I admit that I am not the world’s best food writer or photographer. Maybe I will get a little better over time, or maybe not. I won’t spend too much time or energy fretting about it.
I mostly started this blog odyssey just for my self and my own sanity. I have so many cookbooks and so many recipes bookmarked on the internet (hello!! my epicurious.com recipe box has close to 800 recipes in it) that I would lose track of where my favorite recipes were from and what recipes I had already tried. It also gives me a way to link friends to the recipes I’ve made and my thoughts on the books I read.
I have a Crock Pot that I got as a wedding or shower gift from my mother. I like to break it out every few months to cook dinner on the weekend. My commute to work and working schedule being what it is, slow cooker meals aren’t really something I can do on weekdays…since I am away from the house for too long. So…weekends it is.
This Caribbean Beef Stew has an interesting combination of flavors and is loaded with great color and texture.
Caribbean Beef Stew
- 1 lb stew beef
- 3 1/2 cups diced butternut squash (or pumpkin)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 cup beef broth
- 14 oz canned chopped tomatoes
- 14 oz canned pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
- 14 oz canned black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
- salt and pepper
- Trim visible fat off beef, then dice the meat into 2 inch pieces.
- Heat a large heavy pan without adding any oil. Add the meat and cook, stirring constantly for a few minutes until browned all over.
- Stir in the pumpkin, onion, and bell pepper and cook for 1 minute, then add the paprika, cayenne, broth, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil.
- Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 7 hours.
- Add the pigeon peas and black-eyed peas to the stew and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Re-cover and cook on high for 30 minutes.
Dips can be mega-easy to make and can usually be prepared a day or so ahead of when they are served…and be all the better for being prepared ahead since it gives time for the flavors to meld and develop. I am all for not going completely crazy on the day of an event. (even though despite all my prep work ahead of time I do still tend to veer towards the loony bin in the hour leading up to a party…someday I will learn to calm down, really!)
I found the original version of this recipe on Epicurious.com but altered it since at the time I didn’t have whole cumin or caraway seeds on hand. This Roasted Pepper and Garlic dip takes a little more work than some other dips, that are basically one step of throwing everything in a bowl and mixing it. For this dip you first oven roast a red pepper and garlic cloves. These roasted veggies are then blended with the remaining dip ingredient to create a lovely orange dip with a ton of flavor.
Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Dip
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 small head garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne/red pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 450 F
- Quarter bell pepper lengthwise and discard stem, seeds, and ribs. In a shallow baking pan arrange quarters skin sides up.
- Separate garlic cloves, leaving skins intact. Wrap together in foil. Add garlic package to pan with bell pepper and bake in upper third of oven 20 minutes.
- When cool enough to handle, peel pepper and transfer to a blender. Remove garlic from foil and squeeze pulp into blender.
- Add remaining ingredients to blender and puree until smooth.
- Serve with veggies such as carrot sticks, zucchini spears, fennel crudites, or celery sticks.
Dip can be made 5 days ahead and chilled, covered.
Kofta Kebabs have been a favorite of my husband’s since he was a little boy growing up in Pakistan. For those who don’t know kofta are kebabs made of spiced ground meat. We make them several times a month in our house….all different varieties. I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes. I found this recipe in FOOD Everyday magazine. I tweaked the amounts on the spices a little bit to meet our taste preferences.
The recipe came together fairly easily and is perfect for a weeknight meal. Give them a try if you are looking for something new to add to your dinner rotation!
Middle Eastern Chicken Kofta Pockets
(adapted from FOOD Everyday magazine)
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- pita pockets, for serving
- lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and sliced cucumber, for serving
Minted Yogurt Sauce
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- coarse salt
- ground black pepper
- Heat broiler, with rack in highest position.
- In a large bowl, combine chicken, egg whites, breadcrumbs, onion, cilantro, garlic, salt, and spices and mix until well blended.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil.
- Divide chicken mixture into 8 portions and place on sheet. Shape each into an oval patty and use your hand to flatten slightly. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over patties.
- Broil until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until cooked though, about 4 minutes more.
- Yogurt Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, mint and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve patties in pita pockets with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and yogurt sauce.
I was looking for a starter that was super easy, festive looking and didn’t take up excessive amounts of space in the fridge (fridge space is precious during the holidays!!). I found it in this Mexican layered dip. We’ve all have layered dips and they come in varying degrees of difficulty. This one was pretty simple using some prepped items but letting you feel like you were kind of making it from scratch. (I love to prepare things from scratch but occasionally like tho be able to take a few shortcuts.)
I altered a recipe from Bon Apetit’s Outdoor Entertaining cookbook by subbing veggie refried beans for the kind with bacon, upping the spices, and tweaking other ingredient amounts. The assembled dip looked bright and festive on the buffet table and received lots of comments from guests.
