Zorba the Sheet….Pan

Ok.  We’re all pressed for time aren’t we?  Sheet pan dinners get it on the table not only quickly, but deliciously.  They come together in short order, you place them in a hot oven; it even gives you time for a cocktail while it’s cooking.  I say it’s a win, win.

Have any of you seen the movie Zorba the Greek (1964)?  It’s a classic in every sense.  An uptight British writer travels to Crete on business, and finds his life forever changed when he meets a gregarious Greek named Alexis Zorba.  I LOVE this movie.  It demonstrates how if you open your heart to the unfamiliar, you can be altered when you face it head on.  Stream it; you’ll love it.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen….each culture has distinct flavors.  Greek food has its roots in Mediterranean cuisine.  It makes wide use of olive oil, wine, meat (in this case chicken) vegetables, olives and cheese.  It’s savory, distinct, herbaceous, and authentic.  Personally, anything from the Mediterranean is fine with me.  And as the Greek’s would say: “Gia sas!” (cheers)

GREEK SHEET PAN DINNER

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise, then into sixths
  • 2 cups red cherry tomatoes
  • 1 can baby artichokes, drained and cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 lemon, cut in half lengthwise, then into sixths
  • 4-6 bone-in, skin on, chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cups kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup feta, crumbled

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a large bowl, add peppers, onion, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Toss, and then place on baking sheet, leaving space in the center for chicken.  Save the oil and vinegar that falls to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Salt and pepper the chicken and place in center of sheet pan.  Brush with some of the oil and vinegar from bowl.
  4. Sprinkle the cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, lemon sections and garlic over vegetables.  Place herb sprigs on top of chicken.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken reaches 160 degrees when tested with instant read thermometer.
  6. Remove herb sprigs.  Place chicken on platter, and  surround with veggies; then sprinkle olives, capers, feta and basil over everything.  (I like to finish this with a little homemade basil oil; see page  )

Serves 4-6

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“You can knock on a deaf man’s door forever.”   —Nikos Kazantzakis

Eggs with Tomato-Pepper Sauce & Feta

As I practice alternate fasting days, I want the days when I do eat loaded with everything delicious.  This skillet egg concoction fills the bill perfectly.  Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while will notice this is yet another way to use the Roasted Tomato Sauce you put up last summer (if you have any left!).  This is also when I’m happy to have a well stocked pantry.  The roasted red bell peppers are a great marriage with the tomato sauce.  Add onions, garlic, za’atar, feta and eggs and you’re golden.  This works well in a 10-inch skillet for 2-4 eggs, or a 12-inch skillet as you increase the amount of eggs for a gathering.  The recipe below serves 2, but can easily be doubled or tripled.

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Eggs with Tomato Pepper Sauce and Feta

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pint homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce or 15 ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, pureed in a blender
  • 2 jarred whole roasted red bell peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3 ounces (about 1/4 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2-4 farm fresh eggs (crack each of these into ramekins)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives or parsley, minced

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DIRECTIONS:

  1.  Heat a 10 or 12 inch non-stick oven-proof skillet on medium-high.  Add olive oil and onion, saute until onion is soft and translucent about 3-4 minutes; add garlic saute for 1 minute more.
  2. Add tomato sauce and roasted bell peppers, and then sprinkle with za’atar.  Simmer until hot about 3-4 minutes more.  Meanwhile preheat broiler on high with oven rack about 4 inches below.
  3. With a silicone spatula, make wells in the sauce for your eggs.  Gently place an egg in each well.  Sprinkle with crumbled feta.  Place skillet under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until egg whites are set, but yolks are still loose.  Watch closely.
  4. Serve with minced fresh chives or parsley.

Serves 2

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“Hope makes a good breakfast.  Eat plenty of it.”  –Ian Fleming

 

 

Coconut Dreams

I consider myself a pretty good cook, but baking intimidates me.  I rarely venture into that territory; although I do enjoy making pies and tarts.  The main reason it’s a challenge is having to measure.  When I cook, all things are possible and I’m endlessly freelancing.  A little of this, a little of that; I instinctively know how to correct and adjust as I go along.  I’ve always cooked this way, and it allows for all sorts of possibility.   My wife Val on the other hand is an excellent baker.  It must follow her days as a licensed contractor; measure twice, cut once.  But me?  I hate being told what to do.

Last weekend we were invited for dinner and asked to bring something sweet.  I thought this was my opportunity to make macaroons for the first time (don’t ask me why).  So after breakfast on Sunday morning I got out the ingredients and went for it.  When they came out of the oven they, well, looked runny.  Little pools of goo had circled around each one and I wondered what I had done wrong.  This is when I reminded myself we are what we tell ourselves, and I went into this project thinking I’m not a baker.

