Prelude to Valentine’s Day with Red Food: Harissa; and Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

quinoa-fennel-pomegranate-salad

This Saturday, the weekend before the much loved/dreaded Valentine’s Day, my sister had a potluck with her work friends. As she is aware of my enthusiasm for potlucks, she invited Zoeya and me. The theme was Red Food. (Sidenote: this was not my first Red Food potluck). She made a delicious baked spaghetti and one of her friends brought an amazing red velvet, white chocolate and raspberry trifle – no beef, we asked. My contribution was a harissa-esque dip served over hummus, and a quinoa salad.


I tried to shape the harissa into a heart!

Here’s something spicy you can make for your lovah: harissa. I use the term “harissa” loosely – this was more of a dip than a sauce or paste, and I made it not-too-spicy lest there be wimpy tongues at the party, but honestly the heat could have been to be turned up a notch (next time!). The other silly thing I did was that after I blitzed it the first time I decided that in color it wasn’t red enough for a red food party so I added some tandoori masala thinking that spices were spices. Mistake! Although it still tasted good, it starting smelling distinctly Indian instead of a North African…so next time, paprika.

This is very versatile! Use as a dip, condiment on salads or sandwiches, or as a wet rub or part of a marinade. I served it over hummus.

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Harissa

3 red peppers
heaping tsp each cumin and coriander seeds
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
5 cloves
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes (minus the several I ate)
heaping tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1/2 – 2 tbsp red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you want it (maybe a little less for a dip and more for a condiment or wet rub)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 450° Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on the oven rack and roast until blacked, turning once. Remove to a glass bowl and cover to sweat them (so it will be easier to take the skins off). Once cool, remove stems, seeds, and skins.

In the meantime, in a dry skillet toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cloves. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I also made:

I had my Persephone Salad in mind, but was in the mood to make something with quinoa. I found this recipe for Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad online, which looked delicious, but I still wanted to make pomegranate vinaigrette so I combined the two!

Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

For the quinoa
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (red if possible! I couldn’t find it so used tricolored)
olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, sliced (reserve fronds)
4 cloves garlic
tsp cumin seeds
tsp chili powder
handful fennel fronds (removed from stalk), chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
handful mint, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil to medium high and saute fennel and garlic with salt & pepper until fennel is very tender. Add cumin seeds and chili powder and saute for another minute.

Toss warm quinoa with fennel, herbs, and lettuce (I just love tossing warm things with lettuce because it makes it super green and wilts it just slightly).

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt & pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Whisk all together.

Toss quinoa and vinaigrette together, and top the whole thing with 1/4 cup or so pomegranate seeds

Someone enjoyed dinner (although she was more a fan of the spaghetti than the salad).


Zoeya’s favorite thing to say to me nowadays is “I am waiting patiently, but you are taking TOO LONG!”

Merry Solstice! Some Sweet Links.

tree

Tonight is the longest night of the year. It’s dreary, dark and rainy today, which seems almost as perfect as snow. It’s cozy inside, and I’m thinking of baking. Here’s some of the sweet festive fare I’ve been perusing for inspiration:

I’ve wanted for awhile to make a Yule Log – Martha’s looks delicious of course. Chocolate pinecones? Cute.

You could also decorate the log with these Meringue Mushrooms on Chow.

Now bring me some figgy pudding! Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for the classic on All Things Considered.

Oh wow, Black Sticky Gingerbread on 101 Cookbooks. Yes please.

The Scandinavian Gingerbread House on What’s for Lunch, Honey? is adorable.

This White Christmas Martini on Fragrant Vanilla Cake looks so pretty – and lighter than eggnog.

These Holiday Chocolate Gingersnaps from Mourad New Moroccan from Turntable Kitchen look simple and delicious (and I think I have all the ingredients in my pantry, hmmm).

I made these cute little Alfajores from Chez Pim a couple years ago; I loved the crumbly shortbread, and dulce de leche is always wonderful.

