Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sweet and Salty Bacon and Nuts

 This is the ultimate snack mix.  We're talking almonds, walnuts, and chunks of bacon coated in a sweet, salty, and spicy mixture.  Each bite is a delightful taste sensation! A crunchy lip-smacking time is sure to ensue. I had a hard time walking away from this snack mix. I found myself going back for another bite, and another, and know how that story ends!

I've made a lot of spiced nuts and/or candied nuts in the past, but as far as I'm concerned this is THE RECIPE. The ratio of sweet, salty, and spicy is right on and each piece is evenly coated. There are no duds in the bowl, if you know what I mean.  Lastly, BACON...hello! Bacon makes everything better and it definitely makes this snack mix better.

If you're going to make a nut mix this holiday season then please do yourself a favor and make this one! It's my favorite by a long shot.

Sweet and Salty Bacon and Nuts
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6-8

8 to 9 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup raw almonds 
1 cup halved walnuts
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large skillet until brown and crisp, 8 to 9 minutes.  Remove the bacon using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour 1/4 cup of the bacon fat on a heavy rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. 

Beat the egg white and salt until just foamy using a whisk in a medium bowl.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until just blended.  Add the almonds, walnuts, and cayenne pepper.  Toss until the nuts are coated. 

Spread the nut mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake until the nuts are crisp and brown, about 35 minutes, turning and stirring the nut mixture with a metal spatula every 10 to 15 minutes (this is a very important step to ensure each nut is coated evenly with the mixture).  Cool for 2 hours.  

Transfer the nut mixture to a bowl; add the bacon pieces and toss to blend.  This recipe can be prepared 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Theme: November Potluck!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta and Black Olives

Walk into any grocery store this time of year and you'll be greeted with larger than life displays of sweet potatoes. You know what I'm talking about. A huge table with hundreds of sweet potatoes rocketing out of buckets, baskets, and/or barrels.  This avalanche of sweet potatoes explodes downward onto the table towards all the typical sweet potato accompaniments (brown sugar, marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, pecans, and jars of cinnamon).  Now I won't argue that these ingredients aren't delicious on a sweet potato but I will argue that sweet potatoes can be so much more than sweet. They can be just as wonderful served savory.

So now that we're thinking outside the box, let's bake our sweet potatoes and top them with some savory Mediterranean inspired ingredients.  Tangy crumbles of feta cheese mixed with a combination of rich salty olives and a spicy red chile marinating in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and fennel and coriander seeds.  It's one colorful combination that delivers a unique flavor sensation.  The sweetness of the potato is a nice contrast to the bright flavor of the salty olives, the tangy feta cheese, and the hint of spice from the red hot chile.  It's a complex dish that delivers sweet, salty, savory, and spicy. Save the brown sugar and marshmallows for dessert.  Trust me.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta and Black Olives
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
By Diana Henry
Serves 4

For The Sweet Potatoes
4 medium sweet potatoes
a little olive oil
black pepper
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

For the Marinated Feta
7 ounces of feta cheese, roughly broken up
4 ounces of kalamata olives
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 medium red hot chili, deseded and cut into slivers
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
extra virgin olive oil

Make the marinated feta mixture first so the flavors have time to meld.  Combine the feta, olives, fennel seeds, chili, garlic, coriander seeds in a small bowl.  Drizzle feta mixture with enough extra virgin olive oil to moisten it.  Cover and store this mixture in a cool place while the potatoes bake to allow the flavors to meld.

Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins in an oven preheated to 350F.  They should be just tender, which will take about 50 minutes, but do check with a skewer - it really depends upon the size of your potatoes.

When the potatoes are cooked, split them open lengthwise, like you would a baked potato.  Sprinkle with a little oil and freshly ground black pepper, and fill with the marinated feta.  Sprinkle each potato with roughly chopped cilantro and serve.

Theme: Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chickpea Saute with Creamy Harissa Sauce

This week we introduced a brand new theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs.  Mystery Box Madness will be a new theme that runs each month.  During Mystery Box Madness week, participants will create a dish using at least three of the ten mystery box ingredients.  This week's ingredients were harissa, eggs, saffron, pumpkin, maple syrup, dates, rose water, oranges, spinach, and chickpeas.  Participants can also chose a recipe from any of our eleven IHCC chefs.  

Now that I've explained the mystery box portion it's time to talk about the madness.  Decision making is not my strong suit. In fact, I'm quite sure anyone is better at decision making than me.  So when I think about ten possible ingredients and the recipes of eleven chefs... well, it's almost as if my mind is afire with possibilities.  Which three ingredients will I chose? How many different ways can I combine them? Who should I cook with? Can I use more than three ingredients? What if I tried to use all the ingredients and make a three course meal? Madness.  Sheer Madness.

