Enjoying Couscous in Bethesda

Couscous with carrots, green beans, and zucchini.

untitled-design-16

I adore couscous, yet I am a complete amateur when it comes to it’s preparation. Oh, my couscous tastes good, and it even looks kind of pretty. In fact, for the unknowing eye, it might look pretty well done. But let me tell you, I have eaten the real thing, and compared to a truly authentic couscous mine is simply the newcomer on the block.

Below is couscous made by the hands of a lovely woman who has been preparing this dish for her family for well over 30 years. Um Mohammed works in a tiny little kitchen in her apartment in Berrechid using the most traditional of ingredients and utensils, and everything she makes is utterly delicious.

untitled-design-15

Um Mohammed is a generous hostess. She makes sure that her guests have more than enough to eat, insisting that more is eaten even when seams are bursting … and then she brings out tea and dessert and begins again! She is truly inspirational.

I have to admit that I really like my kitchen conveniences. I like plenty of counter space, and I don’t cope well without a dishwasher. That being said, and despite our different styles, I too enjoy cooking for people who enjoy good food. I like to see people dig in with gusto, and am most happy when they go back for seconds and even thirds. The best payback is seeing smiles around the table. I suppose that is a common thread that binds all cooks together.

 

untitled-design-10

 

Banana Caramel Muffins

How lovely life is when enjoying a muffin and a cup of tea!

Untitled design (34)

I have an obsession for pastries and can eat them anytime. I love to wake up and have something a little sweet with a cup of coffee to start my day, and I am quite happy to repeat the process with a cup of tea for a snack in the afternoon. I adore these little muffins because they are quick to make and not overly sweet.

Ingredients for muffins:

  • 1 c. white flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1/3 c. melted butter

Ingredients for caramel glaze:

  • 2/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • few Tbsp. half and half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cupcake cups or line with cupcake papers.

Place the first 6 ingredients into a large bowl, stirring well. No one wants to bite into a muffin and get a taste of baking soda or baking powder that has not been blended through.

In another bowl, mash up the ripe bananas, then add the sugar, egg, and melted butter. Mix together, then add to the dry ingredients and mix the whole lot together. No need to overmix. Place into previously greased cupcake cups. I prefer using a cupcake pan rather than a muffin tin because the smaller size ensures even cooking, as well as producing smaller portions. Perfect for guilt free snacking, and sharing with friends!

Place on center rack in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, till done.

While the muffins are baking, prepare the caramel glaze by cooking together the butter and brown sugar until it begins to bubble. Add just a bit of half and half to make the glaze creamy and easy to drizzle. Save a couple off to the side for yourself, because chances are, these will not be around for long!

 

 

Rock Forest Paella

untitled-design-31

I’ve been looking forward to making a nice paella ever since last month when I returned from my vacation with some excellent Moroccan saffron. I know that most paella recipes call for short grain or arborio rice, and while I adore risotto, for paella I prefer the grains of rice to be separate as in a pilaf. For that reason, I used a very good quality besmati rice that would hold it’s own against the other ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1 coffee mug besmati rice
  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 3 chicken breast tenders, cut into pieces
  • 2 chicken chorizo sausages
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 sweet red or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 rounded tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 rounded tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1  2/3 coffee mug chicken broth
  • Olive oil

Dry fry the chicken chorizo partially through, then slice them into chunks and set them off to the side.

Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a large bottomed pot. Now, if you are fortunate enough to own a paella pan, wonderful! I don’t, so I used my largest copper pot, in order to have as much cooking surface as possible. It worked just fine, but I am a sucker for kitchen accessories, and if I were to start making paella quite often I would invest in a good paella pan.

However, back to the subject at hand. Heat a little oil in the bottom of the pot, and add the chopped onions. While they begin to sizzle, mince three cloves of garlic. When the onion just starts to turn golden around the edges, add the garlic and the chopped chicken tenders and allow to cook till the chicken is nearly done through. Add the tomato paste and cumin and stir through, being careful not to allow the tomato paste to scorch.

By this time, if you are at all like me, you will be getting hungry from the aromas wafting through your kitchen, so add the chopped bell pepper, the chorizo, the rice, and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and lower heat to the minimum. Leave to cook for 12 minutes, then carefully lift the lid. Arrange the 12 cleaned shrimp over the top of the rice and quickly replace the cover. Cook for another 8 minutes, then remove from heat.

Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve piled high, sprinkled with a touch of chopped parsley if desired.

