Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider

For quite some time now, one of my coworkers and I have been planning to make some warm, festive beverages to share at the office. Originally the plan was to do pumpkin cider in celebration of autumnal weather. Buuut we didn't manage to make it happen until after December 1, so something more Christmasy seemed like the way to go.

Enter cranberries. I've shared before, I always associate cranberries more with winter than fall, even though they're mostly mostly in the stores around Thanksgiving. They look festive, and their tart flavor is perfect for brightening up sometimes-dreary winter days.

So last week I whipped up this mulled cranberry apple cider, my friend whipped up some hot cocoa, and our coworkers rejoiced. I've made this cider once before and love the flavors and the ease of prep.

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider
Adapted from Rachael Ray
Yield: 12 servings (3 quarts total)

2-inch piece of ginger root
1 orange
4 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 quarts cloudy organic apple cider
1 quart cranberry juice
1-2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed (frozen is fine)
Slow cooker

Peel the ginger and cut it into 3-4 smaller pieces. Cut 2-3 slices out of the center of the orange. Then use a paring knife to remove some of the peel from the "heels" of the orange that didn't get sliced. Try to get as little of the white pith as possible, but don't stress about it. Stick the cloves through the piece(s) of orange peel. This basically just makes it easy to fish out the cloves later. (Alternatively, you could just throw in some orange slices and some loose cloves.)

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker (4-quart capacity or larger). Cook on high for 2-3 hours, checking it after an hour or so. If it's hot enough, turn the slow cooker down to warm. If it's getting too spiced, then fish out some or all of the ginger, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.

  • If you need to expedite this, then warm the apple cider and/or cranberry juice in the microwave before adding to the slow cooker. I warmed my apple cider in the microwave, and after an hour on high in the slow cooker, everything was piping hot. If you're really in a hurry, follow Rachael Ray's stovetop directions.
  • I bought a gallon of cider and roughly a half gallon of cranberry juice. I used half of each to make one batch of this cider. Since I don't normally drink either of these things on their own, I poured the leftover cranberry juice into the cider jug and stuck it in my freezer. I'll pull it out for round two when my family is in town for Christmas later this month. 
  • The above tip sounds frighteningly like a story problem from math classes of yorn: If Karissa has 4 quarts of cider and 2 quarts of cranberry juice, then pours half of it into her slow cooker, how many quarts of juice are left?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Nerdiest Christmas Album Ever

Gather ‘round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of death undone
By an infant born of glory.
Son of God, Son of Man.
By far the nerdiest Christmas album I own—and hands down one of my favorites—is Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God. It’s usually the first CD I listen to each Christmas season (yes, I still use CDs) because it does such a good job of setting the scene and putting Christmas in context. Now, I like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree just as much as the next person, but ultimately Christmas is about a God who craved relationship with and wholeness for God’s people—so much so, that this God did the most radical thing I can think of, and became human, stepping into our shoes, into our swaddling clothes, into our mess. And Behold the Lamb of God does an excellent job of telling the story of this God, this people, and this baby. It begins with a teaser of the story to come. A movie trailer, if you will, highlighting the hero of the story.
Instead of going straight to Bethlehem, we instead begin in Egypt, where we meet Moses, Pharaoh, the enslaved people of Israel, and a Passover lamb. We hear the cries of a people who long not only for deliverance but also for God’s mercy and closeness even as they find deliverance.
Lord, let your judgment passover us
Lord, let your love hover near.
Don’t let your sweet mercy passover us
Let this blood cover over us here.
This longing continues as these people enter the Promised Land and seek strong leaders: Moses is dead, Joshua isn’t kingly enough, and what they need is a king. Saul is a disappointment, though David is pretty awesome. But eventually exile happens and “the people of God are scattered abroad.” They ask the prophets if they’ll ever have another king like David—one who’s wise, loved by the people, and powerful “with a sword in his fist.” And Isaiah responds that yes, a King is coming, but he’ll be different than expected. As the years stretch on, Israel’s longing for Messiah—for ruler and deliverer—intensifies:
Our enemy, our captor, is no Pharaoh on the Nile,
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand.
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains yet, Lord, we’re bound.
Imprisoned here we dwell in our own land.
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay.
Our shackles, they were made with our own hands.
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give.
So, Yahweh, break this silence if you can.
And at the end of this song, we catch a glimpse of Yahweh’s longing that mirrors Israel’s:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings.
I think that what I like so much about this first portion of the album is the desperation and the honest treatment of pain in the lives of God’s people. Most Christmas music is festive, happy, celebratory. These songs revel in the pleasures of sleigh rides and jingle bells, marvel over a child in a manger, and paint pictures of angelic choirs filling the sky with their brilliance and good news. And this is good! God becoming human is remarkable and worthy of every praise we can muster!
Also, sometimes life is hard. And it’s comforting to find a collection of songs that doesn’t gloss over that. It’s been a rough year for me and some of my close friends. As a community we’ve dealt with loneliness, burnout, many miscarriages, work and financial uncertainties, death. And it’s been a rough year for our country and our world. It’s nearly impossible to log onto Facebook without seeing some fight break out over whether we’re destroying our planet, or whether refugees and immigrants are coming here as terrorists and/or freeloaders, or whether members of the LGBT community are abominations, or whether racism is still a thing, or whether this religion or people group or political party or fill-in-the-blank is offending me or challenging my rights, or . . .
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
I love that in this album, there is longing and deliverance, sorrow and praise. Because the centuries of slavery, imperfect leaders, exile, and growing distance from God made the arrival of the Messiah that much more powerful and miraculous.
As the story continues to unfold, we get a review of Christ’s lineage through a playful little song called Matthew’s Begats. You know, Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob and so on? Kind of a brilliant song, if you ask me, and unlike any other Christmas song I’ve heard! We then meet Joseph and Mary and follow them to Bethlehem. We hear Mary’s pained cries and see her and Joseph in a non-glamorous and far more realistic birth scene: in a cold, unclean stable, with “blood on the ground,” “tears upon her face,” and “no mother’s hand to hold.” We join the shepherds in marveling at the angels’ proclamation that the Savior—this king from David’s line, this long-awaited Messiah—has arrived! We join in the angels’ unfettered hallelujahs, then slip quietly back to the stable for the ballad that serves as the climax for this story that has taken centuries to unfold.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin.
Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men.
Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again.
Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin.
There’s a celebratory reprise of the album’s opening song, calling us to “sing out with joy for the brave little boy, who was God but made himself nothing,” followed by a no-frills recording of the simple chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. And then tucked away at the very end of the CD is a recording of Andrew Peterson’s little boys singing a song that many of us learned as kids: “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”
I always assumed Peterson threw that in there because he wanted to show off his sons’ cuteness. And maybe that was part of his motivation. But if you think about it, the song actually fits pretty well. Because our God is so big! Our God is mighty enough to do crazy things like delivering an entire nation out of slavery, bringing them priests and prophets to facilitate relationship, sharing their griefs, fiercely pursuing a fickle bride, and dwelling among us as a baby, then a kid, then a man who overturned social and religious norms and demonstrated his power by choosing humble sacrifice over political and military prowess.
Indeed, there is nothing our God cannot do.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

All quotations taken from various songs on Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson, originally released in 2004.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Panna Cotta (and Pasta Night!)

