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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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.

 

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 🙂

Southwest Summer Corn Chowder

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I love so much of the produce in the summer… Berries, stone fruit, fresh veggies… But the summer corn might just be my favorite! The corn I saw this week was huge and beautiful! I tried to take it home by the armful, but restrained myself and only took home 8 ears. Mind you, there’s only two of us, so that’s a fair amount of corn for the week. But it allows us to create delicious corn chowder! Now, I know our last recipe also had “southwest” in the title, but y’all are just going to have to deal with that theme for the week.

This chowder recipe really highlights the delicious summer corn. If you’re wary of spice, and are looking skeptically at the jalapeno and poblanos in this recipe, don’t worry! They just serve to add a nice smoky depth of flavor to the dish. This isn’t a spicy dish. When you eat it, all you’ll be noticing is the sweet corn!

(Also. Please don’t judge the recipe on its unappealing photo. I know it’s not very pretty. If we’re being honest, when it was almost done simmering, I got all pout-y and grouchy, because I thought it was ugly. Selim had to remind me that taste > image – and he’s right. The chowder tastes good, and still tastes good even though it’s not pretty. Hopefully you agree!)

Southwest Summer Corn Chowder

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 tsp + 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 large poblano pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeno, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (16oz) white beans
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional toppings: lime, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, jalapenos, crushed tortilla chips, etc
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Slice poblano peppers in half and scrape out the seeds. Rub the outside with 1 tsp of oil.
  3. Roast peppers for 20 minutes and then remove to the side to cool.
  4. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat.
  5. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Top with a few shakes of salt and pepper.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened – about 5 minutes.
  7. Once cooled enough to handle, coarsely chop poblano peppers. (A lot of people prefer to remove & discard the skins at this stage too – we don’t, but feel free to do so!)
  8. Add peppers, white beans, corn, spices, and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to a light simmer.
  9. Simmer over this low heat for at least an hour.
  10. Remove 2 cups of soup to a food processor. Combine with the cup of milk. Blend until smooth.
  11. Return this mixture to the pot. Stir to combine. [You can do more or less depending upon how thick you’d prefer your chowder.]
  12. Simmer another few minutes, and then serve. I’ve been eating it without any toppings, but surely a little cheese or something can only improve things.
Makes 8 servings

Southwest Steak Chopped Salad

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We eat massive salads for dinner many nights. We never share them, because usually they’re not all that organized – it’s usually a look in the fridge, pull out some vegetables, and top them with a protein kind of adventure. Since it’s Monday and the beginning of the week, we were a little more coordinated. Also, we accidentally created a gorgeous plate of colors! Nutritionists have been telling us to “eat our colors,” and we have you covered here! This salad, while not exactly low calorie, is healthy and filling. The way this is written makes two large salads, meant to be eaten as a stand-alone meal. Don’t worry – you’ll be so full, you even notice that you only ate salad for dinner.

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Southwest Steak Chopped Salad

Ingredients: 
  • Salad
    • Mixed greens, ~1 1/2 cups per plate
    • 1/2 cup carrots per plate
    • 1 ear of corn, divided between plates
    • 1 can of black beans, divided between plates
  • Steak
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp onion powder
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder (substitute smoked paprika for less heat)
    • 1/2 tsp oregano
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp cumin
    • 3/4 lb steak
  • Dressing
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp honey
    • 3 tbsp lime juice
    • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
    • 1/2 tsp oregano
    • 1/4 tsp paprika
    • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
    • Pinch of salt & a few turns of fresh black pepper
  • Optional additional toppings
    • Cheese
    • Tortilla strips
    • Jalapeno slices
Instructions:
  1. Cook corn in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove to cool when complete.
  2. (Heat black beans if you prefer. We just rinsed and ate them cold.)
  3. Stir all steak seasoning together. Liberally coat both sides of the steak.
  4. Prepare steak as you normally would – we like to broil it briefly on both sides, for a medium-rare finish – but we know many people prefer their steak on the grill.
  5. Whisk together all of the salad dressing ingredients.
  6. Assemble salad with a base of chopped greens and topped with chopped carrots, chopped bell peppers, black beans, and corn, sliced off the ear.
  7. Add your dressing over the vegetables and top with your steak, sliced. Finish with any additional toppings you desire!
Makes two large, dinner portion salads

Chicken Saltimbocca Rollups

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Saltimbocca is a traditional Italian dish, likely originating in Rome. The original dish is made with a veal cutlet, prosciutto, and sage. More recently, Italian-Americans have made the chicken version a tradition in and of itself. This Americanized recipe still traditionally uses sage, but we like to use our own fresh herbs from our mini balcony herb garden. We don’t have sage, but I thought basil would go well with the dish as a whole. It worked. We liked it. Not going to lie though, the best part is the cooking liquid. Make sure to spoon a little bit over your chicken portions and sop it up with each bite.

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Chicken Saltimbocca Rollups

(Adapted from this blog post)
Ingredients: 
  • 4 thin-cut chicken breasts
  • 4 slices of prosciutto
  • 8oz mozzarella, sliced
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken, working from the middle out.
  3. Layer the prosciutto and mozzarella on each piece of chicken. Sprinkle chopped basil on top.
  4. Roll the chicken over on itself and secure each rollup with a toothpick.
  5. Season with pepper and salt.
  6. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  7. Brown all of the chicken rollups on all sides. Remove from the pan to a glass baking dish.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Simmer for a few minutes and then pour over the chicken in the baking dish.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.
Four servings.