Finally I ran out of time and had to come up with something and here it is.  The ingredients reminded me of the six months we spent cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi so I picked up one of his cookbooks.  When I saw his recipe for Chickpea Saute with Greek Yogurt I was sold.  A quick mixture of chickpeas, carrots, spinach, herbs, and warm spices topped with a cool tangy yogurt.  The recipe did not include harissa, but I decided to add it into both the veggie mixture and also into the yogurt topping.  I also added a sliced hard-boiled egg on top for some additional color and protein.

So here I am squeaking in at the last minute with this hearty vegetarian main dish.  This dish is very comforting and satisfying without weighing you down.  Very much like a lightly spiced veggie chili topped off by a very zesty and creamy harissa sauce.  I'm looking forward to the leftovers already! 

Chickpea Saute with Harissa Sauce
Adapted from Plenty
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4

3/4 pound (8 cups) Swiss Chard, Kale or Spinach
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons cumin
1-1/2 cups freshly cooked chickpeas 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon olive oil
hard-boiled egg, for garnish

Separate the chard, or kale, stalks from the leaves.  Blanch the stalks in plenty of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Add the leaves and continue cooking for 2 minutes, then drain everything.  Refresh under cold running water and squeeze dry, then chop roughly.  (If using spinach no precooking is necessary.  Roughly chop the spinach and it can be added directly to the pan with the chickpeas).

Heat up the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan.  Add the carrots, caraway seeds, and cumin and saute for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Add the chard, kale, or spinach along with the chickpeas and continue cooking for 6 minutes.  Now add the garlic, herbs, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of harissa.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to incorporate.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

To serve, mix together the yogurt, the additional 2 tablespoons of harissa, 1 tablespoon olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Pile the vegetables on serving dishes and spoon the harissa/yogurt sauce on top.  Garnish with slices of hard boiled egg, if desired.

Theme: Mystery Box Madness

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mangoes with Orange Blossom Syrup and Sweet Labneh

Some people are organized. They write weekly menus, always remember their appointments, and plan everything.  Then there are those of us who fly by the seat of their pants.  No organization whatsoever.  That would be me. 

So it should come as no surprise that I didn't plan for this recipe.  Labneh, a firm white cloud of strained Greek yogurt, is a beautiful thing, but it takes 24 hours to make.  You have to actually plan for it.  I have high hopes that one day I'll get my act together and make labneh in advance.  Until then, I will continue to use Greek yogurt as a replacement.  It certainly works in a pinch!

This is really a beautiful and somewhat exotic dessert.  Ripe juicy mango served with a side of creamy sweetened Greek yogurt, a heavenly syrup scented with orange flower water, and a sprinkling of crushed pistachios.  The sweet orange fragrance, the juicy mangoes, and the sticky syrup all make this dessert a little on the seductive side.  It's the type of thing that keeps you begging for more.
Mangoes with Orange Blossom Syrup and Sweet Labneh
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
by Diana Henry
Serves 4

3 just ripe mangoes
finely chopped pistachios for serving

For The Labneh
1-1/2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
10oz Greek yogurt

For The Syrup
6 tablespoons orange blossom honey
3 tablespoons orange juice
a good squeeze of lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons orange flower water

 To make the labneh:  Add the sugar and cinnamon to the yogurt, put into a sieve lined with cheesecloth, and set it over a bowl in the fridge.  Let the yogurt drain for 24 hours, giving it a little help every so often by picking up the bag and squeezing it.

To make the syrup:  Gently heat the honey, orange, and lime juices together in a small saucepan.  Once the honey has melted, boil for 1 minute.  Add the orange flower water and taste.  Leave to cool.

Peel the mangoes and, using a really sharp knife, neatly slice the cheeks from each side of the stone.  Working along the shape of the stone, slice the flesh off the sides.  Cut the mango flesh into neat slices, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick, and pile them on top of each other on different plates.

Peel the cheesecloth from around the labneh, then divide it into quarters.  It isn't important, but the cheesecloth leaves such beautiful markings on the labneh that it's nice not to spoil it.  Put a chunk of labneh beside each plate of mangoes, spoon the syrup over the top, and scatter with pistachios.  
Theme: Stock Your Exotic Pantry

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Farareej Mashri {Eqyptian Grilled Chicken}

Sometimes it's the name of the recipe that catches your attention.  Farareej Mashri, or Egyptian Grilled Chicken, is definitely catchy.  One quick look at the list of ingredients and I was sold!  Boneless chicken thighs marinated in twelve cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, and lemon that's a recipe for success.