Monday, July 18, 2016

Poppy Seed Dressing

Even though work has exploded again I am managing to make it to the Green Market and to cook all of the fresh produce I am buying.  Last summer I did not have time to take advantage of the super short growing season and I am determined not to let than happen again.

After yesterday morning's visit I have:

Apricots, blueberries, sugar snap peas (the last of the season), fresh corn (the first of the season), potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, tomatillos, dried black beans, chives, cilantro, cremini mushrooms, and garlic.  Most of it has been prepped and will feed me for the coming week.

Two weeks ago I scored the first of the summer apricots and I was quite excited.  I never cared for them as a child but that is mainly because the few times I had them they were dried and too tart for my child's tastebuds.  Over the years I developed an appreciation for them (apricot preserves went a long way towards that newfound appreciation), but I was never tempted to buy them when I saw them at the grocery store finding myself usually disappointed with stone fruits purchased at conventional grocery stores, so I never had them fresh.

A few years ago I finally decided to try them when I saw them at the Green Market.  They looked so fresh and rosy that I could not resist.  And I discovered that there is nothing like a fresh, ripe, juicy apricot just off the tree.  Since then I wait impatiently for fresh apricots to show up and then I consume as many as I can during the brief season.

One of the main ways I have eaten them in the past was with blueberries in my morning yogurt.  But I stopped eating yogurt regularly earlier this year.  So instead I decided to do something I have not done very often, and rarely just for myself.  I decided to make fruit salad.

One reason I hardly ever make fruit salad for myself is that so many of the fruits that go into it do not hold up well as leftovers.  Bananas and grapes get slimy, apples get brown (even with lime or lemon juice sprinkled over it), and nectarines and apricots get mushy in the lemon or lime juice.

What I tried this year has been successful so far.  I precut the fruits that can hold up and store them together in the refrigerator, and then when I am ready for a fruit salad I will add the other fruits,  So the banana and grapes do not get slimy, the apple does not brown, and the nectarines and apricots don't turn to mush.  It is not that much extra work and I have been enjoying fruit salad all month.

Without some kind of dressing, however, it is juts a bowl of chopped fruit.   I remembered that when I was younger my mother would sometimes buy a poppy seed dressing when she was making fruit salad for a dinner party.  And then I remembered that at some point I had a recipe for homemade poppy seed dressing.  I remembered it being especially delicious with fruit salad so I want looking for the recipe.

Unfortunately, I could not find it.  But a quick internet search led me to several that seemed much like what I remembered.  The one that I found at Kitchn looked the most promising so I whipped up a batch and have been loving it with my fruit salad.  It has the perfect balance of acid and sweet to complement the sweetness of the fruit.  It would also work well with any other kind of salad.

If you are looking for a new way to dress up your salads, this is a delicious way to do it.
Home Cookin v.8.67 Chapter: Spices Spreads Dips Sauces
Makes about 1 cup

NOTE: If making the dressing for fruit salad, omit the shallot 

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
1 small shallot (optional)
1 to 1-1/2 TBSP poppy seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/8 cup grapeseed oil*
1/8 cup walnut oil*

*Any single or combination of oils can be used for this dressing. If using olive oil, the dressing will solidify in the refrigerator but it will go back to normal at room temperature.

Combine the white wine vinegar and the sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Grate the shallot into the mixture, then add the poppy seeds, salt, and the ground mustard. Whisk to combine.
Slowly pour the oil into the mixture, whisking continuously, until an emulsion forms.

Store the dressing in a jar in the refrigerator. If it separates, shake well before using.

adapted from
exported from Home Cooking v.8.67 (

Monday, June 27, 2016

Whole Wheat Couscous with Zucchini and Pistachios

I hate being so busy that I can't keep up with blogging.  It is not so much that I cannot find the time to blog; it is that my brain is so overloaded with work that all I want to do when I am home is to plop down on the couch and watch lowbrow TV while consuming massive quantities of crap.  And all of that sucks because it is unproductive, uninspiring and unhealthy and becomes a cycle of feeling like crap which makes me eat crap which makes me feel like crap and you get the idea.  Eve at Eating Is Important recently wrote this post about World Eating Disorder Action Day and how almost every woman in America has most likely at one time or another developed some kind of eating disorder and I am no exception.  My issues tend to resurface when I get busy or stressed so the fact that I am both busy and stressed has led to an embarrassingly rapid backslide to some not so great habits from the past (ice cream for dinner, anyone?).