 

untitled-design-27

 

Authentic Moroccan Tajine

untitled-design-25

Chicken Tajine

My lovely daughter-in-law taught me this recipe that was handed down by her mother, and it is a true Moroccan treat! Delicious, and much more simple than one would imagine. The chicken, infused with the earthy flavor of the olives and the preserved lemons, cooks to fall off the bone tenderness. (Drumsticks work a charm, but use whatever chicken pieces that you prefer) This tajine is often served with french fries (made at home, of course!) and called Poulet Frites. However, it is also wonderful served simply with bread, or with couscous on the side, which is how they serve it at Au Bon Couscous in Paris.

For this tajine, you will need:

  • 10 to 12 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 onions
  • 1 c. green Moroccan olives
  • Marinade

Begin by marinating your chicken pieces. (Photo below)

untitled-design-22

For the marinade:

  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • Pinch good Moroccan saffron
  • ¼ to ½ of a preserved lemon, roughly chopped
  • Handful cilantro finely chopped
  • 1/4 c.olive oil

Mix together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Place 10-12 chicken drumsticks into the mixture, making sure that each drumstick gets coated well. Leave to marinade for an hour or more.

Slice one or two onions, and layer them in the bottom of the tajine, as shown below. Do not add extra oil, or water, because the liquid should onions, and there will be enough oil with the olive oil and the chicken skin to give flavor and to keep the end result from sticking terribly to the bottom of the tajine.

untitled-design-23

Finally, arrange the chicken pieces in the tajine, and cover with any marinade that may be left in the bowl. Remember, the oil in the marinade is the only oil that you will be using in your tajine, and it brings out the flavor of the dish.

Place the tajine over a charcoal brazier, cover with the lid, and leave for about one and a half hours. You may check it time to time for liquid, but do not leave it uncovered for long. When the chicken is done and becoming tender, add 1 c. of green Moroccan olives, cover, and let cook for another 20 – 30 minutes.

untitled-design-24

Mmmmm… my daughter-in-laws chicken was delicious! We simply enjoyed it with bread, and we finished every bite!

Now, I do realize that not everyone has a tajine from Morocco, or a charcoal brazier hiding out in their kitchens. That is why I am going to do some experimenting. I believe that I can get similar results either by using a clay dish in the oven, or by using a heavy enamel coated cast iron dutch oven (think Le Creuset) on the stove top. What I am looking for is slow, even heat, and of course a tight cover to keep the steam inside. Once I do my experiments, I will post the results!

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

20161124_182911

Thanksgiving… a time to give thanks. Yes, there is turkey to be eaten, football on the tv, and too much pie. But these are only the outer vestiges of the day, and one should take time to be mindful of the deeper meaning of what this day should mean.

So with that in mind, here is a simple list of what I am thankful for.

  • Good health – I am in full possession of all of my faculties. Ok, sight and hearing are slightly on the decline, but things could be worse. I have no major allergies or other limiting dietary factors, thus I can eat what I want. Overall, life is very good.
  • Good friends – I am happy to know that I have many good friends from all over the world. People whom I have known for many years, and others whom I have not yet met, yet they are all there with a positive word to support me whenever I am feeling down.
  • Fantastic children – I really think that I have hit the jackpot here. Yes, I am a mother, and I truly believe that I was blessed with the most amazing children in the entire world.
  • My love of cooking – I love food…  it is my belief that the many types and varieties of food are God’s gift to us, and that we are meant to enjoy eating. Serving size is important, of course, and no time better than on Thanksgiving day to keep that in mind, but to taste a little of everything and to savor the textures and the flavors… that in itself is a form of giving thanks, in my humble opinion.
  • Beauty all around me – Trees, mountains, the sea, the desert…  blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and sometimes rain to refresh.
  • Books – Wow… what can I say about books other than that books have been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. Dr. Seuss taught me to read from the time I was 4 years old and I have been  hooked ever since! My most contented, relaxing days are still the days when I cuddle up on the sofa with a good book in my hands.
  • The great good fortune to travel the world – I want to make it clear that traveling is seldom as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes too hot, and sometimes too cold, and often physically exhausting…  I have suffered food poisoning (numerous times), and severe dysentery. I have been beguiled to buy things that I don’t need, overcharged by taxi drivers, and have even been relieved of my purse while having a knife held to my throat. Absolutely terrifying! Yet, for each of these misfortunes there have been many more good experiences. And ohhhhh, the views!
  • The opportunity to write – As if all of this wasn’t enough, I am also blessed with time to think, and a love of writing.

Lavender, Lemons, and Love

 

It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That’s what human life is all aboutenjoying things.    ~ Julia Child

untitled-design-6

I agree with Julia. Human life is about getting together, spending time with those who we care for, and having something good to eat at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. The important thing is the sharing.

