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Things have been a little bit crazy around here.  Posting has been light due to my son having his Bar Mitzvah last weekend.  He came through and did a fantastic job.

As a part of the celebration we had an open house on Saturday night.  About 100 people came and feasted on a selection of bars, cookies, dips and spreads.  My wife thought an open house would be fun and I thought it would be a lot of work.  Since I did all the baking and prep work it was hard and fun at the same time.  I have about 11 cookies/bars/cakes to post as well as 7 dips.  I am also backlogged on my cookbook reviews with 8 books in various stages of recipe testing.  I was planning on getting all these recipes and photos posted within the next few weeks but then...

I have been playing online poker for about 9 years.  I have been playing poker since I was little and online poker means that I can always find a game to play.  For the past 5 years I have been playing at PokerStars.  This is the largest poker site that is open to Americans (at this point I promise that I won't go into my libertarian rant).  Next week PokerStars is having a series of tournaments exclusively for bloggers and I plan to play as many events as I can find the time for.  I will be posting regular updates on my performance in each tournament, so check back often.  I play under the screen name of "rorkesdrift" so come to PokerStars and cheer me on.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

 

Printable recipe

Lentil Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

1 cup lentils

2 15 ounce cans pinto beans, rinsed

3 Tablespoons Olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped in ¼ inch pieces

1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini, chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 pound green beans, stems removed and broken into 1 inch pieces

Juice of 1 lemon

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Method

1.  In a pot heat the oil on medium.  Add onion and garlic, stir till golden, about 8 minutes.

2   Stir in tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, carrots, zucchini and green beans.  Saute about 5 minutes.

3.  Add 4 cups of water, lentils and pinto beans.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.

4.  Stir in lemon juice and cilantro.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Book Review – Real Cajun

Real Cajun – Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.  Photographs by Chris Granger.  Clarkson Potter Publishers 2009

 I can’t help but be intrigued by a book that opens with instructions on how to make bacon in a home kitchen.  Upon reading the instructions for Homemade Bacon you start to think to yourself “hey I could do that”.  Without giving away too much information: ten days, sitting undisturbed, curing in the back of the refrigerator and then one hour in a smoker.  Sounds a lot easier then you probably thought.  Don’t worry that this recipe will make too much bacon, every bite of it will get used.  Before reading this book I thought that 60% of the dishes served in Louisiana contain bacon, 30% use shrimp, sausage or crawfish and the remaining 10% use bacon, sausage and shrimp, but I was pleasantly surprised at the variations and different fresh, locally sourced ingredients that are used in traditional Cajun cooking.

 Cajun cooking is not just a piece of meat or chicken coated in some hot spices and cooked in a cast-iron pan until it looks burnt.  The idea of spicy, blackened food as “authentic Cajun” may have been served up for TV viewers and by chain restaurants in the 1980’s, but this is not the type of food an honest Cajun would serve to family and friends.  Link provides us with true, down home, style dishes that his family cooked back home in Acadia Parish.  This means rice, crawfish, gumbo, corn bread and greens in pork fat.  This is the real Cajun food not the generic, citified and over seasoned dishes served to the tourists on Bourbon Street.

 Link is the owner of two very popular New Orleans restaurants, Herbisaint and Cochon.  The James Beard Foundation named him the Best Chef in the South in 2007 and Cochon is listed on many of the “Best in America” surveys.  Link has a solid grounding in the classics, having graduated from the California Culinary Academy before returning home to New Orleans, so his wife could attend Tulane University.

 The 80 photographs give a real feel for what life is like on the bayou.  Link, writing in an easy, conversational style, talks about growing up in the Acadian region of Louisiana and the joy of family gatherings.  There are even suggestions for activities when planning a trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest or what not to do the next time you go turtle hunting.  The way Link talks about his family and friends comes across the page as real love and not as if he was just using them to set the mood for his book.

 The traditional Cajun recipes all start with a brief personal introduction about the dish, contain a list of easily purchased ingredients and excellent, well written instructions to help even the inexperienced cook recreate the dishes.  No Cajun cookbook would be complete without recipes for such dishes as: Smothered Pork Roast over Rice, Crawfish Etouffee, Seafood Gumbo, Fried Chicken, Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya or everything you need for a do-it-yourself Crawfish Boil.

 Cathy’s Shrimp, Corn and Tomato Stew is a hearty mixture served over rice.  The Broccoli, Rice and Cheddar Casserole is a church basement, style classic that is given a new life when Link uses his homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup instead of canned concentrate.  The Cast-Iron Hush Puppies contain a puree of jalapenos, scallions and parsley, which adds a bright fresh taste, as well as green color, to a traditional southern side dish.  Link includes recipes for dessert, and before you ask, no they don’t call for either bacon or crawfish.  The picture of Chocolate Yummy might look like a typical pot-luck type of desert that was quickly thrown together using a box of instant pudding and a container of frozen whipped topping, but the quality of the fresh ingredients, homemade custard and whipped cream elevate this home-style dish to something that you would proudly serve at any family gathering.

 With heartfelt stories of real life in Cajun country and wonderful recipes that are well written and easy to follow Real Cajun easily earns a rating of three spatulas.

Moroccan Garbanzo Bean Salad

It has been a little overcast outside today so I wanted to put together a bright looking salad.  While I love to bake (probably because I would eat cookies and cake all day if I could) there is a downside to baking. 

When you bake it is really a chemistry experiment.  If you make small changes in some of the basic baking ingredients ie. baking soda, baking powder, salt, the acid content of a liquid …, then the entire batch can fail.  How the various ingredients interact on a molecular level means that small changes can have dramatic effects on the end product. 

