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I know it’s been awhile since I last posted here, and I’ll get back to posting about what I’ve been cooking sometime soon, I promise, but I want to share some photos David and I took last Sunday on the WCSS Adoption Support group’s outing to Erwin Orchards in South Lyon:
That’s Diane’s little one Marlena hanging with the goats…
Goats + kibble = very sticky fingers!
Riding out to the orchards with Alex and Mike…
Thanks to everyone who made it to the outing–that was fun!
I have been having one godawful time lately getting inspired to do any cooking, much less anything for this month’s Spice Challenge. A few weeks ago I had a gallstone attack, and as a result I’m now on an extremely low-fat diet until such time as the surgeons can be bothered to take my gallbladder out. How low is “extremely low”, you ask? Try 30-35 grams of fat, per day, and not all of it in one meal, so I can’t even save up for one semi-normal dinner, say. 30 to 35 grams of fat may sound like a lot, but when you consider that one tablespoon of oil contains 9 grams of fat, even something as healthy-sounding as simple salad with vinaigrette, or a grilled, skinless and boneless (and might I add flavorless) chicken breast suddenly becomes worrisome. Veggie burgers and fat-free Jello tapioca pudding cups with fat-free Reddi-Wip have become my lifeline. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?
So, this month, I’m resorting to an old favorite, a Moroccan spice mix, which comes from a recipe for braised Moroccan chicken that’s probably my husband’s all-time favorite of all the dishes I’ve ever made. Of course, making that dish right now would probably not be wise, since it involves fatty chicken thighs (you know it’s bad when even a dish designed by Graham Kerr, ex-Galloping Gourmet and currently a proponent of all things heart healthy, isn’t low-fat enough for you), but maybe I’ll find something else I can make with it. Maybe some Moroccan veggie burgers? At least it smells really good.
Moroccan Spice Mix
(slightly adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)
5 tsp cumin seeds
5 tsp whole coriander
2 1/2 tsp whole allspice
5 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground/grated, if possible)
5 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Toast cumin seeds, whole coriander and allspice in a shallow pan over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking the pan now and again. When their warm, spicy aroma hits you, they’re done. Pour the toasted spices into a spice/coffee grinder (use one dedicated to spice grinding–if you use the same grinder you use for grinding coffee beans every day, it’ll just taste like coffee), or you can use a mortar and pestle. Either way, grind the spices into a powder, more or less. Mix with the nutmeg, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon, and store in an airtight jar.
This recipe makes more than enough for the chicken recipe linked to above, even if you double (or triple, or quadruple) the amount of spice mix called for in it (sometimes the folks at Cooking Light are wimps when it comes to spicing dishes). I haven’t experimented a whole lot with different uses for it, but I’m thinking a touch of it might be interesting in something sweet—Moroccan cinnamon toast, anyone?
I admit, I’ve been feeling pretty un-creative this month. I love basil, and the two basil plants I have in a pot on my deck are going great guns this summer, so it’s not like I have any shortage in the supply department, but I just made a pesto (albeit a mostly mint one) for last month’s challenge, so the obvious basil recipe was out, even though this time of year (really, any time of year) pesto is something I could eat morning, noon and night.
Part of why I was feeling less than inspired was that I was (and still am) just plain worn out—it’s been godawful hot ’round here lately, and work has been a gut-buster (we just hired a new person, and will have two more new folks coming on soon, so because others are spending all their time training, or being trained, I’m doing the tasks I hate the most, pretty much all day, to pick up the slack). I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve really been craving margaritas, mojitos, or pretty much any summery drink (preferably on a beach far from here, but I’ll settle for a drink on its own).
So what I decided on for my main entry in this month’s Spice Rack Challenge was a basil-infused simple syrup—like the name says, it’s pretty simple, although there are a surprising number of variations on the recipe out there on the internets. The typical instructions, however, are to combine 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. At this point you can add whatever you want to infuse into your syrup—in this case, a generous handful of fresh basil—then simmer gently for awhile. (Sorry I can’t be more specific than “awhile”—the recipe I followed said 5 minutes, but my syrup didn’t seem to have picked up much color or scent after only 5 minutes, so I let it keep simmering, and of course I forgot about it, so I have no idea how long it was on the stovetop. How about we just say “till it looks and smells the way you want it”?) What I ended up with was a greenish-tinged, pleasantly anise-y scented liquid.
