Archives for posts with tag: Olives

I got down poured on yesterday. I wanted to use the dark stormy clouds as an excuse to not go to the gym. But, my inner dilemma and the impending guilt that would ensue made me get my act together and drag myself out the door. I wore my rain boots and took my husband’s heavy-duty umbrella and braved the dark skies. Neither of these two items would really help the upcoming downpour I was to face. Literally, the minute I stepped outside sheets of rain coming in at me from all directions soaked my entire body. I thought I should just go back up to my apartment, but no I kept going, all the way to the gym. When I arrived I must have looked like a frazzled lunatic. Hair all unkempt, wet clothes, and dripping arms.  As you can get my first stop was to the locker room to put the hair dryer into action.

When I was finished at the gym, believe me when I say I wanted to just order takeout. But, in the morning I took out chicken breasts to defrost. I’m sure we all know that we aren’t supposed to refreeze defrosted meat, I don’t know if this is true or an old wives’ tale. Either way, I was tempted to refreeze it, but decided to just cook it. My focus here isn’t the chicken though. I didn’t do anything that special with it. I tossed it with some mayonnaise, honey, herbs, harissa, then breaded it with panko and baked it. The main star of the meal was the pearl couscous that I made as a side dish. Usually, I make regular couscous and toss in whatever chopped vegetables I have on hand. This time, I basically did the same thing but amped it up a little.

I caramelized shallots and threw in some crunchy and crisp Napa cabbage. The Napa cabbage doesn’t have an overpowering taste yet adds great flavor and texture. I am all about the crunch, the crunch factor prompted me to add in cucumbers and almonds. I always add in dried cranberries to couscous and I did this time as well. I threw in some olives for saltiness. A dish isn’t made by me if there aren’t tons of herbs in it, so that’s what I did here; parsley and mint. A squeeze of lemon, some extra olive oil, and some crumbled sheep’s milk feta complete the dish.

I must talk about the spices here, I love adding cumin and coriander to couscous. Many times, I add a pinch of turmeric, but this time I didn’t feel I needed it. In addition, I threw in another flavor contrast; cane sugar and crushed red chilies. Everything balanced in the end. You might think I don’t know when to stop with ingredients and sometimes that may be the case, but usually it all works out.  Cooking calms me down, once I started preparing this dish I forgot about my rain fiasco.

Summer Pearl Couscous

Serves 4, as a side

Ingredients

1 cup dry pearl couscous (cooked according to package directions)

3 shallots, sliced

1/2 a head of Napa Cabbage, chopped

1 clove of garlic

1/4 of an English cucumber, in a small dice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (any variety you like)

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta (or any mild variety)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 sprigs of parsley, chopped

2 sprigs of mint, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar or turbinado sugar

extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat a saucepan on medium-low with some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add in the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 15 minutes. When the shallots are caramelized toss in the Napa cabbage and garlic and allow the cabbage to wilt down a bit and slightly pick up some caramelization. Add in all the spices and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add in the cranberries and allow them to plump up a little and rehydrate.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the prepared couscous and add in the shallots and cabbage mixture. Put in the cucumbers, olives, parsley, mint, lemon juice, a little extra olive oil, and the slivered almonds. Toss everything together so that everything is evenly distributed. Crumble the feta on top and serve, slightly warm, at room temperature, or even cold, if you like.

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My younger sister and I are practically in constant contact.  She is half a world away from me in Dubai, but we use all forms of communication whether it is Blackberry messenger, MSN messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail chat, and Skype to keep in touch.  Sometimes we have multiple conversations going on at the same time through these various messaging programs.  We are even known to chat with each other online while in the same room.  When we all come to my parents’ house we call our dining room table the “IT Center.”  My sister, my husband, my sister’s fiancé, my cousin, Henna, and myself all have our laptops open  on the table doing our own thing and also chatting with each other.  If anyone else ever walked in, I’m sure they would think we were not completely “normal.”

The reason I mention these vast forms of communication is because my sister has been asking me to make a Middle Eastern platter, so my husband and I can eat the same sorts of things she is enjoying in Dubai.  For the past few weeks, she has been messaging me about labneh (thickened yogurt cheese) and if I bought it yet.  My answer is always no, because I can’t get any in Kingston.  So, she told me to make it.  My attempt to make it failed miserably, because I went to the only kitchen supply store in Kingston to get  cheesecloth to drain the water out of yogurt and they were sold out and would not be getting any more for two weeks.  I told her this and she was quite upset.  As you can see, we are extremely passionate about food.