On the other hand, a salad is a jazz freestyle (the Dave Brubeck of food?) event where you can improvise any way that you want.  If you like more tomato then go ahead and add them.  You don’t like Feta cheese, leave it out all together or substitute something else, like goat cheese.  The recipe for a salad is designed to be a general road map of the terrain not a GPS type of (turn left in exactly 50 yards type) directions. 

So go have fun, experiment, make changes and turn this recipe into something unique that expresses your taste.

Printable recipe

Salad ingredients

1 can garbanzo (aka chickpeas), drained and rinsed

1 orange pepper, seeded and diced

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 small Bermuda onion (aka red onion, why is it called red when it is purple?), diced

1 cup Feta cheese

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

 

Orange Vinaigrette

¼ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

 Method

  1. In a large bowl toss together all the salad ingredients
  2. Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a mason jar with a tight fitting lid.  Shake till well combined.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix till the salad is coated with dressing.

 

Cherry Garcia Cookies

Cherry Garcia Cookies

Once a month I play poker with a group of friends and Sunday night was my turn to host.   Usually the host buys pizza and junk food but whenever I host everyone demands baked goods.  The main course was burgers and since a few of the guys keep kosher I had to make deserts that had no dairy or were Parve. 

I made Double Chocolate Brownies,  Mini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and Cherry Garcia Cookies.  I will post all the recipes this week.  The Cherry Garcia Cookies detailed below are based on a recipe from one of my favorite bakers, Marcie Goldman.  Marcie has published a few cookbooks and has a great website.  I don’t have a link handy but you should google her and check out her recipes, they are always big hits with everyone.

Printable recipe

Cherry Garcia Cookies

Adapted from a recipe by Marcie Goldman

Yield 36 cookies

 

Ingredients

1 8 ounce bag of dried cherries, about 1 2/3 cup

½ cup unsalted butter – at room temperature

½ cup white sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

1 egg – room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

12 ounces chocolate chips

¾ cup toasted, chopped pecans

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Plump the dried cherries by covering with boiling water for a few minutes. Drain.
  3. In a mixer on medium cream butter and sugars until smooth, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Beat in egg, vanilla and extract until smooth.
  5. Mix in salt, baking soda and flour until well combined.
  6. Fold in cherries, chips and nuts.
  7. Drop spoonfuls onto baking sheets.
  8. Bake until just brown along the edges, about 12 to 15 minutes.  If you bake more then one tray at a time then be sure to rotate the trays top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking time.
  9. Remove from oven.  Let cookies sit on sheets for about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Quinoa Spinach Fritters

Quinoa Spinach Fritters

Fresh spinach was on sale at the market so, without any plan in mind, I tossed a bag into my cart.  Now I am sitting at home with a bag of spinach that will go bad unless I can figure out what to do with it.

I have been reading Real Cajun by Donald Link, which beautifully covers down home style Cajun cooking.  A review should be posted within a few weeks.  In the book there is a recipe for hush puppies with jalapenos and that got me thinking about hush puppies with spinach.   I went to the pantry to see if I had the ingredients to make hush puppies.  Staring me in the face was  a huge bag of quinoa that was purchased, a few weeks ago, at Costco.  Now the plan evolved into using both the quinoa and the spinach, but I still had a taste for something fried.  Back to the drawing board.  I thumbed through my recipe binders and saw recipes for things like zucchini patties, rice pancakes and vegetable fritters.  I put two and two together and came up with Quinoa Spinach Fritters. 

I still have half of a bag of spinach leftover, which created the need to make … 

Preview of tomorrow’s post:  Quinoa, Corn and Spinach Salad

Copy of Printable Recipe

 

Quinoa and Spinach Fritters
 
Yield 10 large fritters or 20 small fritters
 
Ingredients
 
1 1/2 cups Quinoa
5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
6 cups of spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1 cup (about 4 ounces) Feta Cheese
1 cup (about 4 ounces) Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
2 eggs
salt and pepper
 
Method
 
1.  In a pot combine the quinoa with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer until the water is completely absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove to a bowl and let cool.
2.  In a large saute pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium heat.  Cook the garlic until it starts to brown, about 1-2 minutes.
3.  Add the chopped spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from heat.
4.  In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked quinoa, the spinach mixture, feta, mozzarella and eggs. Stir until well combined.
5.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6.  Scoop 1/2 cup of batter for large fritters (1/4 cup for small) and, using your hands, form into 1/2″ thick patties.  Place the formed patties on wax paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  The mixture will be a little sticky.
7.  In a skillet pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Heat on medium to medium-high.  Place patties into the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook the other side till done.  Remove to paper towels to drain.

Spiced Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Spiced Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have always thought of the traditional Oatmeal Raisin cookie as rather boring and bland.  My son won’t eat anything with raisins in it so I played around with the typical recipe (ie. the version printed on the top of the Quaker Oats canister) till I hit upon this combination.  By substituting the chocolate chips for the raisins I was able to cut back on the amount of sugar while making them chocolately.  Increasing the amount of vanilla and cinnamon and the addition of nutmeg, allspice and cloves gave a little punch to an otherwise fairly bland cookie.

Printable Recipe

Chewy and Spicy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
 
Yield:  48 cookies
 
Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned oats – NOT instant
1 Bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
 
Instructions
1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2.  Combine in a bowl flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt.  Set aside. 
3.  In mixer, on medium, with paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars till smooth
4.  Beat in eggs and vanilla till smooth
5.  With mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture untill well combined
6.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.  If your mixer has a small bowl this batter may climb up the paddle.
7.  Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto cookie sheets
8.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until slightly golden brown.  If you bake two cookie sheets at a time then be sure to rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back at about 6 minutes.  This will ensure even cooking of the cookies