I am forcing myself to participate in some social activities so I do not fall completely down the rabbit hole and as always happens, no matter how much I do not feel like going out I always end up having a great time and enjoying myself so it is not completely hopeless.  But I would like to be cooking more and in particular, cooking more new and healthy dishes.  But I take what I can get and try not to be too hard on myself as that only adds to the downward direction of my spiral.

So more time than I would like has passed between posts but I have been wanting to share with you this couscous dish I created to go with my Yogurt and Harissa Roasted Chicken.  It was a perfect match for it, and it was simple to make.

It would also work really well with lamb.  Or add chickpeas for a vegetarian meal.
Home Cookin Chapter: Grains Pasta and Potatoes
makes 6 servings

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large or 3 medium zucchinis, chopped
1/2 cup chopped dried apricot (optional)*
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, chopped, for garnish

Heat the grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and then the garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent and has begun to color.

While the onions and garlic are cooking, bring the vegetable/chicken broth or water to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add the salt and then the couscous and immediately turn the heat as low as it will go. Cook for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the zucchini to the onions and garlic and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the zucchini is just tender. Season with the salt and pepper. Fluff up the couscous and add it to the skillet with the onion and zucchini mixture. Stir everything together and serve topped with the toasted chopped pistachios.
[update]*Oops, I left the apricots out of the recipe. Add them with the couscous to the boiling broth/water.


exported from Home Cooking v.8.67 (

Monday, June 13, 2016

Coleslaw with Cashew Spread

Have I mentioned that work has gotten crazy busy again?  Well it has and I am stressing but I am determined to continue posting as much as I can this time.  No more 8-month hiatuses for me.

In my last post I showed you how to make cashew spread and I mentioned that I have been using it for coleslaw.  Using cashew spread instead of mayonnaise and raisins instead of sugar makes for a healthier dish, one that I can enjoy all the time rather than having it be more of a special occasion kind of treat.

As with most of the salads I make, this recipe is more of a suggestion in terms of ingredients and amounts and I have been known to improvise.  For example, I have been thinking this would be really good with blueberries or apples instead of (or even in addition to) the raisins.  I only recently started adding the broccoli since I made a commitment to eat more of it and have been buying it and using the florets on a weekly basis and needed to find a use for the stems.  (If I am not putting them into coleslaw I will cut them into sticks and eat them like carrots as a snack.  They are also tasty that way.)

I like using buttermilk instead of regular milk because I almost always have it on hand and am looking for ways to use it between baking sessions.  Because of the lovely tang it provides, I do not add vinegar to the dressing.  If I were using regular milk I would add a tablespoon of vinegar to it.

I cannot recommend this version of coleslaw highly enough.  I have made it every week for the past month, and have no plans to stop any time soon.  I have eaten it for breakfast, at lunch and with dinner.  Because there are no eggs as there are with regular coleslaw, it keeps for about a week (longer for me, but I tend to play fast and loose with "best by" dates.)
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
Makes 6 large servings

1 large carrot, grated
3 stems from a bunch of broccoli, grated (optional)
1/2 small head purple cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded in the food processor*
1/2 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded in the food processor*
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 cup golden raisins (or regular, if preferred)
salt and pepper to taste
1 batch cashew spread (approximately 1-1/4 cups)
1/2 cup buttermilk (milk would also work)

*or any equivalent of 1 small head of cabbage

Combine all of the vegetables with the raisins in a large bowl and season to taste.

Stir the buttermilk into the cashew spread. Add it to the mixed vegetables and mix well. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Serve at room temperature.


Exported from Home Cookin v.8.67 (

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cashew Spread

Happy Memorial Day for those of you in the USA.  I am going to celebrate the day with a cookout at the beach with friends.  What could be better than that?