Photo credit: Chai Green
A couple weeks ago, I had some friends over for a hands-on dinner party, and we tackled two of my 2015 food goals in one night: pasta and panna cotta. I made the pasta dough and panna cotta ahead of time, and once my friends arrived, I put them to work helping roll pasta.

For the pasta dough, I used the recipe from Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Basically all you need is flour, a bit of salt, egg, and a bit of oil. For rolling and handling technique, I found this article from Serious Eats to be very helpful. It's also a good read if you like to get real nerdy about your food. We used the old-school hand crank pasta rollers and cutters, for which you really do need two people--one to turn the crank and hold the machine in place, and one to feed the dough through the rollers and catch it as it comes out. I don't understand how people manage a hand crank roller by themselves! Making fresh pasta was a lot of work, but it was fun work with friends who were willing to pitch in and work for their dinner. And it tasted so good!

It was Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table podcast who inspired me to make panna cotta, so I originally planned to use her recipe. However, she uses sour cream in hers, and I couldn't find lactose-free sour cream for my lactose-intolerant guest, so I used The Kitchn's recipe instead. It tasted delicious, looked and felt fancy, and was actually really easy to make. And you can easily vary it up with different toppings or even different kinds of milk or flavorings. I will definitely make panna cotta again. See tips and topping ideas in the notes below the recipe.

Also, for an appetizer that night, I made simple peach-basil crostini. Simply slice a baguette, spray or brush lightly with olive oil, and spread out on a baking sheet. Then broil for just a few minutes until toasted (watch closely!). Then chop up some fresh peaches, and toss it with some thinly sliced fresh basil. Scoop the peach-basil mixture onto the crostini, and you've got a tasty, summery bite. A bit of ricotta or creamy goat cheese probably would have been a nice addition. Bonus: the peach-basil mixture tasted sublime on the panna cotta.

Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 servings (6 oz. each)

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. powdered gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh raspberries, chopped fresh peaches, or other toppings of choice (see notes)

Pour the milk into a saucepan (off the stove) and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes. The surface will get wrinkly and the gelatin will be slightly dissolved.

Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, whisking frequently. The milk should never boil, simmer, or even start steaming. If it starts to steam, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly. The milk should get warm, but not so hot that you can't hold your finger in there for a few seconds. After about 2 minutes of warming, rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to make sure it's smooth and doesn't feel gritty at all.

Add the sugar to the milk, whisk it, and continue warming until the sugar is dissolved. Again, make sure the milk doesn't get too hot. This whole process of dissolving the gelatin and the sugar shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the cream, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Let the mixture sit out so it cools to room temperature. Whisk it again, then pour into wine glasses, ramekins, or other container of choice. Chill for 1-2 hours or more. The longer it chills, the firmer it will be. Add toppings of choice and serve.

  • Topping ideas: Fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (puree some for a sauce, if desired). Chopped fresh peaches, tossed with fresh basil, if desired. Drizzle of thick, good-quality balsamic vinegar. Drizzle of honey. 
  • The gelatin we're using here is plain, unflavored, unsweetened gelatin. In other words, not Jello. I found it in the Jello and pudding section of the grocery store, and the brand I got looks like this. It had 4 little envelopes of gelatin powder, and it took almost two envelopes to measure 1 Tbsp. 
  • When I got ready to pour the milk mixture into the wine glasses, I found it helpful to line a cookie sheet with non-slip shelf liner, then put the wine glasses on that. It made it easier to move them into the fridge all at once with no slip 'n' slide action.
  • The Kitchn has two panna cotta articles that I found helpful: How to Make Panna Cotta and Why Panna Cotta Is the Perfect Dessert. In both articles, she mentions that sometimes the milk and cream can separate into layers of lighter and heavier fat levels while the panna cotta chills. In the first article she recommends using half and half (instead of milk plus cream) to combat this, and in the second article she recommends allowing the mixture to come to room temp and whisking again before pouring into ramekins. I went with the latter solution, as you see in the recipe above.
  • If you want to unmold your panna cotta to serve it, see the instructions in the How to Make Panna Cotta article linked above.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 6 servings

2 (14-oz.) cans red kidney beans
1 (14-oz.) can chickpeas
1 small red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried dill
Pinch red pepper flakes

Pour the kidney beans and chickpeas into a colander. Rinse well and allow to drain while you chop all the veggies.

In a good-sized bowl, combine the beans with the red onion, celery, tomato, cucumber, parsley, and mint. If prepping ahead, cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to dress and serve the salad.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, dill, and red pepper flakes in a pint mason jar (or larger). With the lid on, give it a good shake. If prepping ahead, leave the lid on and store the dressing in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and toss gently but well. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to an hour or two.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spiced Roasted Okra

When I was a kid, we went to a lot of Christian summer camps. My parents got to share about our overseas mission work, the campers got to learn more about foreign missions, and my brothers and I got to go to camp! It was at one of these summer camps that I first tasted okra. Pickled okra, to be exact. I can't remember where that camp was, how old I was, or even the face or name of the friend-for-a-week who loved pickled okra so much that she got some every day from the cafeteria salad bar and encouraged me to try it as well. What I do remember, though, is that I hated it.

Over the years, I had okra in soup a couple times, and it tasted better than that pickled okra but had a weird sliminess. As a college student I was introduced to the wonderful thing that is fried okra. And a couple years ago, when my neighbor started sharing fresh okra from her garden every summer, I started looking for other ways to prepare it that highlighted its freshness and didn't involve breading and a deep fat fryer.

Enter roasted okra. Roasting okra deepens the flavor, cuts down on the sliminess, allows you to add whatever spices you like, and is simple and pretty healthy.

Spiced Roasted Okra

Fresh okra
Olive oil
Spices of choice (I used ground coriander, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and black pepper)

Preheat oven to 450. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper or foil.

Rinse the okra and pat dry with a towel. Trim off the stem ends and the very ends of the tips (otherwise they'll burn). Halve the okra length-wise.

In a bowl, toss the okra with olive oil. Then sprinkle with spices. Don't bother measuring; just sprinkle to your heart's content. Toss well, and add more olive oil if it looks dry, and more spices if it looks like they're not coating the okra well enough. Spread okra on your baking sheet(s), being sure to leave some breathing room around each piece of okra. (If they're too close together, they'll steam rather than roast.)

