Mediterranean Meal

I have as much storage space in my apartment as a midshipman at sea: lucky if I can smuggle some granola bars and a bottle of whiskey on board. If you don’t pack in enough food, you may go hungry late one night. But bring on board too much and you may get court-martialed – or your food disposed of. While none of my roommates have had the ability to court martial me, some have made me wish I’d been dishonorably discharged from our lease agreement. So, rather than anger anyone I limit my food purchasing. Since it’s vital to always be stocked for a natural or national disaster, that means I’ve cut corners. For example, I only have one type of grain at a time in my kitchen. If I already have rice, I’m not buying millet. If I have groats, barley won’t make it on the shopping list.

As with every rule, to this one there is an exception. That exception is Smitten Kitchen’s Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad. The food on that site is reliable and tasty and they only promise what they can deliver. So, when this recipe promised “..if I had more of this Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad right now, I’d eat it for lunch and then dinner again,” and, “I have done you a disservice by not mentioning this for two weeks, as you could have have already eaten it twice! Maybe even four times!” I went out and bought all the ingredients – even though I was only half-way through a bag of rice. And it was worth it the lose of storage space to have this salad on hand.

It was so good that it made me reckless and I decided that any recipe labeled Mediterranean had to be good. So I let the internet lead me away to the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It took me straight to The Mediterranean Dish’s Za’atar Roasted Chicken Breast.

While I trust Smitten Kitchen to know what’s best for me, I don’t know The Mediterranean Dish from a hole in a wall. So, rather than follow the recipe, I adapted and adjusted and the result is:

Mediterranean Sumac Chicken, based on a true recipe

3-4 lbs chicken

1/2 c lemon juice

1 c olive oil

2 tbsp sumac

2 tbsp allspice

2 tbsp cinnamon

2 tbsp za’atar

2 tsp paprika

10 cloves of garlic, minced

1 onion, sliced

1 lemon, sliced.

Marinate chicken in all ingredients. If you have the time, combine the oil and spices into a marinade and let sit overnight. Otherwise, the add the oil and spices to the chicken already in the pan, coating evenly. Add in garlic, onion, and lemon. Roast at 400F for 45-60 minutes – for the first 30 minutes, cover the pan.

Next up on my Mediterranean menu: baklava?

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On the Road

I’ve been on highways, byways, and backways. I will happily travel over hill and dale, under bridges and through snowstorms – as long as I have snacks. I don’t travel with much; just some books, a change of clothing, and my weight in snacks.

It’s important to balance your car snacks, like so:

  • Water
  • Fresh fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels and/or crackers
  • Cookies and/or muffins
  • Chocolate
  • String cheese, or other easily transported protein that should probably be refrigerated, and thus not doing so adds some excitement to your life
  • Napkins
  • Trash bag

 

Of course, if you’re going to spend more than 2 hours in transit, you’ll need to bring a meal. Preferably, one you can heat up on the car engine.

 

 

Autumn Cookies, or De-Martha’d Double-Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

The air has gone crisp. Yellow leaves have blown into my bedroom – or perhaps traveled in on rain boots. The cranberries have arrived at Trader Joe’s! This can mean only one thing: autumn is here.

Cookies are always on tap in my kitchen. And there are no cookies like autumn cookies. But gingersnaps, pfeffernusse, and mint chocolate are de regueur. For this autumn, I wanted something special. Something that makes use of those fresh cranberries in the store. So I hit google and discovered that Martha Stewart authored a double-chocolate cranberry cookie. With Martha, you can’t go wrong, so I started in on the recipe. Except she called for sweetened dried cranberries, and I wanted tart fresh ones. She requires bittersweet chocolate, and I don’t have that on hand. And frankly, she uses way more butter than I can stomach.

Join me on the dark side of Martha, or use the presumably-perfect Martha version. Either way, happy autumn!

 

Double-Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted in a microwave

1 cup 2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled) 

3 tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt sprinkle salt, if you want

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature margarine, at whatever temperature 

little less than 3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup dried cranberries about 1 cup fresh cranberries, mashed in a food processor

Cream margarine and sugars; add eggs and vanilla. Stir in melted chocolate and canberries. Mix together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

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Autumn Cookies and Apple Spice Loaf, at your service

Let Them Drink Coffee

My dad has a theory that free coffee at work – good free coffee – is a sign that the end is nigh for your employer. Based on this theory, the government will outlast us all. At my public sector job, there is no coffee. We do have a kitchen with a sink, which is a pretty sweet deal. At least, it feels that way on the days when we have paper towels. Compared to my friends whose employers set out fresh fruit, stock pantries, or offer Tea Time Tuesdays, I’ve felt like an underprivileged government employee. Little did I know how good I had it.

My agency stopped stocking plastic cutlery.

I embraced the change as a call to environmental arms. I brought in my own utensils, and felt, daily, that I was saving landfill space – and thereby the world. In felt righteous every time I washed my cutlery in the rust-spotted kitchen sink, then shook them in the air to dry because there were no paper towels. Then, one dark and gloomy day, my cutlery broke. Of course, it was the day I brought in soup for lunch. With no alternative, I took to the streets to look for plastic cutlery to get me through one meal.

The reasonable thing may have been to purchase a set of plastic cutlery. A few blocks from my office there are some great discount stores, stocked with party goods. But I already own two packages of plastic spoons, they were just both located in my apartment. But I was unwilling to commit to contributing even more to landfills. So, I went looking for a free spoon. Well, not free. I wasn’t willing to stoop to stealing a spoon, but I was willing to take one in exchange for my continued customer loyalty. My first stop was the Dunkin Donuts next door where I pick up a treat from time to time. But Dunkin Donuts is wise to my kind, and they don’t have spoons. Or, if they do, I couldn’t find them and the cashiers looked harassed enough without hunting down spoons for me.