I was planning to make coleslaw as my contribution to the meal but someone beat me to the punch so I will be bringing dessert and gazpacho.  Which is fine (really, it is fine).  Except that I wanted to make my new version of coleslaw that has me very excited.

One of the issues I have always had with coleslaw is that you have all of those healthy good-for-you vegetables like cabbage and carrots and onion, and then you drown them in mayonnaise and sugar.  (Yes, I know there are other versions but this is the one I grew up with and the one I like, ok?)  As I have moved away from processed foods and added sugars that has been problematic for me.  I would make it and I would eat it, but I never really considered it a healthy vegetable dish and thought of it as more of a treat.

The last few times that I made it I used homemade mayonnaise thinned with buttermilk and I added a handful of raisins instead of using sugar.  I felt better about eating that, but I still did not feel that it was as healthy as it should be.

And then I was listening to a series of interviews about food issues and someone mentioned cashew milk.  And someone else mentioned the benefits of eating raw cabbage.  [cue Melanie Griffith in Working Girl] and then I started thinking raw cabbage - cashew milk - raw cabbage - cashew milk and it just kind of came to me that I could maybe use a thicker cashew milk instead of mayonnaise in my coleslaw.

So I went online to see if it had been done before (of course it had) and I found lots of recipes for something called cashew mayonnaise that included all kinds of interesting ingredients.  As usual I took what I liked from them and left out what did not seem a good fit to me and I made my first batch.  Which was ok, but I had used cider apple vinegar and that overpowered everything far more than it does when I use it for my homemade mayonnaise.  The second time I used lemon juice and I liked that much better.

And as I thought, it makes a killer coleslaw that not only tastes great but is much more healthy than the mayonnaise version.  And it is perfect for picnics and cookouts because you don't have to worry about it sitting out in the sun all day the way you would with the mayonnaise version.  Win-win!

You will find that all of the versions of this recipe posted all over the internet call it "Cashew Mayonnaise."  I refuse to call it that because the two have virtually nothing in common.  Mayonnaise is the emulsion of egg yolks and oil.  Cashew spread is basically pulverized cashews.  Others may want to call it mayonnaise and that is certainly their right, but I just cannot bring myself to do it.

This is not a substitute for mayonnaise.  But it is delicious and versatile in its own right and I will be making it often.  If you give it a try I suspect that you will be making it often, too.
Home Cookin Chapter: Spices Spreads Dips Sauces
1 cup organic cashews, soaked for 2 to 4 hours
1/4 cup avocado oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

Drain the cashews and put them into a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend together until smooth.

adapted from recipe found at

exported from Home Cookin v.8.67 (

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yogurt and Harissa Roasted Chicken

I am not eating much meat these days, but I could not resist the chance to roast some chicken with the harissa I made for our March spice potluck.  I just knew it had to be tasty, so I went looking online for some suggestions.  What I found mirrored the ingredients I was already contemplating so I winged it and came up with my own version.

The result was a juicy tender bird that was quite flavorful; however, I would use more of the harissa in the marinade.  But I just added more as I ate it, so it was not that critical. 

Here is the bird with the yogurt marinade added just before getting closed up and put into the refrigerator for the day.  It was a quick enough process that I was able to find the time to get it ready in the morning before leaving for work, so by the time I got home it was ready to go right into the oven and be roasting while I made some whole wheat couscous with zucchini to accompany it.

Yogurt and Harissa Roasted Chicken would make a lovely dish for company, but it is easy enough to make any time.  As a matter of fact, I have already made it twice.
Home Cookin v.8.67 Chapter: Meat Fish and Eggs

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
2 Tbsp ginger garlic paste, or 1 Tbsp each of chopped garlic and chopped ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt to taste
1 whole chicken
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp preserved lemons (optional)
2 Tbsp harissa, or to taste

Salt the chicken generously and place in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add the rest of the ingredients and massage them through the bag into the chicken. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least 2 hours up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425° F.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it sit out for at least 15 minutes (but no more than two hours). Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and place it on the rack of a roasting pan.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes at 425°, then lower the heat to 350° F. and continue to bake until the interior temperature of the thigh reaches 160° F.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes befrore carving.

adapted from a recipe found at

exported from Home Cooking v.8.67 (

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Shakshuka for Two

I was reading this post from my new blogger friend Eve at Eating Is Important [it is!] and I have decided that I must make that Nut and Seed Tart just by virtue of that photo of the almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds alone. It looks so delicious and so healthy. (I know, I know, it is not so healthy once you add all the sugar and butter, but in a fair and just universe surely all of the benefits from the seeds and nuts will cancel out the damage. At least that is what I will tell myself when I make it.)

