluded that I somehow only associate dessert with baked goods and a time-consuming process. This is, of course, not true at all. The moral of my story is that I need to branch out a little bit. (I played this game with Selim, and when I offered the word “dessert,” he immediately responded with “chocolate.”)

Tonight’s dessert is a perfect example. The prep-work is literally 2 minutes long, and you’re eating your dessert barely after you even thought about it! All you need is a couple peaches in your fruit bowl and a few standard pantry ingredients, and voila! You have a delicious dessert! Also, I think this is the perfect dessert to bridge summer and fall, aka the month of September. You’ve got the last of a your juicy summer peaches, but baked with some of your favorite fall flavors!

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Honey Baked Peaches

Ingredients: 
  • 2 peaches
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Honey
Instructions:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice peaches in half and remove the pit.
  3. Place cut side up on a foil-lined pie pan.
  4. Drizzle each peach half with some honey.
  5. Stir together all dry ingredients and then sprinkle over top each of the peach halves.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes.
  7. After removing from the oven, drizzle with honey again!
  8. Serve as is or top with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!
Serves 2-4

 

Charred Corn Flatbread

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If you’ve been watching the news recently, you know all about Hurricane Irma. I swear, that’s all we’ve been talking about for the past week or so. We live in South Carolina, which flipped in and out of the hurricane strike zone, through a week of changing predictions. Luckily for us, the worst of missed us here. Sadly, the pictures from the Caribbean, Florida, and the southeastern coast of Georgia and the Carolinas show that those areas weren’t so lucky. Hopefully, the worst was mitigated by the week plus of warning and preparation.

In our house, we were mostly worried about losing power and/or water. I filled water bottles and sinks with water, set out candles and flashlights, and most relevantly to this post – begin working on eating perishable things out of our fridge. Glancing around the kitchen while waiting for Irma’s arrival, I saw 2 aging ears of corn, a drawer full of cheese, and 2 pieces of naan. And voila, the charred corn flatbread was born. It’s a great dish, probably even more suited for a sunny summer evening than the clouds and wind of a hurricane! 🌪️ It’s very corn-centric, but think of it as a new alternative to your average side of corn.

Charred Corn Flatbread

Ingredients: 
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 3 tbsp smoked olive oil, divided (or regular olive oil if you don’t have smoked)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 pieces of pre-made naan or other flatbread (we prefer Trader Joe’s naan)
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz brie
  • Several leaves fresh basil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
Instructions:
  1. Peel the ears of corn and rub with 1 tbsp the smoked olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. Set oven to broil. Place ears of corn under the broiler, rotating every 2-3 minutes, until all sides are charred. [Alternatively, grill in a grill pan or on an actual grill.]
  3. Once charred, set corn aside until cool enough to handle and lower oven heat to 350 degrees.
  4. Stir the minced garlic into the remaining 2 tbsp smoked olive oil. Brush over the two pieces of naan.
  5. Top, evenly divided between two flatbreads, with chunks of brie, followed by corn, sliced off the ears. Sprinkle a pinch of crushed red pepper over each flatbread.
  6. Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. After removing from the oven, top with torn fresh basil.
Makes 2 flatbreads

Coq au Vin

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At our house, we do a lot of adapted recipes, even the most traditional ones. We substitute a little of this, add a little of that, combine these two ideas, or even entirely make stuff up. (See the entire tag on our blog – Twisted Traditions). But sometimes you just can’t do that. Coq au vin literally just means “cock {rooster ⇒ chicken} of wine,” which, if you were speaking French, you’d understand to mean chicken cooked in wine. So you’d think this would be wide open for interpretation. But hearing the phrase ‘coq au vin,’ doesn’t just make most people think vague thoughts of wine + chicken; it makes most minds immediately jump to this specific dish, Julia Child, and her famous cookbook. So for this, we went to the penultimate source: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe we’re sharing is 99% true to hers – with two differences. One, we skipped the cognac and lighting it on fire, solely because I didn’t feel like going out and buying some. We’ll definitely do it next time, because I really want to light cognac on fire. And two, instead of portioning the mushrooms like Julia instructs, I chopped them fairly finely, because I don’t really like the texture of mushrooms, although I do love their flavor.

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Coq au Vin

(Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • Chicken
    • 3-4oz bacon, sliced into lardons
    • 2 + 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken
    • Salt & pepper
    • 3 cups dry, full-bodied red wine
    • 1-2 cups beef stock
    • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 tbsp flour
  • Mushrooms
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/2 lb mushrooms
  • Onions
    • 20-25 pearl onions, peeled
    • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
    • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
    • 1/2 cup beef stock
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1/2 bay leaf
Instructions: 
  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer and submerge the lardons of bacon. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter until melted.
  3. Once bacon has simmered, transfer it to the dutch oven. Saute for a few minutes over medium heat until lightly browned, then remove to the side.
  4. Pat chicken pieces dry. Top with 1/2 tsp salt and a few turns of pepper. Brown each piece on all sides in the hot butter/bacon fat.
  5. Return the bacon to the dutch oven and cook over low-medium for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken once.
  6. Pour wine into the dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the dish to remove any stuck brown bits.
  7. Add additional stock until the chicken is just covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.
  8. Cover and simmer for ~30 minutes.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
  10. For the onions: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once warm, add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes, rolling the onions around frequently. Pour in the stock and add herbs. Braise, covered, simmering lightly for ~40 minutes.
  11. For the mushrooms: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once the butter has foamed and subsided, add the mushrooms. Saute for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Once lightly browned, remove to the side.
  12. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken from the dish.
  13. Increase heat and boil the braising liquid until it has reduced to ~ 2 1/4 cups. [Julia’s very specific suggestion, not mine.] Discard the bay leaf and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat.
  14. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp butter and flour. Once combined, whisk into the braising liquid.
  15. Return liquid to a slow simmer. Return the chicken to the dish, along with the mushrooms and onions.
  16. Simmer for just a few additional minutes, basting the chicken.
  17. Julia would serve with potatoes, but you can do whatever you want 🙂