Everyday Muffins + Things That I Eat

17 Sep

Peach-filled, brown sugar-topped muffins

So school has started up again for both of us, and all of a sudden I can’t just spend hours cooking something cause it might make a delicious dinner. I don’t have a meal plan this year, so I have to think ahead and go on grocery trips and make sure I have leftovers to bring to work. Phew. Most of the stuff I’ve been cooking hasn’t been too exciting, but I’m going to post some links below to the kind of recipes I depend on– generally meatless, pretty much one-pot meals that make enough for six even though I’m only feeding one. Getting through the leftovers is a challenge I’m usually up to.

I'll be so sad when peach season is over.

But in more exciting news, my house this year is throwing weekly brunches, which means I do get to do a little baking for fun (without the guilt that I will have to eat everything I make). I’ve been making these awesome muffins with apples for a while, whenever I want something around to snack on/have for an unhealthy breakfast. I made them with peaches this time, but I think I might prefer the apples cause they hold their texture better– or maybe I just didn’t have enough peaches. Whichever way you try them, don’t skimp on the brown sugar on top– it makes an awesome crust.

Linkage:

Alice Waters’ Ratatouille– Take advantage of summer vegetables while they last! Delicious on cous cous with a fried egg on top.
Lentils and Rice- On my meal plan for this week, a cheap and complete meal.
Baba Ghanoush- Not technically a meal, but that is the beauty of only feeding yourself.
Baked oatmeal- I just made this for breakfast tomorrow. Hopefully a good way to prepare oatmeal ahead of time (without buying gross instant stuff).

My little pot could barely hold the bounty of ratatouille

Brown Sugar Peach Muffins (adapted from King Arthur Flour/Smitten Kitchen)
Equipment: 2 Bowls, hand mixer or wooden spoon, muffin tin
Ingredients:
1 cup (4 oz) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 oz) All-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed, divided
1 large egg
1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 large peaches or apples

Method: Preheat the oven to 450F. Grease and flour, or line with muffin liners, a 12-18 cup muffin tin (yield varies depending on how much fruit there is/how much you fill the cups).
Peel the fruit and chop coarsely. Mix together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with a hand mixer or a spoon and some elbow grease. Add the granulated sugar and only 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, and cream until fluffy. Lightly beat the egg, and add it to the sugar/butter mixture. Mix well, and then gently stir in the yogurt or buttermilk; over stirring may cause the mixture to curdle if using buttermilk. Stir in the dry ingredients and then fold in the fruit.
Divide the batter among the muffin tins; you can fill them almost all the way. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top of the muffins, and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 400F, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool the muffins for five minutes in the tin, and then remove them to cool completely. Try not to only eat the tops.

Eggplant Relish Pasta Sauce/Crostini

28 Aug

Leftover pasta tossed with eggplant relish and feta

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of purple, so it should come as no surprise that when I saw bright purple mini-eggplants at the farmers market, I had to buy a couple.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a plan for what I would actually do with them, so a week or so went by before I got around to finding a recipe to use them in.  Luckily the eggplants were still usable, and I found a very yummy-sounding recipe in Emeril Lagasse’s “Farm to Fork” for Eggplant Relish Crostini.  I had some miscellaneous pasta leftover, so decided to use this relish type thing as a topping/sauce for pasta instead of on bread.  There are lots of rumors about eggplant being hard to get right as it can remain bitter when cooked, but this was pretty simple, and absolutely delicious.  The eggplant shrinks down a lot, so it doesn’t make a huge amount, and next time I will definitely make more and buy some bread to make the crostini.  I used sundried tomatoes instead of roasted red peppers because I had those in my fridge, but the tomato flavor really came through and were one of the highlights of the dish, so I would use them again instead of red peppers.  This does have a quite long list of ingredients, but most of the ingredients are fridge/pantry staples anyway, so this could be an easy weeknight dinner or a great party appetizer served on toasted bread.

Eggplant Relish Crostini/Pasta Sauce
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Farm to Fork
Makes about 3 1/2 cups relish

Equipment: Knife, peeler, frying pan, wooden spoon,

Ingredients
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 pounds eggplant (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes stored in olive oil (about 3 from a jar)
1 1/2 tablespoons basil leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped nonpareil capers
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper/red pepper flakes
Crumbled feta cheese for garnish
French bread brushed with olive oil and toasted (for crostini)

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of the cubed eggplant and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Cook, stirring often, until eggplant is tender and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Remove to a bowl and repeat with the remaining eggplant.  Set eggplant aside until cooled to room temperature.