Bake for 15-25 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during the cooking time. Watch them during the last 10 minutes or so--you want to pull them out when they're starting to get toasty but haven't turned the corner into burnt territory. Allow to cool slightly before eating. These are best eaten with your fingers. :)


  • You can also leave the okra whole or cut it into smaller pieces, but you'd need to adjust cooking time accordingly. I like them halved, because it lets the spices cover the okra more thoroughly and is a convenient size to eat with your fingers.
  • If you have a grill, okra taste great grilled. Leave them whole and trim off just the tips (not the stem ends). Put two skewers through them (so you can flip them more easily) and grill for a few minutes, depending on how hot your grill is. Then pick up by the stem to eat them, but don't eat the stem. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Grilled Cheese, Two Ways

Today, my friends, I bring you two ooey-gooey variations on grilled cheese. Behind Door #1 we have a Peach Grilled Cheese with Mozzarella and Brie. Initially I was planning to do a caprese grilled cheese, but the peach festival had me still in the mood for peaches, and peaches and basil go well together, so I swapped out the tomatoes for peaches. And then I threw some brie into the mix, because when is brie not a good idea? And the second time I made it, I added a drizzle of lavender balsamic vinegar.

But after making the Peach Grilled Cheese twice, I was out of peaches, so I went searching the internets for ideas to use up the rest of the brie, mozzarella, and sourdough bread. Which brings us to the sandwich behind Door #2—Avocado and Tomato Grilled Cheese with Mozzarella and Brie. I actually liked this one better! The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes, which would have been lovely on this sandwich . . . but the sundried tomatoes in my fridge tasted a little past their prime, and I had a perfectly good fresh tomato on my counter, so that’s what I went with.

Both of these grilled cheese combinations were cheese-drippin’-down-your-chin good! The avocado one especially was very rich, and the peach one offered a lovely sweet vs. creamy contrast, though I wish I’d used more peaches because their flavor almost got lost. Red onion would probably be a great addition to either or both of these sandwiches. And if prosciutto was more my thing, I think it’d be a perfect addition as well. 

Grilled Cheese, Two Ways
Yield: However many sandwiches you make
Avocado variation adapted from Serious Eats

Sourdough bread (or other bread of choice)
Olive oil spray
Fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil

Peach Variation
Fresh peach
Balsamic vinegar or lavender balsamic vinegar (optional)

Avocado Variation
Fresh tomato or sundried tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Lightly spray one side of each slice of bread (what will be the outside of the sandwich) with olive oil. On the inside of the sandwich, arrange slices of brie on one slice of bread and slices of mozzarella on the other side.

Slice your peaches or your avocado and tomato, and layer them on top of the mozzarella. If desired, grill the peaches to get a bit of caramelization (I did this but don’t think it was necessary). If using fresh tomatoes, seed them so your sandwich doesn’t get too watery. Add a drizzle of balsamic or a sprinkling of salt and pepper

Sprinkle thinly sliced basil over the top. Now, if you press the brie into the bread a bit, it’ll stay put while you flip that slice of bread over to place on top of the sandwich. 

Preheat a skillet over medium-low heat. Carefully slide the sandwich into the skillet, and cook for a few minutes on each side, until the bread is nicely toasted and the cheeses are gooey. I usually cover it for half the cooking time to help the sandwich get warm throughout. Move the sandwich to a cutting board and carefully slice in half before serving.

  • It would have felt weird to put measurements in a grilled cheese recipe, but just to give you an idea of some of the quantities: For each sandwich, I used less than half of a medium peach, just under half a regular (not hass) avocado, and about a third of a roma tomato. My bread slices were bigger than a slice of standard sandwich bread. 
  • For the cheeses, I bought a pretty small wedge of brie and a fist-sized ball of mozzarella (sorry I threw away the wrappers and transferred them to zip bags before thinking to write down how many ounces I bought of each cheese!). I've made three sandwiches and have enough brie for one more, and would have enough mozzarella for probably two more sandwiches if I hadn't nibbled so much of it. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A First Time for Everything

Last Sunday, I got to preach for the first time. I’ve been wanting to write about the experience but have struggled with how to write about it and what to say. Because there is such a tangle of thoughts and feelings tumbling around in my heart and head, it’s hard to pull them apart and identify each one in a coherent way. But having the opportunity to preach for the first time is a significant milestone for this egalitarian, CofC-raised girl, so it’s worth trying. So here are some reflections, which may or may not be cohesive, but they are reflections nonetheless.

After being told (explicitly and implicitly) for 30 years that I would never preach—or at best being told that I should be able to preach in theory, but would never actually have the opportunity—it was terrifying and affirming and exciting to suddenly be asked, “Would you like to preach next week?”

At times, I felt a bit like an imposter. I don’t know how to write or deliver a sermon. I’m not a preacher. I’d never done this before. I didn’t know what I was doing. And yet, there I was, doing it. My sermon-writing training consisted of an invaluable 10-minute conversation with a friend, where he shared his own sermon-writing process and a few tips on study resources and sermon construction. Beforehand, I told virtually no one outside my house church that I was preaching, because I was a little afraid that one of my friends would show up that morning to support me, and I’d do a bad job in front of them. And the morning of, I was afraid to tell anyone I’d never preached before, because I was afraid they’d be disappointed in me.

And yet, this community of people embraced me as their preacher for the day. One woman, Wanda, introduced me to as many people as she could, and every time, it was, “This is Karissa, our preacher.” Not, “This is Karissa, who led our service today,” or even, “She preached for us today,” but, “She’s our preacher.” It still feels weird and special to me that, for many of the people who met me that day, my primary identity was that of a preacher.

It was good to have some of my assumptions about people challenged. I generally assume that the older people are, the more conservative they are. And the more conservative they are, the more they oppose women having an equal voice and equal opportunities to serve the church. And yet, the elderly folks at a retirement center were the first people who allowed me to preach.

The lectionary is a wonderful thing! There is basically an infinite number of possible sermon texts, topics, and combinations thereof. So having that infinite number narrowed down to just four texts was a glorious thing.

My sermon focused on God as our Shepherd and on our responsibility to shepherd and care for one another. Wanda perfectly embodies the “shepherd one another” part! She is very clearly a shepherd within her community—she gathered up people to come to the church service instead of going back to bed after breakfast, she greeted everyone we passed in the hallways, she invited me to join her for lunch in the cafeteria and welcomed me into her apartment for coffee and dessert, she talked with and encouraged people as we stood around waiting for the cafeteria to open for lunch. After spending several days thinking intentionally about this shepherding theme in order to prepare a sermon about it, it was especially cool to see Wanda living out this role in such meaningful ways.

Several people have asked how preaching went, and I think it went well. There are definitely some things I wish I’d done differently or done better, but I think it was pretty good for being my first time. My prayer going into it was that something I said would be meaningful to at least one person. And a couple people came up to me later and shared some ways that something I said resonated with something in their lives.

Though the experience as a whole was a little terrifying and made me feel like an imposter, it also made me feel victorious for marginalized women everywhere. Because preaching is a role that is off-limits to so many of us, even in churches that are at least somewhat gender-inclusive. So it was meaningful to join the growing ranks of CofC women who’ve had the opportunity to preach, and to be a small part of continuing to normalize the idea of having both women and men in the pulpit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Peach Salsa with Spiced Black Beans and Corn

The summer I lived in Georgia, the couple I stayed with kept the kitchen fully stocked with fresh, juicy peaches all summer long. These were not your run-of-the-mill grocery store peaches. Rather, I'm pretty sure she bought most of them from local growers and fruit stands. Jann even knew the names of the different varieties, when each variety would come into season, and the unique flavors of each variety. Many evenings that summer, Jann and I would stand side by side at the kitchen sink, peeling and slicing peaches, our hands dripping with juice while we told each other about our day.