Further on in the post she mentions making a shakshuka recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and it reminded me that I have been collecting different shakshuka recipes from around the web and some cookbooks and I had been wanting to make it for a while now.

One thing that usually stopped me is that all of the recipes call for at least six eggs and make enough to feed an army.  It does seem like the perfect group/brunch type meal and Eve did not even particularly care for that recipe, but it was Saturday morning and I was hungry and I had just bought the cutest little 13-ounce packages of crushed tomatoes my neighborhood grocery store started carrying and has been selling on special for .99 cents a box and I started thinking that was the perfect amount of tomato for a two-serving dish.

I love these cute little packages, and 13 ounces is the perfect amount for many of the dishes that I cook so I don't have all of these little jars of leftover tomato for which I have to find a use before they go bad or I forget that they are there.  They have been on special since they first appeared at the store a few months ago and I have been stocking up on them.  I now have a pantry shelf pretty much fully devoted to them.

I decided there was no reason I could not scale the recipe down for two eggs.  I have a skillet that is just the right size, so I decided to give it a try.

I was quite pleased with the results.  Eve wanted more spice with hers, but I enjoyed the subtlety of just the cumin and paprika.  The harissa probably helped, as well.

This was so good I made it the next weekend, and now I make it every few weeks.  It is the perfect weekend breakfast/brunch.  The beauty of it is that you can adjust the amounts for as many or as few eggs as you want to use.
Home Cookin Chapter: Meat Fish and Eggs

2 jumbo eggs
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 medium onion, chopped
2 small or 1 medium zucchini, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 13-oz pkg whole, diced or crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp harissa, or to taste

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes. Season to taste with the salt and pepper and add the cumin and paprika. Cook the mixture at a simmer until it has thickened considerably.

Make two wells in the mixture and crack the eggs into the holes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until the eggs are set to the desired consistency.

Top with harissa and serve with lightly toasted bread, if desired.


Exported from Home Cookin v.8.66 (

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Food Revolution Summit

If you do not know about the Food Revolution Summit coordinated by John and Ocean Robbins, you should check it out.  It started this past Saturday and runs through the week.  You can catch the replays for a short time here:

I was somewhat skeptical when I first started listening, but I have been impressed with what I have heard so far.

The replays won't be up for long, so if you have any interest at all you should check it out NOW.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Indian Mint - Cilantro (Green) Chutney

I've had a busy weekend so this will be another short and sweet post.  I made this green chutney as an accompaniment to a dish someone else was bringing to my spice group potluck last night.  It was fast and easy and was one of the hits of the night.  The mint and toasted coconut adds another dimension of flavor that rounds out the grassy tone of the cilantro.

As usual, I looked up several recipes and combined the ingredients that seemed like they would go together best.  It went particularly well with both of the aloo tikka dishes that folks had brought, along with some of the other dishes.

The themed spice was amchur.  I made an amchur chutney that I used to make sweet buns.  I will post that recipe after I have had a chance to write up the recipe.  They were also a pretty big hit and I will be making both the chutney and the buns again.

But in the meantime, this quick no-cook chutney is a cinch to make and would go well with just about any kind of stew or dal.
Home Cookin Chapter: Spices Spreads Dips Sauces


2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 serrano peppers, chopped
2 Tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding water as necessary to reach desired consistency.

adapted from recipe found at

exported from Home Cookin v.8.67 (

Monday, April 25, 2016

DIY Chili Powder

This is a no-brainer about which I am somewhat embarrassed that it took so long for me to make.  In my defense, I have never been a big fan of chili powder.  Although I grew up in Texas, I was not exposed to much Mexican food (what we called Mexican food anyway; it was actually Tex-Mex) until after we had moved to Dallas from Houston when I was in the sixth grade.  I do have one memory of going to a small fast food-type restaurant in Houston when I was in elementary school where my father ordered tacos for everyone and I did not care for them at all.  The tacos consisted of dry pieces of beef folded inside of circles of something soft that looked almost like a pancake but tasted nothing like one.  This was long before the ubiquitous presence of Taco Bell (I am not sure there even were any in Texas at that time) so I did not even know what a taco was supposed to be.  Needless to say it was a long time before I had the slightest desire to sample any more Mexican Food.

