Tag Archives: cooking

Farmer Breakfast

20 Jul
Mid-East Style

Typically, an American breakfast doesn’t look remotely like the one pictured here. But, this American-born gal likes her breakfast with a Middle-Eastern twist. Especially when the farmers’ market has so many lusciously fresh produce.

Hidden under that freshly baked baguette (courtesy of my local bakery–Charleston Bakery, just down the block from the farmers’ market) are two olive-oil soaked slabs of roasted eggplant topped with equally-soaked roasted onions–both oven roasted the day before. I placed them on my baguette straight out of their refrigerated container as pictured here:
Notice how soft and shiny they are. If only I had planned better I could have added some nice basil and crumbled feta, or that crumbled feta with bits of sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Oregano could be just as good, too. Traditionally, we eat the eggplant on pita bread, whereby said bread would soak up the excess olive oil (although, “excess” is a relative word in my circle). We did so last night. And then we ran out. I’m fairly certain Kaukab would have been appalled. One must never run out of pita bread. Not ever.
No matter. My breakfast hit the spot. Perhaps, I’m more tolerant of other bread families than is Kaukab. But, I’ll just leave that to my wonderment.

Salsa or Chutney?

23 Jul

Last night I made some pork loins and thought they’d like some company, but didn’t want to stick with making my mango salsa. I usually make a sweet little salsa to pair with grilled chicken or salmon, and would’ve thought the same if I had grilled the pork loins. But, I remembered reading about chutneys a while back and thought this might be an interesting twist to the meal. I like the idea of pairing the pork loin pieces with a warmed-up version of traditional salsa.

Here’s what I did: I took some of the basic ingredients of my mango salsa and used them to make the chutney. The pork loins were sprinkled with garlic salt and cracked black pepper and then sauteed in a little canola oil, until browned on both sides and white on the sides; then into a 350 degree oven, foil-covered for another 10 – 15 minutes, tops. I made the chutney while the loins (don’t think it) were cooking through.

Chutney: 3 ripe mangos, cubed

                    1/4 to 1/2 small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

                    1/8 tsp. or slightly less of ginger paste

                     1/2  lime for zest; 1 wedge amt. of lime juice

                    pinch of cumin

If the mangos aren’t sweet enough, you can add a drizzle of  honey or a pinch of  brown sugar.

Cut the mangos so that you have two large pieces cut away from the pit. Score vertically and horizontally so that you have lots of squares. Use a teaspoon to scrape all into the small saucepan, so that all the juice gets in there. Add all other ingredients. Slowly heat on low, stirring occasionally. Should take about 10 min. Remove when they’ve started to break down and feels warmed through.

Spoon some alongside or on top of your loins. You decide.


A New-Old Addition

6 Jul

A New Addition

My daughter proudly hung a pretty, little pink apron alongside her mama’s little collection of such. Funny, how something given to her by her dance teacher years back can have new meaning to her now. The apron was given to her to use as part of a colonist outfit in one of her dance recitals. Her teacher allowed her to keep it afterward–totally uncharacteristic at the time. Anyway, my daughter, apparently, kept it and dragged it along with us when we moved to West Virginia five years ago. Now, it hangs proudly alongside the other treasured aprons in this city-girl’s kitchen. P.S. Last week I found a sweet apron with fabric displaying tiny strawberries and polka dots, all in various shades of red and pink. It was only ten bucks! Alas, I managed to talk myself out of it. It had felt like such a splurge at the time, even though my gut knew better. I wished I had listened to my gut. I’m thinking about going back to see if it’s still there. If it is, it’ll mean it was meant for me, right?


24 Jun

There seems to be two camps in the cooking world: potholders or no potholders. I am in the second.  Tradition, notwithstanding, I find them cumbersome and, frankly, dangerous. My husband, on the otherhand, believes that they will, somehow, protect him from every conceivable hot surface within a 10-mile radius, and without them, will surely send him to the nearest metropolitan burn unit. Besides, it’s what his mother taught him. (Too hot to touch, you realize. Although, am tempted.)