Add all of the remaining ingredients to the cooled eggplant (except feta and bread, if using), and stir gently to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.  Set relish aside for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle.  To serve, toss with pasta and top with crumbled feta, or serve on toasted rounds of bread drizzled with olive oil and topped with feta.

Walnut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

22 Aug

Banana bread with chocolate and walnuts

Is it really the 22nd of August- when did that happen?? Clearly the summer has gotten away from me, as I was in England and Italy for the first half of the month and barely had time to recover before going to New York to pack up our house before my parents’ impending move.  Given that I start grad school next week, I have a feeling my posts will be getting even more infrequent, but I do have a stack of things to post over the next few weeks.  I will start with this, which is sure to relieve any start of school stress we may be experiencing.

As usual, we had some almost-rotten fruit sitting in our fruit bowl  which had to be eaten immediately, so I decided to try out this recipe for banana bread from Smitten Kitchen.  Of course, I had the wrong pan so decided I would make the bread into brownie-sized pieces, and once I decided that I thought I might as well throw some chocolate chips and walnuts into the mix.  The result was wonderful, and lasted for over a week kept in the fridge.  Although the chocolate chips and butter don’t make this the healthiest breakfast, it is certainly one of the most tasty.

Walnut Chocolate Chip Bread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Equipment: Large mixing bowl, wooden spoon, 9×13 pan or 4×8 loaf pan

Ingredients
4 very ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter (add a bit more salt if you have unsalted)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped finely

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla, and then the spices.  Make sure to mix in the egg well.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.  Add the flour and mix.  Finally, add the chocolate chips and walnuts and mix to incorporate.  Pour mixture into a buttered 9×13 pan, and bake for about 30 minutes.  Check after 25 minutes to see if a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool for a few minutes, cut into squares and enjoy!  Keeps well at room temperature or refrigerated, stored in clingfilm or tinfoil.

Lemon Raspberry Yogurt Cake

1 Aug

Delicious summer cake

Summer seems to have gotten away with us slightly. I still owe you a Morocco post, Roxie has now skipped off on her own vacation, and I have not done nearly enough cooking with all of the beautiful summer produce.

I attempted to "pick my own" raspberries for this, but seemed to have missed the good ones. (I bought extra)

This cake was my first attempt, post-Morocco, to rectify that. It is quick, it is delicious, and it is extremely versatile. Throw in whatever berry you want, switch out the lemon… I think a lime/raspberry combination would also be delicious. I had way fewer raspberries than called for and it still worked out fine, just more lemony than raspberry-y. Basically, this is a great cake to make the most out of summer fruit without too much effort.

I couldn't find a whisk (or many baking supplies at all) in our English kitchen

Lemon Raspberry Yogurt Cake (Adapted, as always, from Smitten Kitchen)

Equipment: Mixing bowls, whisk, zester/grater, loaf tin or other cake pan (adjust baking time if using different sized pan)
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup regular sugar plus 1 tbsp caster/superfine sugar, if you have it
3 extra-large eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Method: Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a standard loaf tin, then line with greaseproof paper and grease and flour the paper.
Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup of the sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Toss the berries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and carefully fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about fifty minutes, checking that a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Towards the end of the cooking time, make a glaze. If using granulated sugar, cook together the lemon juice and 1 tbsp of sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. If using caster/superfine sugar, you can get away without cooking it if you’re lazy like me. (You can also get away with this if using granulated, and will have a nice crunchy glaze.)
When the cake is done, remove and allow to cool for ten minutes in the pan before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake while it is still warm, with something underneath to catch the drippings. Little holes made with a toothpick in the cake help to draw the syrup in better. Cool and serve!

Corn Risotto and Stuffed Risotto Balls

23 Jul

Fried risotto balls!

I have been seeing delicious corn recipes all over the place recently- charred corn salsa, corn tacos, grilled corn with feta, but yet when I impulsively bought two ears of corn at the farmers market I was at a loss for what to do with them. I decided to make risotto, and threw in some snow peas for good measure.  The fresh corn goes well with creamy risotto, and both the corn and the snow peas add a crunch to the finished dish.  In addition to the Parmesan that goes into pretty much any risotto, I crumbled feta in right at the end and sprinkled some on top of the risotto.  It was a delicious and filling summery dish, and (bonus!) I was able to make fried and stuffed risotto balls with the copious leftovers.