A few years later in Dallas, my older sister and I want to Austin with my father and spent a week on his business partner's houseboat on Lake Travis.  It was not my first trip to Austin but it was the first trip I was old enough to remember.  We spent the whole time on the houseboat with his partner's wife and sons while my dad and his partner sold artificial trees at a truck sale in a furniture store parking lot (yep, that is what my father did for a living at that time).  The only time we went out that I can remember was for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, which was absolutely delicious.  I do not remember what we ate but I suspect it was enchiladas, rice and beans.  All that I remember is that it was spicy and fresh and delicious and I loved it.  Although I had not paid much attention to the scenery on the drive to the restaurant, on the way back I noticed that there seemed to be a Mexican restaurant on every corner.  "Gee," I thought to myself, "there must be a lot of Mexicans who live in Austin."  (Although we had covered Texas history in fourth grade and I knew that we had taken the land from Mexico, not having had much contact with anyone from the Latin American community I think I assumed they had all gone back to Mexico when that happened.  It was not until I took a Chicano politics course in college that I realized how truly ignorant I had been.)

Back in Dallas we would occasionally go to El Fenix or El Chico and order the enchilada plate.  This was about the same time that my mother discovered crispy tacos and Lowry's taco seasoning mix and taco night was brought into our monthly meal rotations and my brother, coming home from college in Austin, introduced us to his version of nachos - plain doritos with cheddar cheese melted on them topped with jalapenos and brioled.  Not long after that we discovered avocados, and guacamole replaced Lipton's Onion Soup dip as the party dish of choice.  Back in Austin for college I explored as many Mexican restaurants as I could, where I discovered such wonders as migas, huevos rancheros, chiles relennos, mole, breakfast tacos, and chorizo.  A friend of one of my housemates from the valley cooked up my first ever taste of fajitas in the fireplace of the huge house we were renting west of campus and another housemate introduced us to cilantro and life was complete.

What does this trip down memory lane have to do with chili powder? you may ask.  Very little, as a matter of fact.  There were only two dishes I made where I used chili powder.  The first was the chili that I had grown up eating that my mother made with a recipe she brought with her from Chicago that had tomatoes and beans in it and was basically just ground beef, onions, a can of tomatoes and a can of kidney beans with a tablespoon of chili powder added to it.  And when I finally got brave enough to make enchiladas I used chili powder in the sauce.   Chili powder has such a specific flavor profile that I associate so closely with chili that I do not find that I have much use for it outside of those two dishes.

So a bottle of chili powder could easily last me a few years.  In fact, I only recently used up the last of the bottle I bought somewhere around 2013.  And by recently, I mean sometime within the last year and long enough ago for me to have forgotten that I did not have any when I went looking for it to use in a new recipe I wanted to try and that is when I remembered that I did not have any.

So I decided that it was time to just make my own instead of buying it pre-blended.  As usual, I looked at several recipes online until I found a combination that made the most sense to me.  What I ended up with was the perfect blend of garlic, cumin, paprika and oregano.

You might notice that there is something missing from this recipe, and that would be the chili.  That was an intentional oversight.  Ever since I discovered that ever pepper has a unique flavor profile and a different kind of heat I have been collecting them.  It is no longer enough to have cayenne and red pepper flakes only in my spice cabinet.  In addition to the whole dried guajillo, pasilla, ancho and chilies de arbol (not to mention my latest discover of Korean chili threads) currently in my whole dried pepper drawer, I have ground aleppo, urfa, aji amarillo, and pasilla peppers as well.  I was trying to decide which one to add to my chili powder when I realized that if I didn't add any of them to the basic mixture, I could add whichever one I wanted when I was ready to use it, which effectively gives me five (at the moment) kinds of chili powder I can have at my disposal that would best suit the flavor profile of the dish I am making.  I actually even left out the cayenne on this mixture for the same reason.  So what was at one time something I would only use once or twice year has become something I find myself reaching for all the time.  And it takes literally minutes to make.
2 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp oregano
1-1/2 tsp cumin
2 1-1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, if desired

