vegetables on bread

bruschettaThis is obviously from a few month ago when the farmers market was in full swing and I was always buying too much wonderful produce and then trying to decide what to do with it. I would often settle for an easy classic, vegetables in vinaigrette on garlic toast otherwise known as bruschetta. Usually considered an appetizer, but to me it is jut an open-faced sandwich.

The top picture is good old heirloom tomatoes with balsamic and basil. The second was a little more interesting,  marinated grilled eggplant, it sounds odd but was really very good. I especially liked it with my homemade labneh (Greek yogurt left to drain until it is the approximate consistency of cream cheese) to cut the acidity of the vinaigrette a little.

flameless saganaki

musselsaganakiI’m pretty sure that Mussels Saganaki is a comic-strip villain. If not then he should be. I imagine a Dick Tracy style organized crime minion, of course this is a Greek recipe but I feel like the character would ironically be of both Greek and Japanese descent. (Is that the correct use of the word ironic? Maybe not, but you get what I mean. I digress.)

I believe that the Greek word saganaki is actually for the two handled frying pan, not specifically the flaming cheese served in many a pseudo-columned restaurant. I only had a two handled ceramic dish so that is what I used. The Greek word for cheese is something else; τυρί apparently. This recipe name would be μύδια σαγανάκι in Greek. I do love Google translate. Stopping. I’m stopping now. More rambling.

It was delicious and you get to eat it right off the mussel shell like a spoon, and although Rob tried one, he wasn’t hungry, nor was he a big fan, so I basically got to eat them all, myself. I blame the congestion in my head for my lack of focus.

((This recipe link might work but as always google it and find the best recipe for you))

tastes like Africa to me

I’m always so proud of myself when I make a whole fish, which is silly. I didn’t kill it or clean it. I rubbed some harissa, garlic and olive oil on it, put a couple lemon slices inside, set it on top of some onion, tomato and lemon slices with a couple sprigs of fresh thyme and baked it for 25 minutes. It is ridiculously easy actually.  I made this dish because I wanted to try the tahini sauce you are supposed to eat on it, which by the way I think ruined it; I liked it better without.

You may want to skip this next part because I get sappy….

The smell started the memory action and then while eating it… I was back in Africa. I love Africa. I even love the things that I hate about Africa. The first time I went to Africa as an idealistic recent college grad out to save the world, I informed my host family that I would not be eating any fish, we weren’t close to any large bodies of water so it probably didn’t matter. Then I went to visit another family in another village. I guess I forgot to tell them. Every night for a week I was given half a small fish…the head end. I was later informed that this was just polite. I was the guest and “the head is the best part.” Now up to this point I didn’t even like to eat unidentifiable beer battered filets. It was all kind of traumatizing… I swear there were more tiny bones than meat. I still ate it. It would have been really rude not to!  I’m sure they were totally confused by the intact head and pile of tiny bones I left on the side of the plate each night.  Every day I prayed for something different and every night it was half a tiny fish again and I was, well, getting really hungry…but now I thank them. I learned to not only like fish but to love it!  I was forced to get past my stubborn idea that I did not like fish and actually taste it. The best gift someone can give you is to teach you something, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

When I went to Senegal a couple of years ago with my now good friends, we also ate a lot of delicious fish. This specific recipe may be a middle eastern one from an Australian cookbook, yet it brought back all those amazing memories and many many more. You may not agree, but it tastes like Africa to me, and that is all that really matters.

Can vegans eat olives?

Oh roasted fennel and orange salad where have you been all my life?

Once in awhile a herbivorous meal just hits the spot. I mean Vegan is not exactly my thing… but wow, if it were all this good…I just might consider it. Wait. Can vegans eat olives? And I would have to live in a warmer climate because all that non-local, off-season produce would concern me, oh and that whole vegan wine thing would be tough… and you can cheat? right? I mean everyone craves a good gut-busting burger occasionally……oh well.

As usual I would type in the recipe for you but why? Someone has already done it for me. Here. It is basically word-for-word, exact to what is in my cookbook. Here were my substitutions:

  • “2  ginormous” fennel bulbs, sliced. Because lately all the produce I find is freakishly huge.
  • No lemon juice. I forgot to buy lemons! Can you believe that? I buy and use at least 2 lemons a week. (sigh) I splashed on a tiny bit of red wine vinegar for a little extra acid, but later I ate some without and it was still life changing.

North African food and xmas presents in action – parts 2 & 3

Part 2 – So this was the first recipe made from a cookbook I got for xmas, Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs. The book is called the The Food52 Cookbook with recipes that came from the web site It sounds silly I suppose but I like my real paper cookbooks that I can hold on to and write in and drip grease and chili paste on.

Anyway, for this recipe there are 12 ingredients. 7 of them you will always find in my kitchen, 2 I might have or I may have to pick up, but the last 3: merguez sausage, ras el hanout and harissa, those cannot be found in the city of Chicago. Okay. They probably can but not in the 3 or 4 places that I looked and so I was forced to make them….okay not really ‘forced’, more like ‘happy to’.