Yum corn risotto

Since risotto is a dish that needs to be made in large amounts I am always able to make at least three meals out of a batch, but this time I decided to play around and make risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and fried.  The result was arguably even better than the risotto was when I first made it.  The cold risotto is mixed with breadcrumbs, egg, and more herbs, then a cube of mozzarella or other melty cheese is placed in the middle of a golf-ball sized risotto ball, and they are rolled in more breadcrumbs and fried to golden brown perfection.  These would make a great appetizer or starter at a party, but for me, several of them made an extremely satisfying dinner.

Fresh Corn and Snap Pea Risotto
Serves 6

Ingredients
6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2-3 ears of corn)
5 oz snow peas, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup crumbled Feta chees
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

After chopping the vegetables, bring the chicken stock and bay leaf to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  In a large pan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions to the oil and sautee for 2-3 minutes, until softened.  Next add the rice and cook until opaque, about 3 minutes.  Add wine and cook until absorbed, another minute or so.  Then begin adding the stock, 1 cup at a time.  Add each cup of stock and cook over medium heat until absorbed, stirring frequently.  When the stock is absorbed into the rice add the next cup, and continue until all of the stock is gone and risotto is cooked, about 25 minutes.  Stir in the Parmesan, butter, basil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Crumble the feta into the risotto and mix in, then sprinkle plates with more feta if desired.

Stuffed Risotto Balls
Adapted from Giada de Laurentis’ Everyday Italian

Ingredients
Serves 4-6 (I assume as an appetizer, as I ate all of mine.)

2 cups cooked and cooled risotto
1 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
Vegetable oil for frying

Put 1 cup of breadcrumbs in a shallow dish.  In a bowl combine 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs, the risotto, Parmesan, basil, and eggs.  Mix to combine, and then begin to form the balls.  With damp hands take about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture and shape into golf-ball sized balls.  Make an indent in the center of the risotto ball and add a cube of mozzarella, then cover the whole.  Roll the risotto balls into the breadcrumbs to coat. In a large saucepan, add about an inch of vegetable oil.  Heat over medium-high heat until about 350 degrees- to test without a thermometer fry a piece of bread in the oil, it should brown in about 2 minutes.  In batches, fry the rice balls, turning occasionally, until golden brown- about 4-5 minutes.  Take out of the oil and drain on paper towels before serving.

Eating in Morocco, Part 2: The Cheap Stuff

14 Jul

Abandoned fruit... for the taking?

I have just over a week left in Morocco, and I feel like I’ve run the gamut of restaurant types. I’ve eaten everywhere from a stand in the middle of a crazy, smoky square in Marrakesh to restaurants in opulent old houses that suddenly appears at the end of a dark alley in the medina of Fez. I’ve also

Pistachio nougat

eaten at all the in between places—restaurants in gas stations, which is apparently a big thing, and the little places scattered across the town I’m in. I’ve found that my most memorable meals have come at the extremes of the spectrum. Donuts fried in front of you at a sweet stand, sprinkled with sugar and eaten standing up in a split second. Tables groaning under plate upon plate of different vegetables, and that’s just the first course. The stuff in between tends to blend together into one big tagine. That’s not to say that you can’t get great food at the mid-range restaurants, it’s just harder to tell if the lemon chicken tagine is going to be sublime or just mediocre.

Super decadent chebakia

Unusually, these sweets were actually behind glass!

Let’s start with the cheap stuff. We’ve walked through a whole bunch of medinas (the old section of Moroccan cities) at this point, and every time we pass a food stall (usually either dried fruits or sweets), I crane my neck and sometimes succumb to the temptation to dig in. In Marrakesh there were carts everywhere selling different kinds of nut paste/nougat thing. I got some pistachio, which was delicious—very sweet, I think sweetened with honey, but the pistachio flavor shined. In all the medinas you’ll also find pyramids of honey-soaked sweets, often covered in flies and bees. The most ridiculously indulgent (in the best way possible) are the chebakia, made from dough that is deep fried and then doused in honey and orange blossom water. Also delicious are little envelopes of pastry, coated in honey, filled with almond or peanut

Almost like a peanut butter sandwich...

paste. And while we’re on the topic of peanuts, one of my friends bought what she described as a “Moroccan whoopee pie” from a vendor in the Fez medina. It was two puffy almond-meal cakes sandwiched around a peanut butter filling—utterly delicious, and an excellent breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice also abounds in markets, but I was drawn instead to the tea stalls in Jma al Fna in Marrakesh. Instead of the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, this was a heavily spiced cinnamon—I had to buy some, it was so delicious. Everything you want American chai to be.