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sweet Potato Harissa Sourdough Bread

The one thing I knew when I was making the harissa for my spice group's potluck was that I wanted to make bread, but I wasn't sure how I wanted to do that.   I thought about just adding a couple of tablespoons of it to the dough as I was mixing it, but it is such a vibrantly colorful sauce that I did not want to dilute its visual appeal so I decided the better way to go was to roll it into a rectangle and spread a layer over the top, then roll it up into a log and shape that into the loaf.  The process is similar to making cinnamon rolls, but instead of cutting the rolled up log into pieces, you fold and layer it into a loaf pan.

The next thing I had to decide was what kind of bread I wanted to make.  I wanted something that had a little extra flavor, but not so much that it would compete with the harissa.  I had made a sweet-potato sourdough yeasted bread with cinnamon and mace for our mace potluck, and I kept going back to that.  Sweet potato and harissa go well together so I knew was on the right track with that.  And while cinnamon and harissa and sweet potato seem like a no-brainer, I was afraid that might give the bread a sweeter profile than I wanted, so I decided to repeat the themes of the harissa and added cumin and coriander.

I made the bread the same day I made the harissa so I had quite a bit of the liquid from the soaked chilies, and in one of those brainstormingly brilliant moments that we can usually only hope for I decided to use the soaking liquid instead of water to add a little more heat to the dough.

I was under a time crunch when I made it and the dough resisted being rolled out to the proper thickness.  If I had had more time I would have let it rest longer and that would have solved the problem, but I did not so I had to wrestle it into shape; therefore the harissa did not spread over as wide of a surface as I would have liked and it did not roll up as tightly as I would have liked either.  The end result was not as spectacular as I would have liked because of that, but the flavor was spot on and it disappeared quickly.

This recipe requires a little work, but the end result is well worth it.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Note:  I adapted this recipe for use with starter.  If you want to use yeast, you can use these ingredients in place of the first 3 ingredients:
2 packages dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water
5 to 6 (600g to 720g) bread flour

160 g (app 3/4 cup) sourdough starter
265 g (app 1-1/8 cups) water (from soaked dried chilies if you have it)
520 - 640g (app 4-1/3 to 5-1/3 cups) flour
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
2 Tbsp softened butter
1 cup cooked sweet potato puree*
2 Tbsp harissa, or to taste
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk or water

*To make the sweet potato puree: Peel a large sweet potato and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Steam until tender, 15 to 20 minutes, then smash with a potato masher or puree in a food processor.

Add the water to the starter and mix well. Combine the salt, cumin and coriander with 240g of the flour and whisk together until well mixed, then add to the starter mixture and stir it together. Add the sweet potato puree, stirring well, and then add the rest of the flour, about a half cup at a time, until a loose dough forms.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead in the butter a half tablespoon at a time, adding more flour as necessary to form a smooth elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl, turning to make sure the entire ball of dough has been greased. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and then cover the bowl with a towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about one and a half hours. Punch down the dough and let it rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425° F and grease two loaf pans. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a rectangle about a half-inch thick. Spread the harissa as thinly as possible onto the surface, leaving about a quarter inch around the edges. Roll tightly lengthwise and then coil into the greased pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Mix the egg with 1 tablespoon of milk or water and brush over the surface of the loaves.  Place the pans in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the loaves sounds hollow when the sides are tapped. Remove the loaves from the oven and turn them out of the pan. Let cool for an hour before serving.

Adapted from a recipe found at, which was reprinted with permission from I Hear America Cooking by Betty Fussell (Viking Penguin 1997).