So I walked the streets looking for a shop with a stack of spoons in the window. It took me 20 minutes, a woman who tried to get me to spend $2.75 on a yogurt, one cup of coffee, and $1.46, but I walked back into the office with several plastic spoons – plus a stack of napkins – for my troubles.

Brownie Fail, or: Cake

Objectively speaking, I cannot make brownies. It doesn’t matter which recipe I use or steps I take, they all come out somewhat awful. Until now, I thought I was alone – but I am not. A friend has fallen into the same problem. Her solution though, isn’t to stay away from brownies. It’s to remake them in her own image.

Here is the original and for those who can’t make brownies:

double the water

double the baking soda

and, from the ashes of failed brownies, you have a cake that was waiting to be born.

Candy Jar: Running on Empty

The candy jar at work remains a mystery. It is filled up sporadically with varied options. The rhyme and reason for who fills it with what is a mystery. Mars bars? Someone loves me. Strawberry-cordial filled dark chocolates?  Who did John* screw over this time? Unfortunately, much of the time there’s nothing to wonder at; the jar sits empty, its cheery orange lid covered in a layer of dust.

On a recent day a coworker walked purposefully toward the candy jar, and stopped abruptly in front of it. He held it up to the light and shook it, as though the clear plastic sides, which showed no candy within, were playing tricks on his eyes.

“Why is there no candy?” he called out, tossing it up forlornly. It was empty because he’d eaten the last of the candy two weeks early, and no one had refilled it since.

“I have m&ms,” I called back. “Do you want some?”

“YES!” he replied, in a tone far different from his usual funereal inflection.

He took a handful, and munching happily, asked, accusatorily, “Why are you hoarding candy?”

“I don’t think it’s called hoarding when I buy candy and eat it,” I suggested.

“It is if you don’t put it in the candy jar,” was the reply.

“Ooh! Can I have some?” pipped in a third coworker, ending our standoff.

I suspect that it’s my coworker’s love of candy, rather than the unpredictable nature of the jar’s filling, that leads to it sitting empty. The candy jar, and now my candy stash as well.

*I don’t work with anyone named John. Even though the security guard told me this week that his brother’s buddy John – handsome and tall – works in the same office. I’ll take his word for it.

They May Not Taste Like It, But They’re Pesachdik

My sister is many things.

She’s a clear communicator. See below if you don’t believe me:

We need to make these next year, they don’t taste pesadik.

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 250 F for 30-35 minutes
Makes 30 cookies
She is also a truth-telller.
Chag samach!

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

Trust no one.

Don’t buy into the hype.

Don’t try new recipes on guests.

All of the above are good pieces of advice. So when Special Correspondent Ariella told me about an amazing soup that soothed the soul, I didn’t believe her. Years ago, she told me the tale of a soup that came out differently for every person – but tasted delicious each time. She may have used the term magical to describe this phenomena. I ignored her.

Then, she made Healing Sweet Potato Soup when everyone was sick. I loved it – and I don’t even like sweet potatoes – and I healed. I should have trusted her – it lived up to the hype. As you heal this flu season, I recommend you do the same. In fact, I suggest you make it for the first time for lots of guests.

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

1 onion, diced

1 to 2 apples, peeled and diced

3 large or 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 cup of cashews, or more to taste

Just enough water to cover the other ingredients

For an extra kick, add green salsa

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until ingredients are soft – about 3 hours. Do not drain the water, use an immersion blender or food processor to achieve the right consistency.

The Lunch of Libraries: Spiced Rice

The days of sacrosanct libraries is coming to an end. In the children’s section, parents are reprimanded for shushing their children with the librarian’s gentle, ‘Libraries are for talking too.’ Phone calls are allowed in designated areas. Magazines litter tables once reserved for dictionaries and encyclopedias. However, one rule remains iron-clad: no food is permitted. Adults who try to eat breakfast are asked to leave. Parents who pull out cheerios are informed that they can take their children outside if they need to snack. Of course, there’s one exception: the library staff.

When I worked in a public library, patrons dropped off food for the staff for every major holiday and some of the minor ones. They treated us like neighbors – the food came in glass dishes, with silver spoons, and instructions on how long to heat it up and what would go best with it. Desserts were generally a favorite, but sometimes grateful patrons dropped off a whole meal. The one the librarians loved best was a giant casserole dish of curried rice with shrimp. The Indian woman who made it was chatty and friendly, with a penchant for romance novels and the occasional best seller. She believed in good manners, as evidenced by her generous and reportedly delicious gift, and her innate understanding that the staff would wash her dishes before her next weekly visit to the library. She was proved right on all accounts.

Although I couldn’t eat what she made, the dish made an impression on me. Curried rice – sans shrimp – seems to me the epitome of an elegant thank-you. However, I’ve never found a recipe which lives up to the mythical hype. I’ve tried a number of curried rice recipes, even recruiting Special Correspondent Ellen to cull her finest curried rice recipes for me. None of them measured up. But, I adapted them and came up with this instead:

Spiced Rice

2 1/4 c water

1 c brown rice

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

Pour everything into the pot, bring water to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover, allow to cook for 30 minutes or until water is fully absorbed.

 

To turn this into a full meal:

1 can of chickpeas, drained

1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Spray baking pan with oil, toss on all ingredients. Bake at 400 for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Mix together, place in your best dishes – and walk it over to your local library staff. They’ll thank you, and clean your dishes too.