Though I liked peaches before then, it was that summer that really solidified my love for peaches--especially juice-running-down-your-chin, just-picked-that day peaches. So when Google showed me recently that there's an annual peach festival in Weatherford, Texas (of all places), I convinced a couple of my peach-loving and/or festival-loving friends to take a trip to Weatherford for some peach love. Food highlights for me included the Caribbean jerk chicken sandwich for lunch, the homemade peach ice cream for dessert, and the bottle of lavender balsamic vinegar I brought home with me.

One of my goals for our trip to the festival was to get some peach salsa. I'd made it once before and really liked it, so I was interested in trying someone else's version. Unfortunately, though, by the time we got there and ate lunch (and ice cream) and got serious about browsing the manymany vendor booths, the jarred peach salsa was sold out everywhere we looked and asked. But no worries! Because I was already planning to buy a bunch of fresh peaches from the fresh produce stand (which we all did), and I still had that trusted peach salsa recipe from before, so I just made my own again tonight.

Rather than do something the same way twice, though, I took the peach salsa from before, and served it over the corn and black beans from these lettuce wraps. The lettuce wraps recipe also included a guacamole which sounded lovely, but I didn't feel like making three different components, so I just cubed an avocado, and that was simple and perfect. The black bean/corn part of the dish has so many warm flavors going on, the peach salsa pretty much tastes like summer, and the avocado added this creaminess that brought all the flavors into harmony.

If you wanted to bulk this up or make it stretch to more servings, you could easily add some cooked quinoa or millet. Originally I had planned to do that, but I decided to keep it simple tonight, and I didn't miss the grain at all.

Peach Salsa with Spiced Black Beans and Corn

Peach salsa adapted from A Couple Cooks and posted previously on my blog hereblack beans and corn adapted from A Couple Cooks.

Yield: About 3 servings. I know that's weird, and I'm sorry. I was planning to do 2 servings but got too excited about peaches once I started cutting into them, so I ended up with 2-3 generous servings of peach salsa and 3-4 servings of the black beans and corn.

Peach Salsa Ingredients
3 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1/2 medium red onion (or 1/4 large red onion), finely chopped
Just under 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

Everything Else
1/4 to 1/2 large red onion
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
Dried chipotle powder, to taste (or chopped, canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, to taste)
Black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup water
1 avocado, cut into cubes

For the salsa, combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, green pepper, and corn; saute until veggies are slightly browned, about 5 minutes, stirring only very occasionally. Add the black beans, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, chipotle, and water. Give it a good stir, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has cooked down.

To serve, spoon some of the black bean and corn mixture into a bowl. Top with avocado and peach salsa, and give it a good stir. Then add some more peach salsa on top because it's hard to resist adding just a bit more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sparkling Cucumber Limeade

Confession: summery drinks are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. In the fall and winter I go head-over-heels for winter quash, cozy casseroles and soups, and all things roasted. But when summer rolls around, it's all about the fresh herbs and refreshing drinks!

Yes, I know they're full of sugar and empty calories. But when it's 100 degrees and I want my air conditioning bill (some people call it an electric bill) to not be exorbitant, a tasty cold beverage becomes almost a necessity.

And what's more refreshing than lightly bubbly limeade infused with cucumber and fresh mint? Not much, my friends!

Sparkling Cucumber Limeade
Adapted from Rachael Ray, as seen on Taste and Tell
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 cup lime juice (I use bottled)
1 medium cucumber, sliced (peeled if the skin is bitter)
Additional mint leaves (optional)
2 cups sparkling water, chilled (see notes)

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the mint leaves. Let sit, for 10-30 minutes.

Remove and discard the mint leaves, which will probably now be dark brown and less appealing-looking. Combine the sugar water with the lime juice and cucumber. Add more fresh mint leaves, if desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (I actually like to let mine chill for about 30 minutes before adding the cucumbers--I'm afraid of cooking them slightly if the sugar water is too warm.)

Right before serving, add the sparkling water (see notes) and serve over ice.

Since I live by myself, I usually eat and drink by myself. Which poses a problem with fizzy beverages like this, because I can either 1) drink a reasonable amount in one sitting, but then the rest of it goes flat before I drink it, or 2) drink the entire pitcher, but be sick because that's ridiculous. So here's what I do:
  • Make the recipe, minus the sparkling water. Store this in the fridge for use as needed.
  • Buy the skinny cans of Perrier (250 mL each) and keep those in the fridge.
  • When I'm ready to partake, I use a pint-sized mason jar, add 3-4 ice cubes and almost a whole can of Perrier, and fill the rest with the limeade concentrate. That ratio is just about perfect for me, but you may find that you like more or less of the concentrate.
Also, for the record, I don't like sparkling water on its own (even the flavored stuff), so I'm usually skeptical about recipes that call for it. But it's great in this drink!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer Squash Refrigerator Pickles

‘Tis the season for gardens bursting with zucchini and yellow squash! Which means ‘tis also the season for those with gardens to become especially earnest in sharing squash with their friends and neighbors. Which means that, whether we’re growing them ourselves or receiving them from a friend, ‘tis the season to find many ways to prepare squash beyond zucchini bread and simple sautés.

So last week I tried my hand at pickling some squash! And I must say that I rather like the result. These are refrigerator pickles, also called quick pickles, which I think just means that 1) you don’t have to go through the extra step of sealing the jars to make them shelf stable and 2) therefore they go straight into the fridge rather than into the pantry. This was perfect for me since I wanted to go ahead and eat them, and canning still scares me.

I looked at lots of recipes for quick pickles, and learned that there are so many variations you can do. You definitely need salt, squash (or other veggies), and some sort of vinegar. Most of the recipes I looked at called for peppercorns. But from there, you can add various fresh herbs, ground spices, onions, other veggies like red bell pepper, or sweeteners to adjust the flavor to your liking. 

I tried a couple different variations—one more basic, and one more flavored—and made a quart jar of each. And I can’t quite decide which one I like better. The basic version (below) tastes very clean and un-fussy, while the slightly spicy variation (see notes) has a more complex flavor. As far as squash quantity, I had one mammoth zucchini plus two smallish yellow squash, which I sliced and split evenly between the two quart jars.

Summer Squash Refrigerator Pickles
Yield: 1 quart

4-5 sprigs fresh cilantro
1-1/2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1-1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 lbs. yellow squash and/or zucchini, sliced into rounds
1/4 cup sliced yellow onion
1-1/4 cup white vinegar
1-1/4 cup water
1 tsp. kosher salt

To a clean, quart-sized mason jar, add the first seven ingredients (through onion). I put my garlic, peppercorns, and coriander at the bottom, and tried to sort of layer the onion and squash. In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil. Pour over the contents of the jar, pressing down the vegetables so they’re submerged. Gently tap the jar on the counter to release air bubbles. 

