Moroccan Muhammara

This is a delicious crowd pleasing recipe courtesy of my friend and neighbour Geoff.  He brought it over twice, and twice it was gobbled up in no time.

It sounds exotic and it tastes exotic but basically it translates to: red pepper and walnut spread.  This good-for-you recipe is also easy to make. Which in my estimation is always a plus.

What you need:

3 Roasted Red Peppers (from a jar or if you dare to, roast them yourself)

1 cup of walnuts (using chopped in bulk is fine)

2 slices of good quality whole wheat bread

1/2 tsp cumin

2 big cloves of garlic

2 Tbs Pomegranate molasses. (available from Persian Food stores or Middle Eastern markets).

Juice of 1 lemon (or more, to taste)

Salt + Pepper to taste

Directions:

Geoff cooks by trial and error so he recommends breaking the process down into parts to get the texture and taste you’re looking for.

Preheat the oven to 350, and toast the walnuts on a cookie sheet for about 10 mins or until they become fragrant.

Start by whizzing the peppers, garlic, cumin, pomegranate molasses, and lemon juice in a food processor, then pour  (it will be pretty liquidy) into a separate bowl.

Then process the toasted walnuts until they’re almost like coarse breadcrumbs.

Take them out of the blender and reduce the bread to coarse breadcrumbs.

Gradually mix the whizzed pepper and crumbed bread into the walnuts checking the texture as you go.  You may want more or less breadcrumbs.  Keep blending until you have something like a smooth pâté.  If you try to do everything together, you’ll end up with that smooth pâté, or something more like a dip than a spread.  The processing can end up getting out of control very quickly….

Again, you can process part of the walnuts and part of the bread till they’re fine, then do the rest more coarsely if you like.  It’s an experiment every time!!!

At the end you go by taste and fold in more molasses and/or lemon juice if needed until you get it right – to your liking.

Serve with pita bread.

Trust me; you’ll like it!

 

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Healthy Snack: Harvest Fruit and Vegetable Strips

My food posts have been in remission since I’ve been traveling. fruitstrip1Which means I haven’t been cooking as much as I normally do.  It’s hard when you move around from place to place and while it’s great to eat out I do prefer to make most of my meals at home.  I just started cooking again and trying to incorporate some wholesome meals.  But what about snacks and something sweet?  I love chips, chocolate, gummies, ice cream, popcorn……etc.  Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

Speaking of sweets I’m laughing to myself right now because I just received a text from a friend who read my Palm Springs post and asked “did you really buy a pied-à-terre or was it a Pomme de Terre?” Funny.

Thought I’d re-start my food post with something simple, tasty and with fewer ingredients that are cleaner than most store-bought varieties.  This version taken from Vista Magazine includes vegetables, which don’t really affect the taste but add an extra punch of nutrition.fruitstrip3

Ingredients:

4 medium sized apples, peeled and roughly chopped (galas are perfect for their sweetness)

1 small beet, peeled and sliced

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 cup chopped kale leaves

2 Tbsp. honey

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 200F and line a 12”x18” rimmed baking tray with a Silpat (silicone) baking sheet or parchment paper.
  • Put the apples, blueberries, beet, and 2 tablespoons water in a medium sized lidded pot and cook over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the apples and beet have softened. Stir occasionally to make sure the fruit doesn’t start to burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Place the cooked fruit and veggies in a blender with the kale and honey and blend until smooth.
  • Pour mixture onto your prepared tray and spread evenly. Giving the whole tray a gentle jiggle can help.  (It will look quite thick at this stage but thickness will decrease once it’s dried.)
  • Bake in the oven for 5-6 hours, until dry to the touch.
  • Allow to cool on the tray, then cut into 2 inch wide strips.
  • Roll up the strips and keep in a sealed container at room temperature. They will keep for at least one month.  Makes 6.

Hope you like it.  Your feedback is always appreciated.

 

 

simply satisfying – Pecan Squash Butter

GOOD GOURD.  Winter squash comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes and tastes.

Acorn & Butternut
Acorn & Butternut – 2 favourites

It’s always fun to incorporate a new variety into your winter menu.  No matter which gourd you gravitate toward, make sure that it is heavy for its size, with taut skin and no soft spots or cracks.

Low-calorie winter squash contains an impressive slew of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, fibre, and beta carotene. Beyond its function as a potent antioxidant, beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body to boost immunity and eye health. A recent study also found that higher intakes of beta carotene could help reduce the risk for atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat.