When picking out a drink to mix up with my syrup, I decided to keep things simple: basically a gin and tonic, flavored with the basil syrup and a muddled (or perhaps I should more accurately say, brutally attacked with the handle end of a wooden spoon) strawberry. I ended up adding several teaspoons of the syrup (I did say I’m not much of a drinker), far more than the various recipes I consulted asked for, to try to balance out the bitterness of the tonic water, but still I couldn’t taste much basil in it. I think next time I’ll leave out the poor, mangled strawberry (though it did make for a pretty pink cocktail), and maybe add some bruised fresh basil to amp up the basil flavor.
And, since no cocktail hour would be complete without something to nibble on, I whipped up some pesto to go with some of Zingerman’s Creamery’s fresh goat cheese, to schmear on a cracker. Another confession: I really don’t like the barnyard funk of most goat cheese (hopefully this won’t get my foodie cred revoked). But, last year, some friends introduced me to the wonders of really fresh (mostly non-funky) goat cheese, mixed with basil pesto, which complements the cheese perfectly (any goat-y funk somehow melds with the slight muskiness of the pesto), and I’ve been craving it ever since. (If you want to go the super-authentic, only-the-tenderest-baby-basil-leaves-pounded-in-a-mortar route to make your pesto, you can try Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipe from “How To Eat Supper”, but this is a simpler version.)
Ahh. I feel more relaxed already…
I’ve loved mint ever since I was a little kid–my grandma used to grow it next to the steps to her front porch, and she taught me to pick a leaf off and chew it for a sweet, minty treat. Still, I had some trouble coming up with something to make for this month’s Challenge, because most of the things I like mint in aren’t really recipes (or at least not complex ones): I like tossing mint leaves into salads for an unusual kick, and I’m fond of mojitos and mint tea, Moroccan-style. I came across slightly under one metric ton of mint ice cream recipes online, but mint ice cream really doesn’t float my boat (and I made ice cream for last month’s Challenge anyway). So, finally, I decided on Grilled Halloumi and Cherry Tomatoes with Mint Pesto–still not terribly complex as recipes go, but definitely a winner. The pesto is more or less just your typical basil pesto recipe, just with half the basil substituted by mint, which gives it a nice, but not overwhelming, mintiness. Mint and cheese may seem like an odd pairing, but halloumi is very mild, almost sweet, with a pronounced saltiness–in any case, I’d liked all the Greek dishes I’d tried previously, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and having tried it, I can say they are definitely on to something. As I was grilling the cheese-tomato kebabs, it occurred to me that if I’d given it sufficient forethought, the pesto would have gone really well with grilled lamb chops, too, or maybe some grilled zucchini and other summer veggies. Oh well–that just gives me an excuse to make it again.
While it’s infinitely better than snow and ice, I’m not thrilled with our over-abundance of rainy weather lately. I’m apparently one of those folks afflicted with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), because grey skies (not to mention the achies that come along with storms) put a serious damper on my mood. I’ll be much happier when the sun comes out and the temperatures come up to stay. (And the farmers’ markets come back!)
One thing that perked me up a bit this past week, though, was the success of a combo of recipes, one from America’s Test Kitchen’s new book, Slow Cooker Revolution, and another from The Kitchn (which in case you hadn’t guessed has become a go-to website for me whenever I’m looking for something new to cook). The ATK recipe was from their new book, Slow Cooker Revolution, and was the one that sold me on the book (not that it was a hard sell)–Big Batch Caramelized Onions. “Big Batch” is probably overstating it (it only makes about 2 cups worth), but the technique behind the recipe is brilliant: microwave the sliced onions first, and drain the water they give off, before putting them into the slow cooker, since all that extra water is what normally keeps them from caramelizing. They came out all lovely and sweet and deep, deep brown, with no babysitting involved–woo hoo!
Then, I took those wonderful onions and incorporated them in another recipe: Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère. It was really kind of a no-brainer: take a mess of caramelized onions, add some browned boneless chicken thighs (and the fond from the pan you brown them in, scraped up with the help of a bit of balsamic vinegar and mustard and chicken broth), and top with grated gruyère. That’s pretty much it. The only thing that would have made it better would have been serving it atop a slice of toasted baguette (sadly, since I’m trying to cut way back on the carbs, there was none in the house at the time). Still, it was a perfect meal for weather that was more the last gasp of winter than the beginnings of spring.