Allow the jar to cool on the counter, then put a lid on the jar and let it chill in the fridge at least overnight. After mine was cooled and was lidded, I gave it a good swish (that’s gentler than a full-blown shake) every so often to help the flavors permeate the liquid and, therefore, the veggies.

  • For the variation I’m calling Slightly Spicy Summer Squash Pickles, add 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes to the jar, and use cider vinegar instead of basic white. 
  • I’ve only just made these so can’t testify personally, but most of the refrigerator pickle recipes I’ve seen say that these will keep for about a month in your fridge.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Most West Texas Meal Ever

Today I'm thrilled to introduce a guest post from Josh, my second older brother (you get to figure out what that means). There are two recipes below, with results at the end of the post. You may remember Josh from my trip to visit him in New Zealand, from his blog To Insanity and Beyond, or from actually knowing him in real life. Or you may have absolutely no idea who this redheaded dude is. Either way, you're in for a treat today, because not only is he good at playing army men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with you when you're little, but he's also an excellent writer.


At various points in my life, I’ve held the following jobs:
  • Working at a chicken factory.
  • Hauling furniture.
  • Doing the grunt work that no one else wanted on a construction site.
  • Scraping up bird poop.
  • Running a hostel…which required scraping up human poop.
  • Taking inventory in various warehouses.
  • Unpaid youth minister at a church that never realized I possessed actual skills.
  • Painting houses…in the Texas summer.
  • Cashier at a fish and chips shop in an Aboriginal war zone.
Among the very worst of my occupational episodes, though, was that phase I spent working part time as a landscaper.  I hate mowing lawns.  It’s hot, it’s boring, it’s loud, and next week you have to do the exact same thing again because the grass is too stupid to stay down.  Sometimes we’d get a specialty assignment, like laying sod or trimming a tree.  This would take several hours, and of course we still had to get all the regular mowing accounts in too.  I hated that job so much.  I hit rock bottom the day I was assigned to trim a yucca plant.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, you’ll probably die happy, but let me explain what you’ve missed out on.  Imagine a six foot bouquet of spears, controlled by a subtle but intelligent mind that is sadistic and predatory.  Yucca plants bathe in the blood of living things, draining the souls of their victims along with their life force.  They don’t do this for their own sustenance, like a Venus fly trap.  No, they do it because they’re jerks.  Yucca plants are hostile, and they refuse to negotiate.

So when Karissa suggested we include yucca in our gourmet feast, I couldn’t have been happier.  (That is, once a quick Google search confirmed people actually eat yucca and she wasn’t just trolling me.)   This would be my revenge.  This would right an ancient wrong, rebalancing the scales of justice in favor of the downtrodden.  Yucca did me dirty; now, yucca would be my lunch.

The yucca would just be a side dish, though.  Initially, Karissa wanted to make prickly pear barbecue sauce, which sounded rad to me.  Of course, what good is barbecue sauce without meat to go under it?  Most people, when faced with this scenario, would content themselves with a pork roast.  Not us.  Karissa said, “I have some wild boar in the freezer.”  Yes.  Yes.

So our feast would be wild boar with prickly pear barbecue sauce and a side of yucca.  This is also known as the most west Texas meal ever.

Wild Boar with Prickly Pear Tequila Barbecue Sauce

Wild Boar Directions:
  • Eat a pineapple for breakfast.
  • Vertically slice up 1 red onion and spread it around the bottom of the crockpot.
  • If you have a kitchen slave or a butler, have them gently and methodically massage salt and pepper deep into the boar meat.  Lacking either, simply salt and pepper the surface of the meat, then place it in a skillet on high heat to get a good sear on all sides. 
  • Place the wild boar meat inside the crockpot on top of the onion layer.  Then add 1 whole red onion (peeled) to let it bask in the glorious essence of the wild boar.  If you are cooking the boar’s head, place the onion inside the boar’s mouth.
  • Add 1 cup of hot water.
  • Lay the entire pineapple core from breakfast lengthwise inside the crockpot against the boar meat.  Scatter additional pineapple fragments around the meat surface.  Cook on high for four hours.
Pro tips:
  • If pressed for time, you may cut the meat into two or three chunks so as to expedite the cooking process.  As an added bonus, this creates ideal cavities for the pineapple core and fragments.
  • Don’t be a n00b – coat the inside of the crockpot with canola oil so your butler won’t have to spend an hour cleaning it.  He needs to be answering the door.
Sauce Ingredients:
3 medium red onions (two of these are already cooking in the crock pot with the boar)
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1-1/2 cups prickly pear juice
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground coriander (or 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, ground)
Scant 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin (or 1-1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, ground)
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 jalapeno chilies, minced, ribs and seeds removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. lime zest*
1/2 cup white Worcestershire sauce**
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. lime juice***
2 tsp. kosher salt

*For the n00bs, that’s when you shave off the green stuff from the lime peel but not the white stuff.  It’s a pretty thin layer, so don’t go nuts.
**We didn’t have white Worcestershire sauce, because West Texas, so we substituted with the following: 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. white wine, 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 tsp. sugar.
***I juiced the lime I used for the zest and it came out to exactly 2 Tbsp.  Boo yah!

Sauce Directions:
  • Remove onions from crockpot, both whole and sliced, discarding any charred bits. Place in blender with prickly pear juice and blend at high speed until completely smooth.
  • Mince remaining red onion.  Pro tip: Light a candle and keep it near the chopping station.  It’s the sulfur in the onion that irritates your eyes, and the open flame burns the sulfur away.  Your butler will thank you; your kitchen slave won’t, as they have not been granted permission to speak.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. of butter in a saucepan or large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté minced onions until lightly caramelized (about 5 minutes).  Add coriander, cumin, pepper flakes, jalapeno, garlic, and lime zest.  Cook until fragrant.  Pro tip: The recipe recommends “cooking until fragrant” for two minutes, but we say a minute should do.  Garlic burns easily, and you don’t want to burn your garlic.  That would be sad.
  • Add Worcestershire, tequila, cider vinegar, and lime juice.  Cook over medium-high heat until volume is reduced by half.
  • Stir in the onion/prickly pear blend and salt, bringing to a simmer.
  • Remove from heat and swirl in the remaining butter.
These are yucca roots

Yuca con Mojo (Yucca with Garlic Sauce)

4 yucca roots (we did 2 yuccas and ended up with twice as much sauce as we needed.)
1 tsp. salt
Juice from 1 lime
6 garlic cloves, mashed
1 tsp. salt, doesn’t have to be kosher.  Anarchy!
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 chopped red onion

  • Peel and cube yucca.  Cubes must be the exact size of gaming dice, complete with rounded edges and dots etched into each face.  Otherwise you fail at dinner.  And life.  All your loved ones will abandon you.  You will be Gollum.
  • Be sure to remove woody fibers that may be running down the middle of the yucca.
  • Place yucca in saucepan and cover in water.  Add salt and lime juice, then bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender (approximately 30 minutes).
  • Drain and keep warm.
  • Fire your butler; he’s doing a terrible job.
  • Mash garlic.  Add garlic, lemon juice, and onions, and oil in the same pan you used for boiling.  Because you no longer have a butler to wash extraneous pans.  
  • Heat until bubbling, then add the yucca to the pan, sautéing over medium heat until barely brown – but not CRISP!  (Note: the recipe was very adamant about this.  The all-caps crisp came straight from off the recipe page.  If the yucca gets crispy, I can only assume the apocalypse is upon us.)  