I like making scones on the weekends because I am nearly always the first one up. I pull out all of my ingredients, mix them up and roll them out and put them in the oven . While they are baking, I clean up the mess and start a pot of coffee. When I pull them hot from the oven, I put one on a plate, pour myself a cup of coffee, and go sit with a book in the still quietness of the house.

An hour or two later, the others in the house start to wake up, smelling the dual aromas of coffee and freshly baked scones. That is the time when we will make some scrambled eggs, top them with a little Swiss cheese and maybe throw in a few mushrooms, and sit down to a real breakfast. Between bites of egg and scone and sips of black coffee, the days plans are laid out.

untitled-design-4

I like my scones not too sweet, and just a bit crumbly… never cakey like the ones found in some coffee shops. And I love lavender. The scent, the taste is utterly amazing in a scone, especially when mixed with a touch of lemon zest and topped with a lemon glaze.

To begin, gather your ingredients together…

  • 2 c. Flour
  • 2 tsp. edible lavender (more if you love the taste of lavender)
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)
  • powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c. softened, but not melted, butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. milk

Cream together the butter, lemon zest and sugar in a large bowl. I find using the KitchenAid mixer extremely convenient, but any mixer will do. Add the milk and egg and mix just a little. After this, I add place flour, baking powder, salt, and lavender in a dry bowl and stir together with a spoon to mix well. Then I place the entire contents into the wet mixture, and mix until they just come together. Don’t over mix.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured counter top and divide into 2 balls. Pat and flatten these until about 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick, then cut each into 6 triangles. Carefully place the scones onto a buttered or greased baking sheet and pop them into a 400° F oven for about 20 minutes. They should come out looking like this.

untitled-design-9

Put the juice of half the lemon into a bowl. Add a cup or so of powdered sugar and stir together. A small amount of lemon juice will dissolve a large amount of powdered sugar. Keep stirring, adding a little more powdered sugar or lemon juice as needed until you get a sugar glaze of a consistency that is easy to drizzle over the scones.

untitled-design-3Now sit back and enjoy with a cup of strong black coffee… and remember… they always taste better when shared with family and friends.

It All Starts With Breakfast

Why, sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!  ~Lewis Carroll

photos-by-ella

Is there anything better than a leisurely, delicious weekend breakfast with family? If there is, I can’t think of it right now on a full tummy!

Meal time is family time, (Friends always welcome as part of the family!), but with my clan being spread out all over the world it is a rare treat. Work and university schedules make it an even bigger challenge. So when the opportunity presents itself, I don’t let it slip by! I use those moments to make memories and to enjoy the company of those I love.

Foul, or fava beans, cooked for hours and served drizzled with olive oil, cumin, tomatoes and cilantro is a traditional favorite of my family and much of the Middle East. In Riyadh, shops serving nothing but foul, can be found on every other street corner. It is that popular! And next door to any foul shop will be a bakery serving up piping hot, fragrant “tamees”, a large round flat bread, whose aroma ensures that it never makes it home without a few pieces being torn off and eaten as is, regardless of burned fingers.

The tamees that does survive the trip home is a sure call to breakfast for any late sleepers. At the table, slightly larger than bite sized pieces of tamees are ripped off the communal loaf, plunged into the foul, and popped into mouths opened wide in anticipation. Traces left behind on the lips, or dripping down the chin are quickly wiped off in preparation for the next bite.

By using canned fava beans, foul becomes a simple dish to make at home, and provides a chance to enjoy a traditional breakfast wherever my family happens to be. If you are a purist, feel free to cook your fava beans from scratch. However, I don’t mind taking shortcuts and use canned fava beans from my pantry. The results are every bit as scrumptious, and there is never a drop left over.

photo-by-ella

Foul (Fava Bean Dip)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can foul (fava beans)
  • 1 med onion
  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 tsp buharat
  • chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste
  • Extra Virgin olive oil

Chop the onions and the tomato rather small. Save a little bit of the chopped tomato off to the side. Heat some olive oil in a pan and begin by frying the onion until it begins to turn golden, then add the buharat, tomato, and a bit of salt. After about 2-3 minutes, add the fava beans and a little of the juice from the can. As these are cooking, use the back of the spoon, or a potato masher, and roughly mash up the beans. They do not need to be made too smooth, but you do not want a lot of whole beans. This will thicken the dish so it is easier to pick up with pita bread. When the mixture is good and hot all the way through, remove from heat and place in a shallow dish. Smooth it out with the back of a spoon, leaving a ridge around the edge. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top, and sprinkle with the cilantro and tomato.  Serve with any type of flat bread, or a sliced up baguette.