And OMG Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen (love!) is all over YouTube…I may be busy the rest of the day.

Persephone Salad

persephone-salad

Whenever my husband and his friends are putting dinner together, they always put me in charge of salad. I guess salad is a girly thing to make so I get it by default, but maybe it’s also because I can be artful in diving into the depths of the produce drawer and pantry and emerging with interesting salad ingredients and the means for a homemade vinaigrette.

As green salads are just as much about texture as they are about flavor, here is the formula: something fresh (possibly fruity!), something creamy, something crunchy. And this salad fits perfectly.

This particular salad concept is based on the Arugula, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from where else, Food52, pretty much my favorite food resource on the web). I made it a couple years ago for Thanksgiving, and I’ve made variations on it ever since – including for Thanksgiving this year, and now for Zoeya’s holiday potluck.

The ingredients are very autumnal, but the pomegranate seeds like little ruby jewels look gorgeously Christmassy as well. This is not so much a recipe as a concept with lots of options (and I’m not going to be fussy with amounts). The only absolutely essential ingredient are the pomegranate seeds, which is what makes this so lovely and appropriate for the dark months.

Persephone Salad

For the salad:
greens, such as arugula, mesclun, spinach
a green apple or pear
seeds from half a pomegranate
blue cheese or goat cheese
walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds (I used pumpkin seeds in this latest rendition, it’s a great options if you’re serving to people with nut allergies)

For the vinaigrette:
pomegranate molasses (instructions below) – this is your best option, but if you don’t have it you can use honey or jam or jelly. Maybe like that yummy lingonberry stuff they have at IKEA.
sherry or balsamic vinegar
olive oil or walnut oil
salt & pepper
a thinly sliced shallot, pickled in the vinegar, is nice

To make pomegranate molasses, take a small bottle of pomegranate juice and heat it slowly in a saucepan, stirring, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. Be careful not to burn.

To assemble everything, just toss the greens and the apple or pear with some of the vinaigrette (enough to lightly coat, not to drench). Sprinkle all the rest of the ingredients on top, along with another drizzle of vinaigrette.

Holiday Quick Breads

holiday-quick-bread

One way to get the holiday spirit swirling through your home is through scent, especially scents wafting from your oven – warm spices, fresh citrus, sweet vanilla.

Quick Breads are perfect for this time of year; flour and baking powder are like a blank canvas to be painted with any flavor that reminds you of Yule. They are simple to throw together and perfect in the morning with a cup of coffee or in the afternoon with a cup of tea, and easy to wrap up and transport to holiday brunches or to leave in the break room at work as a gift from the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So far I’ve whipped up this Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Bread from Food52 – divine! As a ginger fiend I love the use of both dried and fresh ginger.

I also used my leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving to make this Cranberry Sauce Quick Bread on Rufus’s Food and Spirits Guide (which I found after a quick search). My cranberry sauce has apricot and cardamom, so I tweaked the recipe to go with my sauce, using apricot nectar instead of apple cider, walnuts instead of pecans just because I had them, omitting the cardamom since I already had it in the sauce, and using brown sugar just for fun. I also topped it with demerara sugar since that was so nice on the gingerbread. Quick breads are nothing if not flexible. Here’s my version of the cranberry sauce bread:

Cranberry Sauce Quick Bread

My cranberry sauce had apricot nectar, chopped dried apricots, cardamom, and honey, but any kind would work fine

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/c cup apricot nectar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
8 tbsp cranberry sauce
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp demerara sugar

Heat oven to 350° and grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, apricot nectar, butter, egg, and 2 tbsp of the cranberry sauce. Stir in walnuts.

Spread half of batter in the loaf pan, then make a layer of cranberry sauce. You can do this evenly, I tried to swirl mine into the batter a little bit but don’t think it worked. Spread rest of the batter evenly on top, sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing the loaf from the pan.