Shanklish Cheese- a semi soft sheep's milk cheese popular in Syria and Lebanon. The cheese balls are rolled in sumac, chili, oregano, and spices.

The first thing we ask each other everyday is what did you eat so far today.  Notice, the “so far” because we are never really done eating.  You can imagine my sister’s joy when I told her we were going to Toronto for the weekend.  The first thing she said was if I was going get the things for the Middle Eastern platter.  I got reminder after reminder, just in case I could ever forget.  My husband tells me to shut the sound off on the BB because of all the alerts I get from my sister’s chats.  When I finally was able to go to the Middle Eastern market, I was on BBM with my sister.  Mind you, I am not the type of person who is constantly on my BB, it’s not even mine, it’s my husband’s and I borrow it when I want to talk to my sister.  I actually get annoyed when people are out with you and spending more time with their phone than you.  Eating my own words, I became that person in the Middle Eastern Market.  I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me and just in search of what my sister was telling me to get.

I love Middle Eastern food, so I enjoyed this “quest .”   I have not travelled extensively in the Middle East, only to Egypt and the UAE, though I would love to. I went to Dubai recently and the food there was just amazing.  Ever since my return from Dubai, I have been hooked on it.  My husband also grew up in Saudi Arabia, so he has the taste for Middle Eastern food as well.

As I mazed through the market, I filled my cart with all sorts of different foods.  I stocked up because some things are hard for me to find here.  My sister, half way across the world was content with my purchases and satisfied with the incognito pictures I was taking of the cheeses, olives, nuts, and sweets.

The thing I love about this food is that it is fresh and easy.  I didn’t do much cooking at all, it was all just assembly.  A platter like this is fun to serve as an appetizer when you have people over because it is like a bounty of food in the middle of the table for everyone to share.  Individually plated formal dinners can be nice too, but there’s nothing like breaking bread together and enjoying fresh delicious food.

Middle Eastern Platter

There are no set rules here.  Use whatever you suits your taste-buds  This time I used a bunch of radishes, Lebanese cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, lemons for squeezing, grilled sujuk sausages, labneh topped with za’atar olive oil and pine nuts, Lebanese black olives, shanklish rolled in thyme, sumac, and oregano, crusty grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Other options could include herb roasted nuts, dried fruits such as apricots and dates, phyllo pastries, hummus and other dips, salads such as fattouch, tabouleh, halloumi cheese, manakeesh, roasted vegetables, mixed greens.

Use a large platter and bunch the different items together in clusters and arrange everything in an attractive manner.  Let it be messy and organic.  I do not like a platter to look too perfect.

I am pretty sure pizza takeout places are buzzing on Fridays.  I must admit, when I am too lazy to cook, I have picked up the phone and placed an order for a processed cheese and squishy vegetable pizza.  There are not any great takeout pizza places where I live, so I find it to be a better option to make my own.

My family has been doing this for ages.  Making three or four pizzas at a time and devouring them all.  In high school, my friend’s mom also made great pizzas every week.  It is a family tradition for many of us.  Pizza can be doctored up in so many ways, that anyone can find something they like.  Pizza is a unifier for us all.  Who thought pizza could hold such a deep place for humans?  Sarcasm aside and in simpler words, everyone loves pizza!

There are no hard and fast rules to making pizza.  I usually use a whole wheat crust, (this time I got one from my local bakery) but feel free to use white, gluten-free, or herbed.  It is not that hard to make pizza crust and it is worth it.  Bread/Dough, of course is another common ground for all human beings.

Toppings are endless.  I am definitely a toppings girl.  I can never decide what I am in the mood for.  There are so many decisions to make and if you know me, you know how indecisive I am, especially when it comes to food.  This is probably because I want everything but ultimately I have to toughen up and make a decision. This time my refrigerator dictated what the outcome would be.  Instead of tomato sauce, I used ricotta cheese.  In the summertime, I like to make a simple Neapolitan style pizza, but in the winter I like the heartier ricotta.  If any New Englanders know about Papa Gino’s, you may remember their 3 cheese (or was it 4 cheese) pizza that had dollops of ricotta on it.  I used to love this pizza as a child.  I wish my inspiration for the ricotta came from a more sophisticated source, but alas it was good ole Papa Gino’s.