Mexican Layered Dip
(altered from recipe in Bon Appetit Outdoor Entertaining)
- 2 cans of vegetarian refried beans
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 1/2 cups guacamole
- 1/2 cup tomatillo salsa (salsa verde)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese (about 8 oz)
- 2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes with jalapenos, well-drained
- 3/4 cup chopped green onions
- 1 1/2 cups reduced fat sour cream
- 2/3 cups chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 small can sliced black olives, drained
- Tortilla chips
- Mix beans and chili powder in a medium bowl to blend.
- Mix guacamole, tomatillo salsa, and garlic in another medium bowl.
- Spread half of bean mixture in bottom of 8 – 10 cup glass bowl. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cheese.
- Spread guacamole mixture over. Spoon half of drained tomatoes over the guacamole.
- Sprinkle with green onions.
- Spread remaining bean mixture over.
- Stir sour cream in container to loosen. Spread over bean mixture, covering completely.
- Arrange cilantro, remaining cheese, olives, and remaining drained tomatoes in concentric circles on top of the sour cream.
- Cover; Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
- Serve dip with chips.
NOTE: Dip can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.
There aren’t too many vegetables, in my opinion, that are more refreshing than a cucumber. We eat cucumbers in some form with dinner at least twice a week, usually in a chopped salad…sometimes grated and mixed in yogurt for a nice raita. Cucumbers pair nicely with the spicy cuisine of Pakistan that we eat so often in our little house.
I love leafing through Indian cook books looking for inspiration. I took out the beautiful cookbook Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid from the library because I had heard such great things about the book. It is loaded with fantastic photography and tempting recipes from the Indian sub-continent. If you never heard of or seen this book and are at all into cooking or learning more about Indian food, then you should track down this book!
A recipe in the book for a spiced cucumber salad immediately jumped out at me as something I had to try. It is a salad made of chopped cucumbers tossed in a spiced mustard oil and yogurt dressing. I altered the recipe to work with the ingredients I had on hand instead of running out and buying some additional spices. The end result is still very impressive.
Spiced Cucumber Salad
(adapted from Mangoes and Curry Leaves)
- 1/2 pound English cucumbers
- 2 Tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard oil
- 1 green chili cut lengthwise
- pinch of cayenne powder
- pinch of tumeric
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons minced cilantro
- Cut cucumbers into quarters lengthwise and then cut again into 1.5 inch long pieces.
- Put cucumbers in a strainer/colander in the sink (or over a bowl) and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of salt. Let sit for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet, dry roast the sesame seeds until golden.
- In a small bowl, mix sesame seeds, cumin, and yogurt to make paste. Set aside.
- Rinse cucumbers with cold water. Squeeze them gently to get out any excess water. Put cucumbers in a bowl.
- Add spice paste to cucumbers and rub all over to coat them. Set aside.
- Heat mustard oil in skillet over medium heat. Add the green chili and cook for about a minute, stirring occasionally. Add the cayenne and tumeric and stir.
- Pour the flavored oil over the cucumbers and toss gently.
- Add the lemon juice and toss.
- Set aside for 10-20 minutes to let the flavors blend.
- Just before serving add the cilantro leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Toss gently to mix.
I am not sure if there is anything that much easier to make than cous cous. Basically it involves boiling water, stirring in some cous cous and removing from heat…waiting a few minutes and then fluffing the cous cous. That being said, plain old cous cous can be kind of…well…plain. But it is so simple to add some flavor to cous cous. One way, is to add some ingredients to the water you cook the cous cous in. For this recipe chicken broth, lemon zest and fresh thyme are added. This cous cous makes a good accompaniment for a chicken stew.
Lemon & Thyme Couscous
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 3/4 cups cous cous (about a 3/4 pound box)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- In a 2 to 2 1/2 quart heavy saucepan bring water, broth, thyme and zest to a boil.
- Stir in couscous.
- Cover pan and immediately remove from heat.
- Let couscous stand covered, 5 minutes.
- Fluff couscous with a fork and stir in oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Anytime we go to a Spanish restaurant, we always order the garlic shrimp tapas. These succulent little bites come in olive oil that has become infused with the flavor of the garlic and herbs the shrimp was sautéed in.
When I saw this recipe from Martha Stewart for garlic-jalapeno shrimp it seemed to be just our thing. While these shrimp aren’t Spanish cuisine, they are similar in many ways to the shrimp tapas we enjoy so much.
The garlic shrimp turned out to be an ideal weeknight dinner — quick & easy…allowing us to spend more of that precious limited evening time together as a family. I served it with a simple, colorful salad and a crusty loaf of bread I had baked the day before. Perfection! Okay, it would have been more perfect with a glass of wine, but unfortunately, our wine rack isn’t very well stocked these days.
These would also make a great appetizer course.
(From Martha Stewart Living May 2010)
- 20 large shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled and deveined
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 jalapeno (stem, ribs, and seeds removed), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- Toss together shrimp, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Marinate in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove shrimp from marinade, and add to skillet; cook through, about 2 minutes per side.