Exported from Home Cookin v.8.66 (

Monday, April 11, 2016

DIY Tahini

Here's one more testament to the concept of necessity being the mother of invention. I had an eggplant, a lemon, and parsley so I decided it was time to make baba ghanouj. I roasted the eggplant, juiced the lemon, grated the garlic, chopped the parsley and sliced the scallions. But when it was time to add the tahini, I realized that it had been over a year (maybe even over two years) since I had used it. I opened the jar and took a sniff. It smelled ok, but it had an odd texture. I was afraid to use it.

That happens often to me with tahini. I will use it frequently for a while, and then I will forget about it. And it is expensive - too expensive to waste the way I had to waste this batch.  Not to mention that I was stuck with all of the other ingredients ready to go.

What to do? I always have sesame seeds in the freezer, so the thought occurred to me that I could try to make my own tahini.  I wasn't sure it would work, so I pulled out the small food processing attachment to my stick blender (and let me just say again how much I LOVE my stick blender) and started with 2 tablespoons of seeds. I had to keep opening it up and pushing the seeds down, but it did start to look a little like tahini.  I added a little olive oil to help smooth it out and ended up with a thick paste that looked more chunky than creamy, but it did the trick and saved my baba ghanouj.

Happy with my success, I went online to see if I could improve the process. I did find a few suggestions that made sense. The first was to toast the seeds before grinding them. That not only made a difference in the flavor, but seemed to help break down the seeds into a paste.

I now make my own tahini.  It does not taste better than store-bought, and actually has more ingredients than most (the ones I checked all just have sesame seeds listed under ingredients).  But it tastes the same to me as store bought and I can make it in the quantities that I need, as I need it.  That makes it well worth the effort.

You don't really need a recipe for this, since the ratio of olive oil to sesame seeds is dependent on how thick you want your tahini to be.  Just put the sesame seeds and olive oil into the food processor and let it rip until you have the consistency you desire.

I did find this post by Kimberly over at The Daring Gourmet to be helpful, and so might you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

DIY Condiments: Harissa

One of the things I love the most about my Spice group is that it forces me to step out of my comfort zone and encourages me to be creative with new ingredients.  It also helps me add to my increasing repertoire of things that I make myself rather than buy pre-made.

Harissa is no exception.  It has been floating in and out of my radar for the past ten years or so.  But whenever I looked at the tubes or cans of it that I saw for sale at the Middle Eastern stores where I found it, all I could see were the HOT PEPPERS at the top of the ingredients list.  I like spicy foods, but I fall on the wimpy side of the tolerance range.  I like to add a little heat to my flavors more than I like adding a little flavor to the heat.

I also discovered years ago that I am not a fan of jarred and canned prepared salsas and sauces.  There is something about the changes that canning brings to food that I do not like.  It takes away the freshness, and everything has a musky aftertaste that diminishes the natural flavors of the other ingredients.  So just from looking at the pictures on the outsides of the jars and tubes of harissa I was pretty sure I would find that they had too much heat and the wrong kind of flavor for me.  In the end, harissa became another one of those flavors that stayed on my "someday I will try this" list, and I was quite happy to let it continue to float somewhere down near the bottom of that list. Until last month, when the coordinator of our Spice Group announced that harissa would be the spice for our March potluck. 

I knew pretty much from the get-go that I was going to make my own, so while I was not particularly thrilled at the choice of spices it always makes me happy when I make something new.  I rolled up my figurative sleeves and pulled out my favorite spice books and  looked at several recipes online so I could compare them to see which ingredients are required, which are preferred, and which would be best avoided.

All of the recipes I found contained at least two different kinds of chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander and olive oil.  Many of the recipes contained caraway seeds and some called for lemon juice.  One or two had mint.  Some included roasted red peppers and onions.

As I mentioned earlier, I prefer some heat to my flavor rather than flavor to my heat, so I decided to use all of those spices.  I was not sure about the mint, but I figured if I used just enough to add to the flavor without being in any way obvious it would be a good thing.  The additional roasted red pepper and onion seemed more Eastern European than Northern African to me so I decided not to use those.

The next question was which chilies to use.  I was somewhat limited to the chilies that were available to me and finally decided on guajillo chilies, which were in many of the recipes that I saw, and something called Chilies Japones with which I was not at all familiar but they were small and red and the only non-Mexican chilies they had at the store that day and the package said they were hot so I figured they should work.