Author's hand, safely applying tea towel to hot pan.

I choose to use tea towels.  The same ones I have hanging nearby for drying my hands, dishes, and anything else which needs drying. Within reason. Just like the master chefs you see on foodie networks around the globe, I, too, fold them in such a way as to fit over any pot opening, or stiffly (and safely) grab onto an awkwardly designed handle, or even pulling out a super-hot oven rack in the middle of basting a lovely meat. If you fold it correctly, you won’t need to worry about flames attacking your dutiful towel, or burned fingers, which somehow manage to occur while using potholders, no matter how large or thick they appear.

One caveat: Do not, ever, use a slip (while still on your body) to grab hold of a whistling tea kettle early in the morning, while Kaukab is asleep. The gas flames don’t care that you are an innocent 10-year-old child, who has watched her mother, several times, use her own daysmock to do the same. Only, her’s never caught on fire. With no one in sight. All this child wanted was a nice cup of tea. Luckily, the washbasin, used by Kaukab to pre-wash dirty laundry and being only feet away from the evil stove, (Can’t explain now why the stove and washbasin share the same cooking space; there’s an innocent child on fire!) said child tore off scorched slip and ran to her bedroom to change for school. The tea would have to wait.  Moral of the story: Potholders are dangerous.

Recipes From My Mother’s Table (with some daughterly tweaking)

20 Jun

So, what of the recipes?  Well, for starters, Kaukab never learned to use them. She comes from a long list of women from the ‘old country,’ which means…there’s no safe, neat list of items–like measurements. No pantry list. No words of encouragement, like “Don’t worry, I’m sure your family will still love you, even if the hummus tastes nothing, nor looks, like the one that we’ve made for generations, harking back to the Phonecians.”

With that in mind, I give you the first of many.  I wanted to make this first one especially special, so I decided to start with the ubiquitous chickpea spread, universally known (and spelled) as “hummous,” “hummus,” or “humous.”  Personally, I go with the middle one. I’ll do us all a favor and not comment on the various pronounciations.

So, the main question I get from my non-Lebanese, hummus-making friends, is: “Why doesn’t mine taste like yours?”  Except for Kaukab.  If you flip the third and sixth words in that lovely question, you’ll have a good idea the relationship for which the perennial ‘mother-daughter’ one refers.

Here’s the secret to “authentic” (i.e., Kaukab’s hummus) hummus-making.  Reserved cooked chickpea water. Now, you may ask, “Where am I gonna find chickpea water?!”

The secret to a flavorful hummus is to cook the canned chickpeas (for the more adventurous cooks with plenty of hand-time, who start with the dried ones, you’ll already have the cooked “pea” water).  This will achieve two important things. One, it will provide you with the sacred pea water, and; two, it will soften the pea skins enough for you to remove them so that your hummus will be nice and smooth. Let’s get started!

For a party of up to 15

3 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 lemon

garlic, 3-4 lg. cloves (peeled, of course)

3-4 T. tahini (Mediterranean equivalent of American peanut butter)

1C. reserved, cooled pea water

salt to taste (I prefer sea salt, although Kaukab used regular, old Morton’s)

Olive oil (Xtra Virgin, preferrably)

In medium pot, put in chickpeas and cover with cold water. Cook chickpeas on med. to medium high, lid partially tilted. Cook to boil, then turn down to medium and cook another 15 minutes.  Remove from stove and pour 1C of liquid into measuring cup and let cool. Drain the cooked peas. Rinse with cold water, until cooled. Pick off any thin, clear pea skins and discard.

Into food processor, put chickpeas, 2-3 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2-3 T. tahini, 1/4 C. reserved, cooled pea water and pulse until fairly mashed. Pause, and scrape down. Add rest of garlic, 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. more salt, tahini, 1/4C. cooled pea water, 1/2 lemon, and pulse enough to make smooth, loose paste. Add more lemon, tahini, garlic to correct taste. You should taste the tahini in it. Use more pea water, if needs loosened. Kaukab’s hummus isn’t thick, like peanut butter. Pour finished hummus onto platter, or in bowl, and add finely-chopped parsley, a sprinkling of paprika, and a few whole chickpeas–barely inserted. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with pita bread, cut into small triangles.