Pecan Squash Butter
Pecan Squash Butter

Ridiculously Easy Recipe:

Use this healthy & heavenly spread on your morning toast, slices of apple, or pieces of dark chocolate.

2 cups (500 ml) pecans

2 Tbsp (30 ml) melted coconut oil or other oil of choice

2 Tbsp (30 ml) honey

1 Cup (250 ml) squash puree

1/2 tsp. (2 ml) cinnamon

1/4 tsp. (1 ml) nutmeg

Place pecans, oil, and honey in container of food processor or high-powered blender and blend on high until mixture becomes creamy, about 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the machine you are using.  Wipe down sides as needed during blending.  If mixture is not becoming smooth enough, add a little extra oil to help smooth it out.

Place squash, cinnamon, and nutmeg in container and blend until smooth.  Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Serves 12

Selecting a Squash:

Acorn
This guise of squash gleans its name from the tree nut it resembles and has mostly dark green skin, with yellow-orange flesh that has subtle taste notes of black pepper and hazelnuts.

Try it: Roasted acorn halves are perfect for stuffing with various grain salads. Adorn acorn slices with syrup reduction sauces, such as balsamic or pomegranate.

Buttercup
This squash has a hard green skin with creamy orange flesh and turbanlike shape. It’s one of the sweetest tasting varieties.

Try it: Buttercup’s natural sweetness is a welcome addition to soups and other purées, such as baked goods or dips.

Butternut
Hourglasslike butternut is blessed with a silky texture and taste reminiscent of sweet potato bathed in butter.

Try it: Roast or steam into cubes for a nutritious and tasty addition to salads, frittatas, and tacos. Or mash it and use as a stuffing for ravioli, a spread for sandwiches, or even as a pizza sauce.

Delicata
The oblong delicata has a pale yellow skin and is not too shy to show off its green strips. The pulp is creamy and tastes a bit like a love child of corn and sweet potatoes.

Try it: Slice in half lengthwise and use as a squash boat for all sorts of stuffings. Roasted slices with a butter maple syrup glaze will quickly turn into a favourite winter side dish. Unlike other squash, delicata’s thinner skin is edible once cooked.

Hubbard
This giant of the squash world is available in blue-grey, green, or orange-red varieties, all with warty skin and grainy, mildly sweet flesh.

Try it: Cut into cubes and string onto kebab skewers or toss with other seasonal items such as parsnips and rutabaga for a roasted vegetable medley.

Spaghetti
Watermelon-shaped with golden yellow rind, this squash is aptly named—once cooked, the flesh pulls apart into slightly nutty, spaghetti-like strands.

Try it: Toss strands with pesto or top with meat sauce for a twist on pasta night.

Taken from alive – Canada’s Natural Health and Wellness Magazine.

Do you have a squash fave?

simply satisfying – oysters on the half shell

Many prefer them ‘as is’ but I like mine with lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce & tabasco.

oysters1Fresh oysters on the half-shell – love them or leave them?  On a hot summer afternoon with a nice glass of vino blanco or bubbly they make for a decadent happy hour. What about all the other months? Turns out they might be better.

All About Oysters: only eat oysters in the months with a letter ‘R’.

Exactly when and where the ‘R’ rule first appeared is a bit of a debate; but historically, for health and conservation practices, it was best to refrain from eating oysters during warm water months. During the warmer months, as ocean temperatures rise, oysters naturally tend to spawn or reproduce.  For conservation practices, wild oysters were not harvested during the spawning seasons.  In earlier times (c. 1700-1800’s, pre-refrigeration) it was dangerous to ship and, ultimately consume, oysters that sat out in the heat.

An oyster for all seasons: now, because of sustainable farming practices, strict water quality monitoring and advanced wet storage techniques it is healthy, and safe, to consume farmed oysters all year long. Yet oysters remain a sensitive species whose quality and nature fluctuate with the seasons.

To those people who love oysters, there is little that can compare with a cold, plum, raw oyster that is sipped from its shell. Serve with a *homemade cocktail sauce (see recipe) and it is perfect!

When purchasing remember to keep the unopened oysters cold but do not store in water! Oysters are alive and need to breathe, so never seal them tightly in a plastic bag.