Independence Day

grilling1-thumb

This weekend we celebrated America’s birthday. Although I don’t think our country is inherently superior to others, and I don’t always love the actions of our government, or people who personify the American stereotypes (oh, the ignorance, the obesity), I am still absolutely proud and thankful to be an American. This is a country filled with all sorts of people, who are the for the most part hard working and good hearted and who respect and embrace diversity. I know my daughter will grow up in a place where she can be whoever she wants to be.

No recipes today, just our yummy Independence Day menu, meant to inspire you to mix it up. The dishes sound exotic but the whole thing really couldn’t be more American. Where else can you find all this on one plate?

My husband marinated and grilled the meat and I whipped up all the fixings. We welcomed friends and family and had a great day.

Independence Day Menu: Tandoori Taco Bar

Pani Puri
Potato and Pea Samosas
Tandoori Drumsticks
Red Thai Curry Flank Steak with Basil and Lime
Coconut Rice
Pickled Shallots
Yogurt, Lime and Cilantro Corn Relish
Mango Chutney (which I got from Rasa Malaysia, it rocked)
Warm Tortillas and Naan
Kheer
Honey Grilled Apricots and Dates
Rooh Afza
Spiced Pineapple Sangria

Doesn’t that just make you want to dance?

Zoeya Dancing from Carrie Rashid on Vimeo.

Black and Cream, a St. Patrick’s Day Cocktail

Everyone knows the Black and Tan, but the Black and Cream was invented by myself and my dear friend (then roommate) Denise, one sunny afternoon many years ago. We had one Guinness and one cream soda in the fridge and decided to combine the two. The result is this delightful drink, that has the ice-cream taste of a car bomb without the curdle. Also something you can sip like a lady instead of chugging like a frat boy.

Black and Cream

Equal parts Guinness and cream soda

Zoeya’s Birthday – the Menu

My darling little baby is now a little girl. I cannot fully express how delightful it has been watching her grow, and each day she amazes me with her intelligence and her sweet nature. She is a talky, naughty, beautiful girl and I feel so lucky to be her mommy. This past Saturday, August 7, 2010, we celebrated her second birthday at home with family and friends. As Ilene Beckerman remembers the events of her life by what she wore, I think I can eventually title my memoirs “Love, Loss, and What We Ate” – and this event was nothing but Love.

Since Zoeya’s birthday falls in the summertime, it is the perfect occasion to grill out. Shan and I are known for our barbecues – he loves to grill up meat, meat, meat, and I like to make a bunch of salads, so it’s perfect for both of us. Zoeya likes dip. That pretty much sums it up.

Mmm dip.

Drinks

Not exactly for two year olds, but I always make a sangria for our summer parties. I usually go the red route, but this time decided to try out this Ginger Sangria with peaches – and was not disappointed.

So, grilled meat:

We had tandoori chicken but I won’t bother with the “recipe” because I just marinated it in some yogurt, tandoori masala (Shan brand of course), lemon juice and olive oil. It was pretty good, but Shan’s is better.

We also had burgers. Say what you will about Rachael Ray – my opinion is that she is way too crazy and fake to watch, but I actually have a couple of her cookbooks and for the most part love her recipes. She has a whole bunch of burger recipes, and we made the Provençal Chicken Burgers with Pizzaladière Topping – (ground chicken burgers with herbs and fennel, with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and olives). The first time we made them they were AMAZING, but this time they were a little dry. Still, I really love the herbs de Provence, and the caramelized onions, so this is definitely worth a try.

Salads:

Of course I tossed some greens with avocado, lime juice, olive oil and octopus, for what is a party without octopus salad?

I turned to Food52 for a couple more ideas, and ended up making:
Creamy Cucumber “Side” (cucumbers, onions, yogurt, dill, Meyer lemon) and Spanish Roasted Potato Salad (roasted potatoes with a garlicky mayo). The cucumbers were pretty good, and even better the next day as leftovers. The potatoes, however, were AWESOME and we had no leftovers.