  1. Ras El Hanout – Supposedly translates to “top of the shop.” Spice vendors would all make their own super secret blends. I got a very simplified recipe from the North Africa section of my Essential Mediterranean cookbook. I picked it because I basically had all the ingredients and because I like to use my scale to measure things.

    7 g tumeric
    15 g allspice berries ground allspice
    30 g black peppercorns
    1.5 2 smallish whole nutmegs
    1 whole clove
    10 cardamom pods
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
    3 rosebuds 2ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

    So I used what I had:  ground allspice, and although I looked for some edible rosebuds I did not find them so I substituted in a couple of teaspoons of lavender flowers. All went into my spice grinder. I was a little worried about the two nutmegs but I picked small ones and ground in short bursts to take layers off slowly. It is possible the blade on my spice grinder (old coffee grinder, that I believe was a hand-me-down from a college roommate) is ruined. I haven’t really tried to use it since then though.

  2. garlic paprika based spice mix in morter and pestleMerguez Sausage – The web site and cookbook offered possible substitutions and a suggestion for turning some ground lamb into this sausage. I then found this recipe online and I liked it because it uses sumac and I have some sumac. I just used ground lamb. I figured I would be perfectly happy without adding fat, buying a meat grinder or putting it in casing and then taking it back out again. The recipe also called for…
  3. Harissa –  A hot chili paste/sauce which I could not find. I used the recipe from my Suvir Saran cookbook that I have been wanting to try for awhile now. Traditionally it is made with dried piri piri peppers which I did not have. I had guajillos and pasillas. I rejected the pasillas and then went and got another a small bag of guajillos and also used some generically labeled ‘red peppers’ the kind you get in bottle in the spice aisle at the grocery store but don’t really know what type of pepper they are. I stemmed and seeded all the guajillos before weighing and soaking them, the little generic red ones I left all the stems and seeds. This is partially because I like hot but not ‘really hot’ in my food, also partially because I did not strain the chilies.  I can’t seem to find the right kind of strainer for this type of job. I would greatly appreciate suggestions.

This leads to xmas presents in action part 3 (see photo above); One of my new mortar and pestles smashing up the harissa, spices, and seeds with the garlic for the sausage.

Lamb sausage ragout with poached eggFinal product: It was a lot more meaty then the picture in the cookbook which may be that there is less grease because of the leaner meat… I guess. I also I struggled with poaching of the egg, most of the yolk was cooked. It was quite spicy and delicious and I now have extra merguez sausage in my freezer, a couple small jars of harissa in my fridge (I put some in John Ash’s Grandmother’s Bean Soup leftovers the other day… brilliant!) and a jar of ras el hanout in my spice cabinet. It is going to be an everything-North-African-flavored winter!

Bad mashed potatoes?

Okay, I have not written anything in awhile but I’ve had a run of bad luck and who wants to read post after post about the really yucky food I made last week, which I threw out and ended up eating pizza and sandwiches. So here is the summary:

steakandmashedmasher cakes, steak in lots of steak sauce and salad

Yes, bad mashed potatoes, sorry Alton, they were actually bad. Maybe I did something wrong? Although I’m not sure how that is possible. I also did not like the cognac blue cheese sauce.

I did really like the ‘masher cakes’ recipe where you mix the leftover mashed potatoes with an egg and some green onion then cover in panko bread crumbs and fry…yummy. I then also doctored the questionable cognac blue cheese sauce into some homemade steak sauce that was pretty yummy. So take-2 was pretty good.

fish with fennel and couscous

And this one was really gross. Swordfish steaks with fennel. I put it on some whole wheat couscous…..seriously foul. There was no take-2 here and I threw most of it away. Thank you Moosewood.

taramasalataAnd finally Taramasalata…two bites…that is all I managed. The rest went in the dumpster.  This is supposed to be a very popular dip in Greece made with salted/cured fish roe. Now, I like smoked fish; I like roe (fish eggs); I like dip made with smoked fish; I really hated this!!!   I will not be trying it again.  If I ever find myself in a seaside cafe in Greece, then, perhaps, someone might talk me into trying it just one more time.  I will try not to memory gag.

spontaneous cucumber salad

cucumber feta mint and dill saladThey had these different types of cucumbers at the GCM and I had to have them so I bought one of each. When I got home I found a North African recipe for cucumber, mint, dill salad and adjusted it to what I actually had available/on-hand. I garnished my salad with kalamata olives and some really delicious cherry tomatoes. They were the kind you keep eating out of the bowl like they are candy or nuts.

feta (1 package) crumbled
1 Italian cucumber
1 Indian cucumber
2 (very small) red onions thinly sliced
some fresh dill
some fresh mint
olive oil
lemon juice