Pizza with Herbed Ricotta

Serves 3-4

Pizza dough

1/2 a bell pepper (any color you prefer) cut into small strips

3-4 stalks of asparagus cut on an angle

1/2 a zucchini, thinly sliced

1 onion, caramelized (sauté onion in a little olive oil on medium-low heat, add salt, pepper, 2 sprigs of thyme, crushed red chilies, and 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar and allow to caramelize for about 15 minutes)

1/2 cup whole Kalamata olives, pits removed

3-4 cloves roasted garlic, optional

fresh mozzarella cheese or buffalo mozzarella, as much as you like

parmigiano regginao, as much as you like

fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

crushed red chilies for garnish

For the ricotta mixture:

3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup baby arugula

15 sprigs fresh chives

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Roll out your dough onto a large baking sheet (round or rectangular).  If you have a pizza stone you may use that as well.

For the ricotta mixture, pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth or mix and combine in a bowl but in this case, chop the herbs finer.

Spread the ricotta over the dough and top with the vegetable and cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is cooked and the cheese starts to get bubbly.  If you wish, garnish with the parsley and crushed red chilies.

When I returned to my apartment from my vacation, the fridge was practically empty and nothing was in the cabinets.  I had to do a major grocery haul.  My grocery cart was exploding like a volcano and yet when I came home and put everything away it looked like I had bought very little.  Isn’t that always the case :).  But, I did stock up on olives, lemons, mint, and other Moroccan ingredients.

Oh, and guess who’s *thinking* about going back on P90-X…you guessed it, the husband.  He bought salmon filets this time instead of chicken breasts.  I think his culinary mind just might be expanding.  But, thankfully instead of 30 chicken breasts, he picked up 1 salmon filet.  Of course, he wanted me to saute the salmon and give him a side of asparagus with it.  But no!  I did not yield to the p90-X ways!

I decided to make salmon cakes slightly influenced by my Moroccan vacation.  (That is so me, I’ll probably be cooking Moroccan for 2 weeks now, hehe).  Well, Morocco was definitely sensory overload and makes you feel all inspired to bring the beauty of the cuisine into your own kitchen.  Though you probably will not find salmon cakes available in Morocco, I used Marrakech as inspiration for my dish.

My attempt at a Moroccan spice pyramid 😉

I was ready to cook up the salmon cakes and then my husband’s friend calls him to go out for dinner.  His wife was not joining them so I decided to stay home.  Therefore, I made some salmon cakes for my husband’s lunch the next day.  Much to my absolute dismay, when he got home and I asked him where they went for dinner he told me it was an Italian chain restaurant that I have not even thought about going since I was probably 7 years old.  He left my dinner for that!  I know we live in a small city, but still, there are many better options out there.  There are men for you ;).  At least he told me it was not good.  Anyway, here’s the recipe for Moroccan Spiced Salmon Cakes.  Enjoy!

Moroccan Spiced Salmon Cakes

Serves 4-5

adapted from Ina Garten’s Salmon Cakes Recipe

Ingredients

3/4 pound wild salmon filet

1/2 a yellow pepper

1/2 an orange pepper (use any colored pepper you like)

2 jalapeno peppers (seeded if you don’t want it very spicy)

7-8 baby carrots or 1 whole carrot, peeled

3 scallions

1/2 cup pitted olives

1/2 a small red onion

1 small shallot

3 cloves garlic

15-20 sprigs of chives, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano (probably the only case in which I will use dried herbs)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs ( I just used old bread and toasted it and crumbled it up.)

2 tablespoons mayo

2 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 heaping teaspoon stoneground Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt to taste (1/2 tsp or so)

pepper if needed

olive oil for frying

lemon wedges for serving

lettuce of your choice for serving (I used red and green Bibb lettuce)

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the salmon on a baking tray and lightly salt and cover with 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until almost done.  Meanwhile, take all the vegetables (including the olives and except the chives) and pulse them in a food processor until they still have some texture.  If you don’t have a food processor, just finely chop them all.  Lightly saute the vegetables on medium heat with the salt and a little pepper in olive oil for about 10 minutes.  Place the vegetables in a bowl and allow to cool slightly.  Next, combine the mayo, creme fraiche, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice together in a bowl.  By this time the salmon should be ready, allow it to rest for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes flake the salmon (remove skin) and combine it with the vegetables.  (If the salmon is still hot then allow it to cool down a little more.)  Next, mix in half of the mayo/sour cream mixture (reserve the rest for drizzling afterwards), the egg, and the chives with the salmon and vegetables.  Combine and add in the bread crumbs.  Allow the whole mixture to cool for at least an hour.