Open (shuck) shortly before serving – not more than 2 hours. The colder the oyster, the easier it is to shuck. Keep oysters cold at all times, partly for safety and very much to enhance flavor and texture.  

 How to Shuck an Oyster + recipe

How to Shuck an Oyster+ recipe

  • Make sure to take extra care with your knife when shucking, with the bade facing away from you. Also make sure your oysters are scrubbed clean (most of the oyster farms do this for you).
  • Using a clean towel or glove, hold the oyster down with one hand with the opening facing away from you. Stick your oyster knife through the back of the oyster (the hinge) with the blade angled down. Twist the knife upward to pop the hinge.
  • Slide the knife along the length of the shell at the opening and twist the knife again at the opposite side to remove the top shell.
  • Starting on the left, sweep the knife underneath the oyster to loosen the meat from the shell. Check for any pieces of broken shell and remove, being careful not to lose too much of the liquid. Serve on ice with horseradish or cocktail sauce.

Tips for shucking taken from Goop.com

TO PURCHASE OYSTERS – WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

  • When choosing oysters at the market, make sure that they are fresh. If one is open (which it shouldn’t be) it should snap shut emphatically once tapped. If an oyster doesn’t close immediately, don’t buy or use it.
  • Oysters should fee heavy and full in your hand. Oysters lose moisture once they are removed from the sea. The heaviness suggests that they are freshly harvested. Oyster tip: Tap two oysters together or one to the other. If there is a hollow sound, the oyster is dead.  If the sound is solid, the oyster is alive.
  • Fresh oysters should smell sweet and briny like the sea.

HOW TO EAT OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL:  

You can either use a little fork to pick the oyster out, or you can do like most people do and slurp them out of their shell into your mouth. Cradle the shell in a hand, grasping it with your thumb and first two fingers. Some people look for what they call the “sipping lip” part of the shell before planting their lips on it. When ready, slurp up the oyster, savoring the taste in your mouth. Drink up the salt-watery juice in the shell, too. It’s part of the treat! Eat the entire oyster in a single slurp. Remember, you don’t want to see what is inside an oyster. You just want to taste it!

SIMPLE HOMEMADE COCKTAIL SAUCEcocktail sauce

1/2 cup ketchup (or chilli sauce)

2 Tbsp. hot cream-style horseradish

1/4 tsp. granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

2 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

4 drops tabasco or your favorite hot sauce

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced


In a small bowl, mix all the in
gredients together to taste, cover and chill until ready to serve and to develop flavor.  Makes 2/3 cup.

oyster2OYSTERS 101:

Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters taste alike. Some are brinier, some are creamier, some are leaner, some are fatter, and some even have a “fruity” taste, vaguely suggestive of cucumber and melons. Some of the differences in taste have to do with the species, but mostly it has to do with the temperature of the waters in which they are harvested; as well as the oyster’s fabled muscle, which constantly opens and closes to allow a flow of water and nutrients.

 

Muscle Over Matter

While oysters are famously immobile — once an oyster finds its rock, there it remains — they do have a powerful muscle that opens and shuts its gnarly shell. Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters are created equal. First of all, there are several species. Perhaps the best known oysters are those originating from the waters off the East Coast — from Nova Scotia all the way down to the gulfstream waters from Florida to Texas — that are often called Bluepoints (although Bluepoints technically come only from New York’s Long Island).

Not sure what type of oyster is best for you?   Check the link below to find your ‘PERFECT MATCH.”

http://www.oysterguide.com/book/what-kind-of-oyster-eater-are-you/

Fun Fact: You’ve heard the phrase “the world is your oyster.”  Where does it come from?

Origin: It comes from Shakespeare – The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600). The world is the place from which one can extract success and profit, as a pearl can be extracted from an oyster.

You are in a position to take the opportunities that life has to offer.
“I can do anything I want to, the world’s my oyster.”

simply satisfying – grilled eggplant salad

Roasted_Eggplant_with_Tomatoes_and_Feta_Grilled Eggplant (or aubergine as it is called in France) with Tomatoes, Basil & Feta.

This is a delicious side dish or a satisfying vegetarian main course. Serves 4

These strange, beautiful, glossy purple vegetables are truly unique.  An eggplant’s taste is particularly hard to pinpoint, other than a satisfyingly sweet bitterness. Its texture is like a chameleon and can range from gooey to spongy to slippery. But it is one vegetable that has so much potential so if you work with it properly you’ll learn to love it.