It turned out to be quite easy to make the harissa, and the end result was quite delicious.  It is as hot as I imagined it would be, but it is also full of flavor.  For the potluck, I made bread with the harissa swirled throughout it.  It was quite pretty and surprisingly good.  For myself, I am already finding many uses for it.  It is delicious on just about anything and the heat dissipates throughout the whole dish and enhances it the way a good hot sauce should.  I already find that I cannot imagine life without it.

If you decide to make your own, and I strongly recommend that you do, the main piece of advice I would give is to make sure that you process it until it is completely smooth.  The first batch I made looked good in the bowl but as soon as I started using it I found myself spitting out large pieces of the chilies.  When I made the second batch I threw the first batch in with it and made sure to process everything until all of the chilies were well and truly blended in with the other ingredients.  It made all of the difference.
Home Cookin Chapter: Spices Spreads Dips Sauces

8 dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded (about 2 oz)
16 to 20 chilies japones, or other small hot chilies (about 1 oz)
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried mint leaves (optional)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon

Put chilies in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and let sit until softened, at least 20 minutes.

Heat the caraway, coriander and cumin in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about four minutes. Keep the seeds moving in the skilllet the whole time. Place the spices in a grinder with the mint and grind to a fine powder.

Drain the chlies and place them in a food processor. Add the spices, salt, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and puree until the mixture is smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This will take 4 to 5 minutes as you want to make sure there are no large flakes of the dried chilies in the mixture.

Store the harissa in a glass jar covered with a layer of olive oil. Refrigerate, and replace the oil after every use. Makes approximately 1 cup.

adapted from recipe found at

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Nutmeg Cake with Cognac and Walnut Glaze

Things have been so crazy the past year that I have not been baking much other than bread, so on the rare occasions when I have baked I have tended to rely on old favorites with which I am comfortable and can whip out in a short amount of time.  However, I was invited to a birthday party and one of the two birthday celebrants was the woman who usually brings one of the cakes (yes, cakes - we take dessert very seriously) to our celebrations, so I volunteered to make one of the cakes this time.

Her cakes are always quite extraordinary, so I wanted to find a recipe that would do her justice.  It did not take me long to settle on this nutmeg cake, as I had been eyeing the recipe for a while and deeply regretted that I had missed the opportunity to make it for my spice group's nutmeg potluck.

While nutmeg is used to enhance many dishes, most recipes call for just a pinch.  This nutmeg cake uses four and a half teaspoons, which is one teaspoon more than a tablespoon. That is a lot of nutmeg, let me tell you.

But not too much.  The sour cream balances out the flavor and gives the cake a rich, moist texture.  The original recipe just has a stenciled powdered-sugar design on the top but I wanted something a little fancier for the occasion but I did not want to overpower the more subtle tones of the nutmeg, which I was afraid would be the case with frosting.  I thought a simple glaze would hit just the right note, and from there it was an easy step to add cognac and garnish with chopped walnuts to mirror the walnuts in the cake.

The end result was beautiful and delicious.  The cake was moist and rich and the glaze was the perfect topping for it.

If you are looking for something different  from the usual repertoire of cakes this one does the trick and is much easier to make than the end result would indicate, if you are looking to impress.  But the taste alone will accomplish that.

The one thing upon which I will insist is that you buy your nutmeg whole and grate it yourself.  There is no comparison in flavor between buying it already ground and grinding your own.  And no excuse for not doing so either, if you ask me.
Home Cookin Chapter: Baked Goods (Sweet/Savory)
Makes 8 to 10 servings

12 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for pan
3 cups flour, plus more for pan
4-1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

For the glaze:
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp cognac
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts, for garnish

Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan and set aside.

In a food processor combine flour, nutmeg, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until pea-size crumbs form.

Add brown sugar, sour cream, milk, and eggs and process until smooth. Add the walnuts and stir them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the springform pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool.

Combine the sugar, water and cognac and mix well.  Add more sugar or water as needed to reach the desired consistency, which should be thick but should run smoothly from a spoon.  Drizzle the glaze over the cake and top with the chopped walnuts while the glaze is still warm.

from a Saveur recipe found at

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