Heat a pan and just lightly coat it with olive oil.  Form into cakes, about the size of your palm (they don’t have to be perfect) and fry on each side until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Plate on top of lettuce or greens of your choice and with a wedge of lemon.  Drizzle a little of the remaining mayo/sour cream sauce on top, garnish with chives and serve.

Marrakech personified

My husband and I recently returned from a vacation to Morocco.  We spent most of our time in Marrakech.  Morocco is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for ages and when the opportunity arose I was set on traveling there.  Marrakech, in some ways reminded me of Pakistan–the haggling shopkeepers, the crowds, the homes, and the hospitality.  We were lucky enough to do a great deal of exploring despite the rainy weather boooooo!  The few days when the sun was out were amazing!  But, more than anything we ate and ate and then ate some more.  I have fallen off the healthy eating boat and am going to get back on it now that I’m back *fingers crossed.*

Moroccan Salads at Le Tanjia

Chicken Tagine with Citrons Confits

The Djemaa el Fna or the central square in the old city of Marrakech is bustling with food stalls serving up traditional Moroccan fare such as cous cous, sujok, tagines, and pastilla.  If you enter one of the many alleys you are led to different quarters; one for spices, meats, vegetables, fruits, seafood.  It is like manipulating a maze.  My husband and I had no idea where we were going exactly but without fail stumbled upon a multitude of food “destinations.”

Djemaa el Fna

I loved the spices available there.  Sacks full of spices topped off in a pyramid shape were at every corner perfuming the air.  The fragrant aromas of cumin, saffron, ginger, and ras el hanout permeated the city.  Vibrant colors always catch my eyes and Marrakech was definitely bliss for my senses.

Bright, vibrant colored lemons and oranges were a daily staple for me.  I have never loved eating oranges on their own but being served fresh tree picked clementines and oranges daily can change a person’s perspectives.  The citrons confits or preserved salted lemons also utterly transformed my food journey.  The flavors exploded in my mouth– mellow yet tangy, bright and pungent.  Oh and the olives!  How can I forget the olives.  I have never consumed so many olives on a daily basis in my life.  Let me tell you, the olives in Morocco taste so much better than any other olive I have ever tasted.  My husband who *detests* olives was chowing them down like they were bon bons.  They were mild and not as vinegar laden as many other olives you find in North America.  Often times, they were marinated in lemon, thyme, garlic and other spices I could not quite discern.

Mint tea was another thing I consumed in enormous quantities.  Making mint tea is a real art.  Holding the teapot then raising your arm in an acrobatic motion and pouring just so the right amount of froth can cover the tea and then discarding the first glass so that all the impurities are taken out of the tea is almost scientific.  Huge bunches of mint were used in this tea creating such a pronounced yet delicate flavor.  Another thing that tasted like a completely different thing was honey.  Mind you, I only buy local and organic honey but this honey in Morocco beats any other honey I have ever tasted.  The bread was also another highlight of the trip.  Carb counters beware!  This bread is thick, dense, and chewy.  There is also a little honey added to it, creating a phenomenal taste.  Absolute heaven!

One thing I must say is that my perception of Moroccan food was a little off.  My husband and I took a cooking class with Lala Nazha, a famous cooking instructor in Marrakech.  I was speaking with her about how I would prepare cous cous.  First of all it would probably be instant whereas in Morocco they use a couscoussiere and is about a three hour process of steaming, and fluffing with olive oil and water.  Also, stewed meat is served on top and nothing is mixed in with the cous cous itself.  When I make cous cous I stir in nuts, dried fruits, herbs, vegetables and so on.  I told Lala Nazha this and she labeled my version “false cous cous.”  (Truth be told, I think I prefer my version of cous cous better, this could be because I felt the cous cous needed more flavor and texture.)  But, other than that the food in Morocco was truly memorable and I most certainly wish to return at some point because I only dipped my toe into the ocean that is Morocco and Moroccan cuisine.

Oh yes!  Before I forget, if anyone is traveling to Marrakech you must stay at Riad Dar One.   It was an absolute delight.  The owner, Jean Peres, and his staff are so friendly and helpful.  I have never had such a pleasant stay at a hotel.  The Riad itself is gorgeous and the rooms are modern yet have a distinct Moroccan flair.  I have nothing but praise for this establishment!

Here are  more pictures of the trip.  Enjoy!

Delicious honey, butter, and marmalade

Tagines

Eggplant and Tomato Dip

Cafe Arabe


Saffron growing in Ourika

Fresh Salt harvested outside Ourika by a Berber family