Expectations were astronomical.  Could the reality of this meal live up to the hype?  In a word, yes.

For those of you who grew up in the jungle, yucca reminded us both of taro, a tuber that serves as a staple in the Papua New Guinean diet.  (If you didn’t grow up in the jungle, I’m not going to clarify that; you just get to feel left out.  Look, just cook up some yucca and try it for yourself.)  The sauce was a unique blend of flavors unlike anything I’ve tasted before – and it packed a late kick.  We both agreed that next time we might cut back on the pepper flakes and/or jalapeno to make it a bit less spicy.  It wasn’t too spicy to be enjoyable though; not by a long shot.  We’re just white.  And the wild boar was wild boar.  Enough said.

Most importantly, I established my dominance over the yucca.  I remain at the top of the food chain, with the yucca holding company with the likes of chicken and sushi.  Actually, sushi is higher than yucca.  Sushi eats yucca.  It’s science.

Here’s a picture of Karissa’s cat.  I think that’s how we do it on her blog.

LATER EDIT: Karissa fried up some leftover yucca a couple days later, which left it a little crispy on one or two sides.  She declared it better this way.  Pro tip: Never believe the recipe.

Recipe credit: This recipe served as the guide for the boar and sauce, and this one for the yuca/yucca.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Prickly Pear Lemonade (or Limeade)

There are few beverages that feel as summery as lemonade. So in honor of the weather warming up (thank you, Texas, for the gloriously cool May!) and because there’s still a whole lot of prickly pear juice in my freezer (oops, didn’t mean to hoard it so stingily) I bring you prickly pear lemonade.

If you aren’t into harvesting prickly pear fruit, just use some other fruit juice. Maybe some peach nectar or pureed/mashed blackberries?

And for the record, I use the bottled Real Lemon and Real Lime juices. Because really, who has time—and wrist strength—to juice that many lemons?

Prickly Pear Lemonade (or Limeade)
Yield: 1/2 gallon

3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1 cup prickly pear juice
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
Water and ice

In a glass measuring cup, combine sugar with some water. Microwave for about a minute, so the water gets warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Then pour sugar water into a half-gallon pitcher or mason jar, along with the prickly pear juice, lemon juice, and lime juice. Fill the pitcher the rest of the way with ice and cold water.

To make limeade: Simply switch the lemon and lime juice measurements. I like the limeade slightly better with 3/4 cup sugar and the lemonade slightly better with 1 cup sugar.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Charred Corn and Poblano Quinoa Salad

I don't know about you, but I love grain salads. They tend to be filling, nicely balanced, and tasty meals, all contained in one bowl. And they usually keep well for leftovers and pack well for taking lunch to the office, so they're a great option if you're a one- or two-person household.

This salad has all the traits I love in a grain salad. You start with quinoa, and add in some roasted corn and poblano for sweetness and a bit of heat. Then toss in some cilantro for freshness and a pop of green, a brightly spiced dressing to coat everything in its tasty goodness, and finish off with a sprinkling of salty feta and cubes of creamy avocado.

Also, this is what charred poblano skin looks like if you get up close and personal with it.

Charred Corn and Poblano Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Yield: 6-8 servings as a side, or 3-4 servings as a main

1 cup quinoa
1 poblano pepper
2 cups frozen corn
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup feta or cotija cheese
2 avocados, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil (replace 1 Tbsp. with water for a lower-fat option)
Juice from two limes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cook quinoa according to package directions, except use only 1-1/2 cups water and add a pinch of salt. When it's cooked, remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and allow to cool.

Roast the poblano pepper: If you have a gas stove, turn a burner on high. Using metal tongs, hold the pepper over the open flame, turning and moving pretty often, until the skin is evenly charred. If you don't have a gas stove, roast it on a grill or in the oven. Place poblano in a paper or plastic bag and seal. Let it steam for 10 minutes to loosen the skin. Then remove to a cutting board and use a knife to scrape off the charred skin. Then cut open the poblano and remove the seeds (or leave them in if you want your salad to be spicy). Chop the poblano. Set aside to cool.

Roast the corn: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn (straight from the freezer is just fine), and spread the kernels out in the skillet. Now, let them cook for a few minutes without touching them so a good char can develop. Then give them a good stir, and let them cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. (Alternatively, if you don't feel like mincing the garlic and 1 Tbsp. cilantro, give all the dressing ingredients a whir in a small blender or food processor.) To the bowl, add the cooled quinoa, poblano, and corn; toss. Add the 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, feta, and avocados, and toss again. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

  • If you're planning to save this for later, hold off on the avocado until you're ready to serve.
  • If you have a grill, roast the poblano and corn on that! Use two ears of corn instead of two cups frozen kernels.
  • I've made this a couple times, and one time got lazy and left the cilantro out of the dressing, but it was noticeably better when I didn't cut that corner. I've also eaten it both with and without the avocado, and while it's definitely better with, it's also good without.
  • I almost added cherry or grape tomatoes to this salad but am really glad I didn't. The flavors are so well-balanced, I think the tomatoes could have easily taken over.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Roasted Broccoli

Well, I posted the tomatillo salsa recipe that day after Cinco de Mayo, and I'm posting a grilled cheese recipe after National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month (April) is over. This, my friends, is one of the reasons I'm not a professional food blogger. However, I maintain that fancy pants grilled cheese sandwiches are good at any time of the year.

What you'll find below is not exactly a recipe. Rather, it's a list of ingredients and some directions on a good method. But when I made this sandwich (twice!) I didn't measure a thing. If you have leftover roasted broccoli, use it as a side dish for another meal--it's great on its own! The original recipe called for onion and red bell pepper to be roasted with the broccoli, and that sounds good, but the sandwiches didn't taste at all like they were missing anything by not having roasted onion and pepper.

Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Roasted Broccoli
Adapted from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 1 serving 

Fresh broccoli florets
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
2 slices sourdough bread
Dijon mustard
1-3 kinds of cheese, shredded (I used cheddar, gouda, and parmesan)

Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut broccoli florets into small bite-sized pieces; toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss again. Spread broccoli out on the baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until broccoli is darkened and roasty.

Get two slices of sourdough bread, and stack them like a sandwich. Spray/brush olive oil on the outsides of the bread sandwich. Then place the slices of bread oil-side-down. Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on one slice of bread. Grate one or two kinds of cheese, and sprinkle evenly on both slices of bread. I did cheddar on one slice and gouda on the other.