And I almost forgot all the fruit! Watermelon cut off the “tasting melon” at a souk and given to us for free with the toast “to your health.” Piles of dried dates and figs in every market you come across. Being forced to eat prickly pear after prickly pear from a cart before finally convincing the owner that we actually want to buy some to go. I may be lacking for fruit on campus, but there’s certainly tons to be found on the streets.

Dates, dates, dates

But on to the real food. We had dinner one night in Jma al Fna, the square in Marrakesh that turns into a crazy, smoke-filled riot of the senses at night. Food stalls crop up out of nowhere starting around five o’clock. Our group of ten sat down at one and I think just ordered everything on the menu… the food just kept coming, long after we had eaten our fill. It seemed pretty typical street

I'm going vegetarian when I get home...

food—lots of skewers of meat, though the spicy red sauce we requested was an excellent accompaniment, and one of the few actually spicy things I’ve encountered in Morocco. The price tag, however, was close to those at upscale restaurants outside Marrakesh, a sad sign that Jma al Fna is more a tourist than local attraction at this point. Cheap food does abound, however. At a souk in Azrou a couple days later I finally tried a merguez sausage sandwich for about a buck—though tasty, I found the flavor a little too distinctive for my taste. Distinctive of what, I could not tell you… perhaps too lamb-y, it just wasn’t my favorite. The brochette (kebab) at the same stall were extremely fatty, salty, and delicious, however. I’m going to have to stop here because I am off tomorrow morning on my next culinary adventure, to an oasis in the Sahara. Who knows what they eat out there! So you will have to hold on just a little longer for tales of opulent lunches that left us practically comatose.

Merguez sandwich in the perfect setting, a souk (photo by David Wong)

Resturant Review: Founding Farmers Brunch

12 Jul

Heaven in a brown paper bag.

Brunch. Founding Farmers. These are two of my favorite things, and combine them with a group of friends reminiscing on the previous night’s activities, some bloody marys and fried dough topped with sugar, and you have a pretty perfect couple of hours.  Founding Farmers has delicious food for all three meals- their mission is to support farmers and provide sustainable and quality food options, which means everything is very fresh and very delicious.  If it weren’t for the excellent brunch items I would say save a trip there for the dinner menu, which includes steak, maple glazed salmon, and amazing flatbreads.  But since they do also serve one of the best brunches in DC, you will have to resign yourself to trying multiple meals there.

Chicken and waffles and gravy, oh my.

I’ve been to Founding Farmers for brunch before, but this article on their beignets meant I was clearly well past due for another trip.  I am usually a strict savory breakfast type, but sweet menu offerings such as overstuffed French toast, which comes stacked like bricks on a extra-large plate, and the aforementioned beignets have me rethinking my eggs-and-bacon loyalties.  We got an order of beignets for the table, and literally ceased talking for 5 minutes as everyone devoured the crispy and sweet fried dough topped with powdered sugar and served with chocolate, caramel, and raspberry dipping sauces.  For my brunch main course, only after much consideration and indecisiveness, I ordered the Chicken and Waffles- one large waffle with two eggs, a crispy chicken tender, white gravy and maple syrup.  Although this had a lot going on, all of the flavors and textured melded perfectly together, to the point where I was eating bites of chicken and waffle with both the syrup and gravy heaped over top.  The white gravy was creamy and flavorful, and the chicken was cooked to a perfect crispness.  My only minor complaint is that the poached eggs were from a mold, which weirdly rubs me the wrong way, because eggs should not be shaped like cones (told you it was a minor complaint).

One serious bloody mary.

Other orders at the table included the Pastrami Hash, which looked and tasted delicious, although seemed like much less food than the other over-sized offerings.  I am tempted to try that and some of the other hash dishes in the future though, as well as the pan scrambles.  I was also convinced to try my first Bloody Mary here- I’m usually more of a mimosa girl, but figured the Founding Farmer’s Bloody Mary would be a pretty excellent one as an introduction.  I wasn’t wrong- it was very peppery and filling, and certainly woke you up in the morning.  It took me the better part of an hour to finish the whole thing due to the spicy-tomatoy-ness, but I would definitely count it as a new-experience success.  All in all, there was not much about this brunch I would change (the business of Founding Farmers on a Sunday morning is one drawback, but Founding Farmers is always busy so I usually assume I won’t be seated until 15 minutes after my reservation anyway), and I only wish I had room in my stomach for more than one main course with all of their selections.

Homemade Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

8 Jul

Yum Pico!