After doing some investigating, I realized that I had inadvertently sent the oven at 300 degrees instead of 350.  I also realized that rather than getting out the Kitchen Aid for 2 egg whites I would use my stick blender inside a quart jar.  The egg whites never got stiff and I decided it wasn’t that important.  These two issues were obviously the culprits to my halos around the cookies.  Being slightly frugal, I trimmed eat cookie to eliminate the halo, mumbling under my breathe.  Val suggested I make another batch.  I clearly did not want to make another batch!  Val said, “Get back on the horse, and make another ducking  batch.  I don’t want to hear you say you can’t bake!”

More mumbling, as I once more assembled the ingredients.  This time I had the correct oven temperature, whipped beautiful stiff peaks with the Kitchen Aid, and wallah; wonderful looking (and tasting) macaroons.  I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Cappuccino Macaroons

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk (from a 12 ounce container)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

 

 

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of your oven.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the condensed milk, vanilla, espresso powder and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Add the coconut and stir with a large silicone spatula until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes.  Using the spatula, fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.  Push the mixture together into a mound.
  4. With wet hands gently form rounded tablespoonfuls of batter into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Arrange 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
  5. Bake, rotating and swapping the positions of the pans about halfway through, until the macaroons are golden brown in the spots and their undersides are tanned, about 25 minutes.
  6. Cool briefly on the baking sheets on racks, then transfer to the racks to cool completely.  They will keep, uncovered at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.  They can also be frozen for up to 6 months.

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Cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite sized and personal.”    —Sandra Lee

Zukes Not Nukes

Although you might think there are four seasons in the calendar year, I’m here to tell you there’s a fifth: mud season.  Most of the snow has melted, and the frost line is disappearing beneath the soil.  The sun is just beginning to have some warmth in it and the robins are back in full force.  We anxiously await evidence of  something, anything growing.  We are ready to till and get our first crops in the ground.  But the mud!  There is literally no safe place to walk that doesn’t present the challenge of having your Wellies sucked off your feet.

Our dogs Willow and Nante smell spring in the air and run wild around the yard like children at recess.  We love seeing them so joyful, until they bring their muddy legs and paws into the house making confusing circles of happiness over the slate kitchen floor.  It’s useless to mop; we would spend most of our waking hours cleaning up after them.

When we walk the farm this time of year, we are itching to get going and overwhelmed when we comprehend how much work there is to do.  You have to take the attitude that ‘slow and steady wins the race’; or you’re licked before you start.  We notice how the scent on the air has shifted.  There is a smell to the land after the snow pack has melted; it is the smell of possibility.  Our winter plans are anxious to be put into action.  Each new season holds promise; the promise of growth, the promise of hard work and the promise of humility.  After all, farming is an act of faith.

The following recipe is not difficult to make, yet the flavors contrast each other in such a way that you will find yourself putting it on frequent rotation.  The savory Ras el Hanout (recipe in the previous blog for Moroccan Almonds) combined with lamb and dried apricots works amazingly well.  See if you don’t agree.

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STUFFED ZUCCHINI WITH LAMB, DRIED APRICOTS AND PINE NUTS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 zucchini (8 ounces each), halved lengthwise and seeded (I find a melon-baller works best for this)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces ground lamb
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ras el hanout
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup cooked jasmine rice
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Adjust your oven racks to upper-middle and lowest possible positions.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Brush cut sides of zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Lay zucchini cut side down and roast for about 20-25 minutes or until they are slightly softened and the cut sides are slightly golden.  Remove from oven and flip cut side up on baking sheet; set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add ground lamb with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Break up meat as you cook, until browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet.  Add onion and saute over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and ras el hanout and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in broth, rice and apricots and bring to a simmer.  Cook until most of liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

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5.  Fill zucchini halves with mixture.  Place baking sheet on upper rack in oven and                 bake until heated through about 8-10 minutes.  Sprinkle with pine nuts and chopped         parsley.  Serve with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce (recipes follows).

CUCUMBER- YOGURT SAUCE:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 half English cucumber, grated on large holes of box grater
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Whisk yogurt, oil, dill, and garlic, together in medium bowl until combined.  Stir in cucumber and season with salt and pepper.  Serve along side stuffed zucchini.

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“I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me.”
― Nikos Kazantzakis

The Hummus Among Us

It the world of junk food, it’s comforting to know we can make something substantial, healthy and satisfying: hummus.  Typically this Lebanese dip or spread is made with chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and salt.  But creative people have shaken up tradition but making it with additions of roasted root vegetables such as beets, carrots and red bell pepper.  It’s flexible.  It’s a great source of plant-based protein, decreases inflammation and is good for heart and bone health.  I however love it because it tastes so dam good!