Heat a skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Using a spatula, carefully transfer each slice of bread into the skillet. Cover and cook on medium-low until cheese is melted. Check the bottoms of the bread; if they're not yet toasted, raise heat to medium and continue cooking (uncovered) until bread is toasted. Remove both slices of bread to a cutting board.

Layer some broccoli on top of one of the sandwich halves. Be generous with the broccoli. If desired, sprinkle a little more cheese in with the broccoli to help it stick together. I used parmesan. Place the other sandwich half on top and smoosh it slightly. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the sandwich in half. Transfer to a plate to serve.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa

Remember when it was a goal of mine to make something with fresh tomatillos? Wait, you mean you don't remember my food goals as well as I do? Well, it finally happened!

This tomatillo salsa tastes bright and fresh, and the recipe is quick, simple, and summery. It has just a few ingredients to whir up in the food processor, and my friends absolutely loved it. In fact, that's why there is so little salsa in these pictures--I made it, took it to a shower, we ate most of it, and then I photographed it the next day.

It seemed odd to me that the recipe didn't call for any lime or lemon, but I'm glad I trusted the recipe. The fresh tomatillos add plenty of brightness to the salsa--so much so, that my friends almost didn't believe that there was no lime juice in it. Also, the amount of jalapeno was perfect for me. It added flavor, but the salsa was still very mild. If you want more heat, use more jalapeno and/or keep the seeds in.

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
From Rick Bayless, as seen on Annie's Eats
Yield: 1-1/2 cups salsa

8 oz. fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
1 large garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 to 2/3 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Tortilla chips, for serving

In a food processor, pulse all ingredients into a coarse puree without over processing. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve with chips.

Don't have a food processor? Simply mince the tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno, and cilantro by hand, then combine everything in a serving bowl.

The salsa keeps very well in the fridge. I made mine a day ahead of time and just kept it in a mason jar in the fridge until time to serve it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Persian Carrot and Apple Salad

In continuing the Persian theme, here is a far simpler recipe than the jeweled rice. It consists of just one veggie, one fruit, one kind of nut, and a simple dressing. The recipe is pretty self-explanatory, so let me share a few pictures and a rundown of our full menu from House Church Persian Night a few weeks ago!

Pardon the quality of the pictures. My living/dining room does not have awesome photography-worthy lighting after the sun goes down.

Here's what we ate, starting with the platter of naan next to the cute little boy in the second picture, and moving clockwise around the table:

  • Homemade Naan with Ghee
  • Sabzi Khordan (an herb and cheese plate; this one had feta, walnuts, radishes, and fresh cilantro and mint)
  • Bademjan (a beef and eggplant stew, served over brown rice)
  • Iranian Chicken with Turmeric, Saffron, and Lemon Juice
  • Jeweled Rice
  • Homemade Hummus
  • Carrot and Apple Salad (recipe below)
  • More Naan
  • Persian Salad Shiraz (a tomato/cucumber salad)
  • Not pictured: Doogh (a beverage made with yogurt, club soda, and mint) and chocolate birthday cake

If your appetite is sufficiently whetted and your interest sufficiently piqued, and you now find yourself wanting to make some Persian food yourself, I'd recommend exploring this site. Since I'm far from an expert, I can't speak to how authentic the recipes are. But there's a nice variety of types of dishes and beverages. And most of the recipes have a picture, which is especially nice when dealing with unfamiliar recipe names!

Persian Carrot and Apple Salad
Slightly adapted from
Yield: 6-8 servings

1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds, toasted
1 lb. carrots, peeled (4-5 medium to large carrots)
1 large granny smith apples, peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sugar.

Toast the almonds and set them aside to cool. Grate the carrots and apples. I did it by hand with a cheese grater. If you have a food processor with a grating/shredding blade, that would be most handy! You could also probably get away with finely chopping them with a regular food processor blade.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat well. Refrigerate for an hour or more to let flavors marry. Toss again before serving.

My assembled salad sat in the fridge for 3-4 hours, and it was great (as were leftovers a couple days later). I was worried that the almonds would lose their crunch, but they were fine. Softer after a few days, but just fine the day of.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Persian Jeweled Rice

Let’s go to Persia today! Or let’s save some money on airfare and instead make some Persian food!

When I was in Atlanta a few weeks ago for work, one of my traveling buddies found a Persian (Iranian) restaurant for us to visit. Boy, am I glad he did because it was good! We had a goat cheese appetizer with pistachio relish, split a lamb kabob entrée with a side of jeweled rice, and for dessert he got baklava with pistachio ice cream while I got cardamom cake (think strawberry short cake, but the cake part is flavored with cardamom, and it's garnished with fresh tarragon). They also brought out fresh naan throughout the meal, and an herb and cheese plate at the beginning (it had fresh mint and tarragon, a cube of really good feta, walnuts, radishes, and olives). If you’re in Atlanta or are planning to visit, I highly recommend Rumi’s Kitchen. Such good food, excellent service, and decently priced for the quality and quantity you get. For all that food, our total bill (with tip) was $61.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and house church friends start asking me how the trip to Atlanta was and what yummy things I ate while there. Of course I went on and on about Rumi’s, and both friends’ response was something along the lines of, “Let’s do Persian food for house church soon.” So we had a Persian feast this past Friday! Since Persian/Iranian food is less familiar to most West Texans (and probably most white U.S. Americans), I was a little worried that a few of us would get really into the adventure while the rest of the group would be skeptical of the flavors and/or the complicated recipes. But everyone was such a good sport and cranked out a truly amazing feast! As one friend said to me Friday night, “You set the bar really high with this Persian menu, and we jumped right over that bar.” Since this post is long, I'll wait until my next post to share our menu, pictures, and another recipe.

At least in my mind, Persian cuisine is most similar to Middle Eastern food, but it’s also pretty distinct. Thanks to its geographic location as well as its history, Iranian cuisine has integrated a variety of other food traditions into its own cuisine—including Turkish, Central Asian, Russian, and more. For a quick primer, check out this article on the 10 Essential Iranian Dishes.

For our house church feast, I wanted to come as close as possible to recreating the rice dish I'd had at Rumi’s. It had orange zest, pomegranate arils, and slivered almonds. I think it also had cranberries. And it had some other grated fruit that I suspected was fresh apricot. They also provided ground sumac for us to sprinkle over the top. From the 10 Essential Iranian Dishes article, I determined that “jeweled rice recipe” was what needed to form the foundation of my Google searches.

Jeweled rice comes in many different forms. But most of the recipes I found had some dried and/or fresh fruit, some toasted nuts, spices, and of course rice. Some also had fresh herbs on top. Some were vastly more complex than others. Some were yellow like this one, others were white like I had at Rumi’s. I settled on this recipe but also adapted it. This dish is pretty involved and time-consuming, as there are lots of elements to prepare separately before bringing the whole dish together. That was fun for me because it gave me the chance to explore some new techniques and flavor combinations. It also meant using a lot of bowls, pans, and counter space, especially since I was making a double batch.