This post is well past due, as Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines (the margaritas may have something to do with this), and guacamole is my favorite Mexican condiment.  I first made this for a barbecue a few weeks ago, and made it again for camping this past weekend.  Although fresh guacamole really doesn’t keep more than 24 hours, it worked well for camping, as I made the pico de gallo and then brought the whole avocados, so all we had to do campfire-side was cut and mash up the avocados and mix the whole thing together.  Some of our group was napping in our tent during the guacamole making/eating, and we only very half-hardheartedly yelled down the path to tell them about it.  Hey, no one wants to share guacamole.  It’s not like they starved, I promise- camping meals included lamb burgers, greek salad, bbq chicken, spicy sausages, and chocolate chip/walnut/raisin cookies.  Clearly we don’t mess around when it comes to food, even if it does have to be cooked over a fire.

Buttery Avocado Deliciousness

To make the pico and guac, you just have to chop up some vegetables and herbs, season with lime and salt, and mash with very ripe avocados.  Although I am sometimes weary of lots of heat, the jalapenos do add a great extra kick to the pico, and they don’t make it overly spicy at all, especially if you take out most of the membrane and seeds.  The most important thing for both of these is to taste and adjust the seasonings at least once- our resident Cali-girl Alicia was an expert at getting the perfect lime to salt to avocado ratio, and you can be too as long as you keep adjusting the flavor until you have perfect guacamole.  Just be careful not to set the plate down unattended, this stuff goes pretty fast.

Pico de Gallo
Makes one small bowl

Ingredients
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/3 onion, diced
1-2 jalapenos, diced (seeded and de-membraned if you’re spice-adverse)
1/2 bunch cilantro, or to taste
Lime juice from half a lime
Salt to taste

Chop up all the ingredients and add to a medium sized bowl.  Use less cilantro if you want, just discard the stems and chop up the leaves roughly. Mix together, add lime juice and salt to taste.  Pico will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Guacamole
Serves about 4

5 whole avocados
Pico de Gallo
Lime juice from half a lime
Salt to taste

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, and take out the pit (I use a knife to stab it and rotate, but assume no responsibility if someone chops off their hand with this method).  Scoop out all of the avocado flesh using a spoon, and place all of the avocados on a plate.  Mash with a fork, but leave chunky.  Add a pile of pico de gallo to the avocados and mix together.  Season with lime and salt to taste, and add more pico if desired.  Keeps 24 hours, covered with clingfilm in the fridge.

Eating in Morocco, Part 1

3 Jul

The aftermath at Dar Naji in Rabat

Somehow I blinked and I have been in Morocco for a little over a week already! I am studying abroad here for four weeks, and will hopefully be writing a few posts about the (so far delicious) food I encounter. My program is based at a university in a small town in the Atlas mountains. We have a generous meal plan, but unfortunately the food is pretty bad, which probably makes everything I taste outside the walls seem infinitely better. Thankfully, we have a lot of trips built into our schedule (and the program gives us a food budget for them!), so I have already been able to try quite a few Moroccan specialties.

Kefta tagine

The first thing I wanted to try, of course, was a tagine– the ubiquitous stew-like dish named after the clay pot in which they are cooked. (I bought a tagine for about 2.50 yesterday, and am excited to try cooking with it, if it makes it back to the States in one piece!) One of the most common tagines is kefta, which is usually beef (I believe) meatballs in a tomato sauce, with an egg on top. Though delicious, this seemed pretty similar to something I could get back in the US to me, and I probably won’t order it too often if there’s something more interesting on the menu.
There definitely were lots of interesting things at the first proper restaurant I went to, Dar Naji in Rabat. We arrived in Rabat pretty late after a 3 hour bus ride, and our professor pretty much just ordered the entire menu for our group of ten. This was excellent for my food-reporting, as I got to try just about everything, and discovered what I will definitely order again.

Beef and prune tagine

My favorite (which was also my request) was the tagine of beef aux pruneaux. I guess this would translate as “with prunes,” though I think English needs a better word to convey how the prunes become one with the beef and make it slightly sweet, while the prunes themselves took on savory flavors from the beef. (On a side note, I’ve found most menus so far to be in French, with no Arabic at all. Being the only one in the group who speaks French, this means I am quickly brushing up on my food vocabulary.)
Someone else in the group also noticed that brain tagine was on the menu, and requested that we order one to give it a shot. Not being one to pass up a new food experience, I tried it as well. The brain was in a tomato-y sauce, and I really didn’t think it had a strong flavor in itself. The texture reminded me of scrambled eggs– not at all off-putting, but I wouldn’t feel the need to order it again.
The other tagines included chicken with lemon, beef with vegetables, fish, and kefta. I loved the lemon sauce with the chicken, but found the meat itself a bit dry… I think my next tagine will have to be chicken so I can see if this is a common problem. The setting of Dar Naji was also beautiful… we were seated at a low table on the terrace, which had a canopy covering and overlooked the medina (old city) walls. And it was all reasonably priced, at about $5 per tagine.