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SPICY ROASTED CARROT HUMMUS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 large carrots (about 6 ounces), peeled, ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained*
  • 1/3 cup tahini, well mixed
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) harissa, Sriracha or gochujang
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Roasted pistachios or toasted sunflower seeds, plus chopped parsley for serving

 

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place carrots on a large baking sheet line with parchment paper and drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast until carrots are very tender, about 40-45 minutes.  Let cool.
  2. Process roasted carrots, chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, harissa, salt, and cumin in food processor until mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. With the motor running, stream in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then continue to process until hummus is very light and creamy, 1-2 minutes more.  Taste and season with more salt if needed.  Add more harissa to make hummus spicier if desired, then process to incorporate, a few more seconds.
  4. Transfer hummus to a small platter or plate.  Top with nuts and parsley; drizzle with additional olive oil.  Can be refrigerated for about 5 days.

Yield: 2 cups

Note:  If you would like an even creamier hummus, take the time to slide the skins off the chickpeas.  The skins will make the hummus slightly grainy.  If this is not an issue for you, consider it optional.

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“I can’t turn water into wine, but I can turn hummus into breakfast, lunch and dinner.”  –Rebecca Barum

Beeting the System

While doing some research I came across a staggering statistic: 70% of Americans don’t cook.  That’s right.  Most Americans eat out at least 4 times a week.  We heat up, microwave or assemble food; but cooking from scratch is becoming something of a novelty.  I asked myself, “Are we really that busy?”  I can’t imagine myself not cooking regularly.  For me, it’s my most sincere expression of love.  I wonder if people understand what they are missing?  The kitchen has always been the heart of the home; a place where intimacy takes place, both in the preparation of food and the sharing of it around our tables.  As I contemplate this, I feel as though we’ve been sold a collective bill of goods.  As we scramble to meet our financial needs, we are forgetting some of the fundamental, simple pleasures of life; cooking fresh food with love, for our friends and family.  Isn’t it time we break bread together?

Those of you who have followed this blog or my previous one Basics with a Twist, know I have not been a beet lover until recently.  Alas I have come to my senses.  The first time I  had this salad was as a guest in the home of Kat and Tom Vanhammen.  When she told me what we were having for dinner I remember thinking, “Oh-oh, I’ve never had raw beets and can’t say I was excited about the prospect.  But as a child I was instructed to be a gracious guest and took a serving.  Wow.  Now I can’t leave this salad alone.  I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I make it several times a month.  It’s as though my body literally craves it..

And no wonder!  You simply can’t beat beets!  Your body does love them.  They are chock-full of nutrients like B vitamins, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, and potassium.  They can lower your blood pressure, lower your risk of heart disease, improve your stamina, help you brain work better, and detox your liver.  Whew.  Now that’s real nutrition!

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Raw Beet Salad

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds of beets, scrubbed and peeled
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (don’t be shy)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs; this might seem like a lot of vinegar, but look at it as a raw pickled beet)
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Grate the beets by hand on a box-grater, or food processor fitted with a metal blade or a Kitchen Aid fitted with a shredder cone.  Place in a large bowl.
  2. Toss beets with the salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.  Add chopped dill.  Let the salad macerate on your kitchen counter for about 1 hour.  Taste and adjust with more vinegar, salt or both.  I like mine with a little zing.

Serves 4

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“The food you eat can either be the safest & most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”   —unknown

GOT THE MUNCHIES?

At our farm there are two times during the day that are sacrosanct, coffee hour and cocktail hour.  The latter gets me thinking of a little something besides cheese and crackers.   I came up with the perfect solution:  Moroccan Almonds.  Years ago I made my own Ras el Hanout (a North African spice mix) and have been using it on everything from cauliflower to lamb.  I though why not use it with almonds?  Almonds contain healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium and vitamin E.  They can lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol; not to mention reduce hunger and promote weight loss.  So if you stick to one serving which is 23 almonds or less, you’re in business!

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MOROCCAN ALMONDS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Ras el Hanout (recipe follows)
  • 1 tablespoon Maldon salt (or other flake salt), plus more to sprinkle on top of almonds
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 pound (about 3 cups) whole raw almonds

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RAS EL HANOUT:

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add a bit more if you want more heat)
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Make 1/2 cup

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, Ras el Hanout and Maldon salt.
  3. In a medium size bowl, add the egg white.  Whisk briskly until frothy, about 30 seconds.  Add the almonds and toss with a wooden spoon until coated.  Add the spices and toss until well coated.  Spread evenly on the baking sheet, and then sprinkle some additional Maldon salt over the top.
  4. Place in oven and bake, stirring once, until fragrant and toasted, about 45 minutes.  Let cool completely and serve.  Nuts will keep well at room temperature in a sealed bag or jar for several days.

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“Food–I love nuts.  I eat them all the time, they’re easy to carry around, and I’m never hungry all day long.”    –Mehmet Oz

 

 

 

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