1 large eggplant, trimmed, cut lengthwise into 1-inch thick pieces.

Course salt

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

2 cups cherry tomatoes (about 10 ounces), halved

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn

1. Generously season eggplant slices with salt.  Place vertically in a colander, overlapping them.  Let stand 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry. (*Eggplants contain a lot of moisture, which can ruin any dish. The trick to not having a bad eggplant dish is to prep eggplants in advance, by sweating and draining its extra water content.)

2. Preheat grill to medium high.  Liberally brush cut sides of eggplant with oil.  Grill, turning once, until tender, about 4 minutes a side. Or if you prefer you can roast the eggplant.

Mix tomatoes, pine nuts, feta, red pepper flakes and oil.  Season with salt.  Spoon over eggplant and top with torn basil leaves.

*Every Italian grandma knows that you must remove excess water from an eggplant – they contain a lot of extra moisture. Doing so not only   dramatically reduces unwanted wateriness in a dish,  but it also enhances the true essence of the taste.  By sweating out the additional moisture, you also remove some of that extra bitterness taste. This leaves the eggplant tasting more sweet and pure.

Health Benefits: In addition to featuring a host of vitamins and minerals, eggplants contain important phytonutrients, rich in phenolic antioxidant compounds.

As a side with salmon & thinly sliced yukon gold potatoes with malt vinegar salt.
As a side with salmon & thinly sliced yukon gold potatoes with malt vinegar sea salt.

Do you have a favourite eggplant dish?

Simple & Satisfying – Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Last week I promised this very simple (only 3 ingredients) recipe which you can add to Moroccan chicken, spicy lamb, seafood dishes or just use the juice in salad dressings.preserved lem - Copy

Lemons loose their sharpness when preserved in salt.  The unique flavour and silken texture that develops when you use this technique is a characteristic of North Africa,  especially Moroccan cooking.  Yet the lemons also make a novel addition to non-Moroccan dishes.  You will find that these lemons are easy to prepare and thin-skinned lemons yield the most juice.

Traditionally, only the peel of the preserved fruit is used, but I usually include the flesh as well and you can eat the whole thing.  Once the jar has been opened, the fruit will keep for up to 1 year unrefrigerated (don’t worry if a lacy white film appears on top of the jar or on the lemons, as it is quite harmless – simply rinse it off); a layer of olive oil floated on the surface will help to preserve freshness.  When it comes time to use one of these lemons just rinse & chop it.

Ingredients

7 Tablespoons coarse salt  (you use 1 Tbsp of salt per lemon)

7 plump, juicy lemons, preferably thin-skinned

Boiling Water

Put 1 tsp. coarse salt in the bottom of a clean, dry jar.  Holding a lemon over a plate to catch the juice, cut lengthwise 4 times as if about to quarter it, but do not cut quite through – leave the pieces joined.  Ease out any seeds.

Pack 1 Tbsp. salt into the cuts, then close them up around the salt and put the lemon in the jar.  Repeat with 5 more lemons, packing them tightly and pressing each layer down to expel any air before adding the next layer, until the jar is full.

Squeeze another lemon and pour the juice over the rest of the lemons.  Sprinkle with more coarse salt and finally pour in boiling water to cover the lemons.

Close the jar tightly and keep in a warm place for 3 to 4 weeks before using.

Give me your feedback after you try them because I’m sure you’ll LOVE them.

SALTS:  There is no difference between kosher salt and rough sea salt.  Many cooks prefer to use kosher salt because its larger rough size crystals is simply more convenient and practical for certain kinds of food preparation such as this one.

The only differences between kosher salt and nearly every other sort of salt lie in the shape and size of its crystals, not its chemical makeup. Almost all salt has an identical chemistry. Some are smoked, or have trace elements of minerals that change their taste or color, but any differences between “kosher” and “sea” salt, provided the shapes of their crystals are the same, are purely in the labeling.  In general Kosher salt and flakier, more delicate salts that melt nicely on the tongue, tend to be used as finishing salts, adding the last crunchy, salty touch to a dish. Table salt is used more for seasoning a dish while still in process.

*Recipe taken from Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden (250 recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys and sauces).  This has been my guide book for making jams, hot pepper sauces & mustards.  It’s an exceptionally useful book in both my opinion and that of the Daily Mail, UK.