Beautiful vegetables...

The other memorable restaurant we visited was in Meknes, but I am a terrible reporter and failed to take down the name. This was also opulently decorated, with the walls lined with tons of cushions that we quickly sank on to, exhausted by the 107 degree heat outside. Our professor ordered us some mixed vegetables to start… although for once they came with serving spoons, everyone was so hungry that we did it the traditional Moroccan way, using bread to transport the food most efficiently from

...were quickly devoured

serving plate straight to mouth. The vegetable were all cooked in various spiced sauces, and served cold. The green marinated peppers were probably my favorite, though the carrots were also unexpectedly sweet and delicious.
I ordered cous cous as a main course, which is another Moroccan specialty usually served on special occassions, and though it usually comes with meat I requested it be left off because I just didn’t feel the need for it. The resulting tower of cous cous covered in vegetables was excellent. The vegetables had some sort of sauce on it that tasted faintly buttery, but I couldn’t really pin down what was in it. But it seeped down into the cous cous and made a delicious dish that was perfect for lunch, not nearly as heavy as a tagine.
I have so much more I could say but I think I will leave it there in order to save some things for another post! Bislaama.

A mountain of cous cous, covered in veggies

Mushroom and Spinach Quesadillas

23 Jun

Quesadillas!!

Mmmm Mexican food.  It is one of my favorite cuisines- just tonight I was planning on going to yoga, got hungry, and ate a burrito instead.  Story of my life.  These mushroom and spinach quesadillas with goat cheese are not really Mexican-y, but they do demonstrate how easy quesadillas are to make with a variety of fillings.  The main filling is mushrooms cooked with wine and spinach, combined with not one but two types of cheese. They were simple to make and assemble, and I’ve made a few more quesadillas since using leftovers such as the grilled chicken we made over the weekend.

The assembly process

I made these particular quesadillas twice in one week to use up all of the ingredients, and altered them slightly the second time to improve them.  Fontina cheese was suggested, but I didn’t want to buy yet another type of cheese when I currently have NINE different varieties in my fridge (Yes, nine. I just checked. And that doesn’t include what my roommate has. We may have a slight cheese-obsession).  I tried these with mozzarella, but I found the texture to stringy for quesadillas, so I used my cheddar/Gruyere mix the next time which was much better in terms of both texture and flavor.  I think any mildly flavored cheddar or non-soft cheese would work just fine.  When assembling the quesadillas, just make sure that the non-soft cheese is both the bottom and top layer, as this is what keeps the whole thing from falling apart.  I also added some onions and garlic to the veggies the second time around, which greatly upped the interest, and put more wine in the mushrooms.  The end result was delicious, and to continue with the Mexican theme look out for a homemade guacamole recipe in the next few days!

Mushroom and Spinach Quesadillas
Adapted from Pioneer Woman
Makes 1 quesadilla, serves 1 for dinner

Equipment: Knife, frying pan, grill pan (or reuse a large frying pan), cheese grater

Ingredients
1/2 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bag baby spinach
1 clove garlic
1 shallot or about 1/4 an onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup wine or sherry
2 large flour tortillas
3 oz grated cheese such as Fontina or cheddar
2 oz goat cheese
Salt and pepper
Extra butter for tortillas
Salsa for serving (optional)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add sliced mushrooms, garlic, and onion.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes, then add wine and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are brown, another 6-8 minutes.  Remove the mix from pan and set aside.

Return pan to heat and reduce heat to medium-low.  Melt 1 tablespoon butter in pan, and add the spinach.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes, until spinach has just wilted. Remove and set aside.

To assemble the quesadillas, heat a grill pan (or large frying pan), over medium-high heat.  Spread some butter on the grill pan and put the first quesadilla in the pan, followed by 1/2 of the Fontina cheese, then the mushroom mix, then spinach.  Crumble some goat cheese over the spinach and finish with the rest of the Fontina.  Top with the second quesadilla and smear butter on top, then flip and cook the other side.  When both sides are golden brown with some grill marks remove and cut into four pieces with a pizza cutter or knife.  Serve with salsa if desired.

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