I also made a fruit salad/dessert – “Mojito” Fruit – that I found the recipe for on the basil packet. I balled a honeydew, tossed in a pint of blueberries, and poured a basil and lime simple syrup over it. It was simple, elegant, and refreshing.

And for the cake.

This was very important. For one thing, Zoeya was very, very excited about the cake. In the weeks leading up to her birthday, whenever anyone asked her about her birthday, no matter if the question was “Who’s having a birthday?” , “How old are you?” , “What do you want for your birthday?” – the answer always ended up at “Cake.” For another thing, Shan tried to convince me again and again to buy a cake. Something about if I messed it up I would get stressed out and cry, which is probably true, but I told him by God I’m making a cake for my daughter and stop mentioning the sheet cakes at Sams because I will not be thwarted.

I made Nigella’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake and it came out very nice. Very simple, no bells and whistles, just a few sugar jungle animals on top, but my little Zoeya loved it and that’s all I care about.

Happy Birthday, little Jojo, Mommy and Daddy love you and wish you a beautiful, happy year.

Hot Mami – a Mother’s Day Cocktail

A couple of years ago I made a mess of a cocktail with Rooh Afza, a rose-flavored syrup used to make yummy (non-alcoholic) summer drinks. It was a few of days after the end of Ramadan, during which we had been abstaining from alcohol, but drinking lots of Rooh Afza. We had a few friends over, and I mixed up some concoction with the syrup and vodka – you know, just to be funny in an inappropriate way – but I was rightfully smote.

Luckily, I got the chance to redeem myself this year at a BBQ we were having on Mother’s Day. We had made up a pitcher of Rooh Afza for the nondrinkers, so I decided to try again. This drink features Absolut Mandarin, with Rooh Afza already made up (mixed with sugar, water, and lemon juice), and is topped off with Sprite. The ratio is about 1 to 2 to 2. The result was sparkly and sweet, and I made up a cute name for it as I was carrying one over to my mother.

Shan also liked it, and as unofficial bartender began mixing them to distribute to the rest of our guests. It was delish, but to tell the truth maybe a little too sweet. Instead of Sprite I’d like to try it with orange seltzer. Happy Mother’s Day!

Thanksgiving Prep

Now that I have the currency of being married with a baby, I won the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving this year. For the first time! I’m so excited! I’ve promised to cook my ass off. Of course other family members are bringing things but my plan is to provide a base meal that they can add to. I also have to consider that one of my aunts is a vegan, and although she’s bringing food as well, I want her to be able to eat as much as possible without the rest of my family noticing which dishes are vegan.

I’m making the turkey (of course – and actually I might delegate this to Shan with “sage” as a direction, because he did such a good job cooking the turkey his work gifted us last year), potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, salad, appetizer and dessert. I don’t really have a whole lot of Thanksgivingy dishes in my repertoire, so I’m trying out a few before the day.

First off – green beans and potatoes.

Last night I made the haricots verts with toasted walnuts and walnut oil (no recipe, the name says it all) from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte and they were fantastic. I actually used just regular green beans for poor me and Zoeya the test-tasters, but I’ll actually procure haricot verts for the day which will be prettier and more delicate. I worry this dish is too simple, because we all know Thanksgiving is about side dishes on crack, but I think something simple and elegant – that doesn’t require valuable oven real-estate – will be a good addition and definitely more delicious than our traditional green bean casserole from a can.

The other dish I made was the Scalloped Potato and Fennel which I saw in Bon Appetit. This came out beautiful! You line a buttered baking dish with garlic and rosemary, layer slices of fennel and potatoes, and pour a cream mixture over the whole thing. Bake. The rosemary permeated the dish without being overpowering, and made the house smell amazing. I hadn’t bought enough cream so substituted half with milk, and it was still incredibly decadent. Find the Scalloped Potato and Fennel recipe at Bon Appetit – I give it four forks. I was also impressed with my $10 Wal-Mart mandolin.

I’m off to a good start, and looking forward to trying more holiday goodies.