That said, you will need some counter space or nearby table where you can spread out. Almost every step of the recipe concludes with “set aside.” You’ll also need a fine-mesh strainer for rinsing and draining the rice. Other than that, all tools and equipment are pretty basic. In the recipe below, I split it into two phases: Phase A is prepping and cooking all the components, and part or all of it can be done a day or two in advance. Phase B is where you put everything together.

I forgot to let my fruit mixture and rice come to room temp before layering everything in the pot . . . so after it simmered for 35 minutes it was still cold. Oops. If that happens to you, no worries! I scooped out the top layer of rice and about half the fruit and microwaved it, then turned the burner up to about medium in order to better toast the bottom layer of rice. When the microwaved portion was warmed up, I added it back into the pot and put the lid back on so it would finish warming through. And you know what? It turned out just fine. So be of good cheer. This dish is complex and has some unfamiliar techniques--and if this is your first foray into Persian cooking like it was mine, there’s a good chance everything will not go perfectly. Just embrace it, improvise, and you’ll be good.

A few random notes: I doubled the quantities listed below, and it filled my 4-quart Pyrex bowl. For house church I left out the onion due to a friend’s onion intolerance; it was really good without the onion, but I bet it’d also be really good with, so I’ve kept the onion in the recipe. If you wanted to add some greenery to this, fresh tarragon would be phenomenal, and fresh mint would also be good. See also my notes at the end of the recipe.

Persian Jeweled Rice

Adapted from The Gutsy Gourmet
Yield: 4-6 servings for a regular meal; plenty more servings for a potluck

1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cups basmati rice
1/4 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 medium carrots
Peel from one orange (cut into matchsticks—not zested on a microplane)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. + 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric + about 1/8 tsp. in a later step
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

Phase A: Preparing and cooking the various components. All of Phase A can be done the day before. That’s what I did.

1.  Heat a dry skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Spread almonds evenly in the skillet and toast, shaking/stirring periodically, until toasted and fragrant. Remove to a plate; set aside and allow to cool. If using two kinds of nuts, toast each kind separately since almonds take longer to toast than pistachios.

2.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Using a fine mesh strainer, rinse the rice grains under cold water until the water turns clear. Add the rice to the boiling water, and cook for just 6-7 minutes, until the grains have lengthened but are still firm. Drain the rice and rinse well under cold water. Drain well. Spread rice on a rimmed baking sheet; set aside and allow to cool. (I think spreading it out like this also helps the rice dry out a little so the final dish isn’t too wet and mushy.)

3.  Rinse and peel the carrots. Then either grate them using a cheese grater or cut them into 1-inch matchsticks. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the outer orange layer of the orange peel, trying to get as little of the white pith as possible (see notes below). Thinly slice each piece of orange peel to make mini matchsticks. In a saucepan, bring sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the carrots and orange zest, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-20 minutes, until carrots are tender (more time if carrots are cut into matchsticks, less time if they’re grated). Drain and set aside. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

4.  Slice/julienne dried apricots into matchsticks. Warm some water in a small bowl or 2- to 4-cup measuring cup. Add the dried apricots and cranberries to the hot water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.*

5.  Heat butter and 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes, or until onion is beginning to brown. Add cardamom, cumin, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Add reserved cranberries and apricots. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the reserved carrot mixture. Season to taste with salt. If proceeding immediately to Phase B, stir in the toasted nuts as well.

If saving Phase B for another day, transfer onion-carrot mixture into a container and store in the fridge until ready to use; then stir in the nuts before proceeding to Phase B. Transfer rice into another container and store in the fridge. Before proceeding to Phase B, be sure to pull everything out of the fridge at least 30-60 minutes ahead of time to let them come up to room temperature. Or warm it slightly in the microwave.

Phase 2: Putting everything together and, most importantly, serving!

6.  Get out a large heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid. Get a clean lightweight kitchen towel and lay it over the opening of the pot. Then put the lid on and fold the towel up over the top of the lid, securing with rubber band, clothespin, file clip, or whatever you have on hand. The goal is to have the towel in place (I guess to absorb extra moisture from the rice?) while keeping it from catching on fire from the burner. Set the cloth-wrapped lid aside.

7.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine 1/4 cup warm water with a sprinkling of turmeric (maybe 1/8 tsp.?).

8.  In the large heavy-bottomed pot, heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil over medium heat. Add half of the rice and spread evenly; add the fruit mixture and spread evenly; add the rest of the rice and spread evenly. Use the end of a wooden spoon, poke 5-6 holes all the way through to the bottom of the pot (to help release steam and help the rice cook evenly). Drizzle turmeric water over the top.

9.  Put toweled lid onto pot. Cook 5-8 minutes, until pot begins to steam. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring or touching, until rice is tender and bottom layer is browned and crispy, about 30-40 minutes. (I’m not entirely sure how you’re supposed to know when the bottom is crispy without messing with the rice. I just trusted the timer, went for about 35 minutes, and hoped for the best.)

10.  Spoon rice into a large serving bowl, mixing it up as you go in order to distribute the fruit and turmeric color throughout the rice. Use a spoon to scrape up the layer of crispy rice on the bottom; break into pieces if it doesn’t do that on its own; spread them around on the top of the rice (or serve them in a small bowl on the side). Apparently the crispy rice is a big deal in Persian cuisine. The Gutsy Gourmet even called it a “Persian delicacy!” Sprinkle pomegranate arils over the top just before serving.

11.  Now, dish yourself up a good-sized helping, sit down with some friends and let your feet rest, and enjoy the fruits of your hard labor!

  • I adapted some of the ingredients based on what I like and what I remembered from the rice I ate at Rumi's. But in case you like any of the things I left out, here are some possible reverse substitutions: Instead of 1/2 cup almonds, use 1/4 cup almonds + 1/4 cup pistachios or pine nuts. Instead of 3/4 cup cranberries, use 1/2 cup cranberries + 1/4 cup chopped dates. Instead of dried apricots, use raisins.
  • *Let's talk about saffron. This recipe called for saffron, but that's expensive so I opted out of that. There's not a real good flavor substitute for saffron, but turmeric will give you the same color. You just have to be careful with turmeric, because if you use too much it can give an off taste to your food. If you want to use saffron: In step 4, soak 1/4 tsp. saffron threads in a small bowl with 1/4 cup water; set aside. In step 5, add 1 Tbsp. of the saffron water when you add the cardamom, cumin, and turmeric to the fruit mixture. Skip step 7. In step 8, drizzle remaining saffron water over rice in lieu of the turmeric water.
  • For the orange peel, I found it easier to peel off narrow pieces and use a gentle hand to the peeler/knife gets a pretty shallow cut. But since oranges are round and peeler blades are straight, you’ll still get some pith. To remove some excess, put orange zest strips pith-side up on a cutting board, then use a utility knife to scrape off some of the excess pith.