If you put a rustic, crusty loaf of bread on the table in front of me a decade ago, you’d either better have a loaf of your own or at least not expect me to share more than crumbs.
When Cooks Illustrated printed its famous Almost No-Knead Bread, I became obsessed, making loaf after loaf — some plain, some studded with garlic, parmesan, or sun-dried tomato and herbs.
Oh bread, I have missed you. Its not that I haven’t tried to re-create your perfect crusty exterior and light and fluffy interior. I’d just failed so many times that I’d given up. Recently, I began experimenting with psyllium instead of using gums. The result has been nothing short of amazing. I finished the first loaf before I could remember to take pictures.
Since it was halloween yesterday, I decided to try a garlic loaf to ward off all sorts of evils. (Actually, my immune system has been a little challenged lately, and I ready that garlic helps boost immunity.) Normally, I use a tablespoon or so of minced garlic, but this time I opted for cloves in this Garlicky Crusty Loaf. It toasts up very nicely, and it would make the perfect base for bruschetta.
A while back, I introduced a local cake made from nut flour, the basbousa. I’ve become so addicted that baking one has pretty much become my Friday morning ritual…after a double espresso, that is. It’s so easy to throw together, though, you could even start before that first cup is brewed.
This basbousa is a little more rustic than the traditional version. Instead of adorning the pieces with neatly placed whole almonds, I opted for the less fussy scattering of coarsely chopped pieces, guaranteeing the crunch and amazing flavor of toasted almonds in each bite.
Pour another espresso, plate up a couple of pieces of warm basbousa and some fruit, and open up that newspaper. It’s the weekend; start your own tradition!!!
Pistachio Cardamom Rose Basbousa
Almonds get all the attention, but I’ve always been partial to walnuts. The halves look like little brains, and I kind of like that they aren’t sweet. Of course they taste good with chocolate (brownies and fudge anyone?), but add coffee and the faintest hint of cinnamon and we’re talking near perfection.
You’ll be surprised how light and tender the crumb of this cake is – delicate as the flavors themselves. You could easily go the healthy route (skip the mocha frosting) and serve it for breakfast or for tea, but then it would just be coffee walnut cake, and you would miss out on the chocolate and the affinity that these flavors have for each other. Besides, who am I kidding? Frosting has rarely stopped anyone from eating cake for breakfast.
Mocha Walnut Cake
One of the things I love about traveling is that it forces me to try new foods and new combinations of familiar foods. I am forever grateful for Italy for introducing me to a surprising combo that stole my heart, fragole con aceto balsamico — fresh strawberries drizzled in balsamic vinegar. Most of the time, it’s served as a dessert, but paired with the peppery bite of arugula and the amazingly tangy taste of plum tomatoes, it makes a wonderfully simple lunch on a summer day or a stunning accompaniment to grilled steak or chicken.
Strawberry and Tomato Salad
Each weekend, I try to get out and explore another facet of this small country. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a boozy brunch now and then, too, but if that’s all I did with my weekends, no amount of working out could keep the weight off. More importantly, I’d have squandered an opportunity to experience the culture and history of a place I’d lived in for a full year.
One of those adventures also led me to a tasty discovery, basbousa. Normally made with semolina, the woman running the museum cafe assured me that their version was gluten, dairy, and egg free. It was so moist, tender, and sweet without being cloyingly so. Sadly for me, the fact that yogurt is dairy got lost in translation.
Unfortunate reaction aside, the dessert did lead to another delicious experiment with nut flours — this time pistachios — inspired by a flavor combination borrowed from an Eid favorite, gulab jamun — cardamom and rose. The result, Pistachio Cardamom Rose Basbousa, isn’t authentic Arabic, but to me, it captures the spirit of this island and the cultural melting pot that it has become over thousands of years.
Here’s the challenge: the recipe has you cut the basbousa before drizzling it with the rose syrup to make cutting/serving easier. It also means that, in mere minutes, once the basbousa has cooled, practically nothing is left to slow your consumption except will power and good friends. Okay, at least you might feel a bit more cultured than you would after a boozy brunch…
Six months into living in the Middle East, and I still feel guilty walking into the non-halal section of the market and even more ashamed when I have to place my coveted package of pancetta affumicata on the checkout belt in front of the abaya and hijab clad cashier.
But, it’s pancetta affumicata, and I’ve gone nearly three years without…
Sorry vegan, Muslim, and non-pork eating friends. There is just something about the taste of pancetta and bacon that turns the ordinary into something… well, something decadent. Feel free to leave it out or use your favorite substitute. I won’t judge if you don’t.
Leek and Potato Gratin
I know the thought of canned fish makes a lot of folks cringe, but for me, it verges on comfort food. Growing up, I ate it at least as often, if not more than chicken. In the midwest, seafood wasn’t exactly plentiful, and despite our “middle class” status, my parents had three kids to feed and a house and car to pay off on their small salaries. Making sure we could to live in a neighborhood that afforded access to good schools was more important than what clothes we wore or how fancy the food was on our plates.
I’m lucky enough to have access to a plentiful selection of fresh fish these days, but as I ran through the market after work I spotted a tin of smoked salmon in olive oil and thought “why not?”
Tossed with some arugula and a little quinoa pasta, it makes an easy, and delicious post-run recovery meal (or post-work recovery meal if you’ve had one of those days…).
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Pasta
Have you ever eaten out and tried a dish with an ingredient or two that you’ve never had before, just to see what all the fuss was about? After a week of uninspired, hotel restaurant meals on a recent business trip, I finally escaped the hum-drum monotony of dishes prepared to satisfy the tastes of travelers from anywhere and everywhere and ventured out to find something, anything different.
I’m guessing there is an Arabic version of Foursquare, Yelp, or pick your favorite trusty food guide, but since I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t read or speak Arabic, I was out of luck and had to take my chances. I settled on a Mediterranean-North African restaurant, all but guaranteed to find something I hadn’t tried, at least in the preceding week. Anyway, back to the important part… the food. I ordered a dish with with a pomegranate glaze. I’ve drunk my share of pomegranate juice, but I just couldn’t imagine how concentrating that flavor wouldn’t overpower the dish. Oh, man, was I wrong. It was ah-mazing, like a perfectly balanced symphony, each bite tempting me onto the next.
Of course I had to recreate it! I picked up a tube of harissa, a few pomegranates, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses the very next trip to the market. A half dozen chicken breasts later, I thought I was going nuts. Why was it so hard to figure out? Turns out I was so focused on the sauce that I forgot about the most important part, seasoning the chicken. Once I took the spices out of the glaze and used them to punch up my otherwise bland chicken breasts before glazing, things started looking up. A few minutes together in the pan was just the tantalizingly, tangy kiss that I was looking for.
Harissa-rubbed Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze and Herbed Quinoa
It’s just starting to get hot here – like 100F hot – and thankfully the humidity hasn’t kicked into full steam mode. Still, it’s hard to think about eating anything heavy, especially in the middle of the day. And, who wants to slave over an oven or range when you’ve escaped the heat outside?
A few cans, a few minutes at the cutting board, and presto chango —
Insalata di Tonno e Fagioli (Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad)
Now, pour yourself a nice, chilled white wine and pretend you’re in Tuscany!
I don’t remember eating dessert in Spain. It’s not that there aren’t any desserts, but usually, I was so full and it was so late at night, that if I had room left, I tended to ask for fruit, like oranges with cinnamon and honey. This tart fuses those flavors. Bright, citrussy, and not too sweet, it is the perfect finish to a sunny day.
Valencia Orange Tart