 A word about adding spices, like cumin. I tend to avoid any discussion about this with Kaukab, since her usual response goes something like this: “We don’t do this. Only Americans do this. We don’t do it!” Personally, I like cumin. But, not in my hummus. In black bean or mango salsas? For sure.

Kaukab’s Green Beans w/Tomatoes

20 Jun


2lbs. fresh green beans (as fresh as supermarkets can provide)

1 lg. onion, finely chopped

2 whole cloves; peeled, of course

a small wedge or two of lemon

1 28oz. (or close to) can whole or crushed tomatoes. (4 or 5 med. fresh tomatoes, skinned and quarted, will also do effectively)

cinnamon, 1/4-1/2 tsp., depending upon amt. of green beans and taste

salt, 1/2tsp. to start, a bit more as cooks down and to adjust taste

cooking oil (I prefer Canola oil; you can use any veg. oil, but don’t use olive oil)

Water, to cover.

I think I should have stated earlier, but now’s as good a time as any…Take my measurements as estimates, only. Kaukab never measured (as stated earlier), and so, I learned to ascribe to her cooking method, as well. Cooking something new takes rehearsal. Eventually, you do it, relying on all your senses, rather than waiting for a bell to ring (much like Pavlov’s dog) to tell you when the food is done. Plus, my taste buds are home-grown. By that I mean, they were acclimated to my mother’s cooking, as yours was to your’s, so when you taste the “same” recipe, is it ever going to taste exactly as Kaukab’s? Not really. Not at least, according to Kaukab. Mine gets very close–an assertion mildly grating to my mother. But I’ve learned to compromise, and let her have her win. For a woman who defines herself by the extraordinary food she prepares for friends and family, it would be self-serving, and impish of me to grant her anything less. This conciliation (and confession, of sorts) has only come my way in recent years, and I believe I’m the better for it. Now, on to the green beans.

So, now that you have all the ingredients, let’s start.

Wash and string green beans. Drain and paper-towel dry. Snap beans in half.

In pot, pour enough oil in bottom of pot to just come up the sides. Heat oil over med. high heat. Throw in the chopped onions and cook until nearly transluscent. Toss in the green beans and cinnamon, stirring with the onions until green beans begin to turn yellowish–up to 5min, maybe. (This is where you’re going to start learning to use your eyeballs.) Then add tomatoes. If whole, or fresh, break them up in the pot. Stir around.

 Add water, enough to cover beans about an inch, or so, above them. Add salt.   Cover with lid, partially tilted. Once boiling, stir, and then return lid (partially tilited, of course) and turn down heat to medium. Let cook about 30 min. and check for liquid reduction. Stir. Add more salt, if needs. Turn down heat to med. low. Squeeze a wedge or two of lemon, for a bright note of flavor. Continue cooking until tomato liquid is rich red and somewhat thickened–usually an additional 20 -30 min.

In Mid-Simmer


Serve with pita bread. Of course.  As an aside: These beans are really good served cold, or at room temperature the next day. With pita bread.

Aprons make food taste better.

14 Jun

Those are my hands, and my new snazzy 1940’s-ish apron that I bought for myself a few weeks before cooking up a wonderful Christmas dinner–a portion of which is being held by said hands. I got one just like it (the apron, not the hands) for a my dear childhood friend, and the deal was was that we’d each take a photo of ourselves, in our aprons, our lips swathed in 1940’s red lipstick.  I wanted to put my hair in an updo, but by the time I had remembered the deal, Christmas dinner had already begun. I made everyone at the table wait until I hurriedly ran up to the bedroom to locate some 1940’s red lipstick and donn my adorable June Cleaver-apron.  Then we ate.

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