Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pasta with Spiced Chickpeas and Whipped Feta

The idea for this dish started with a Greek whipped feta recipe we discovered.  The feta is creamed with olive oil and lemon juice, and typically used as a dip or appetizer.  Here we use whipped feta as the "sauce" for a pasta with spiced chickpeas.  The flavors are distinctly Mediterranean, but unusual at the same time.

Pasta with Spiced Chickpeas and Whipped Feta

Pasta with Spiced Chickpeas

3             cups        chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2       cups        tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
3                            garlic cloves, minced
2             Tbs         fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4          cup         olive oil
1              lb           dried rigatoni pasta
                              sea salt and black pepper

Whipped Feta

1/2           lb           feta, crumbled
                              juice of 1/2 lemon
3              Tbs        olive oil
1/2            tsp        black pepper

  1. Combine chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, mint, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Let sit at least one hour at room temperature.
  2. Make Whipped Feta by combining all the ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.
  3. Cook pasta.  Drain and toss with a small amount of olive oil.  Top with spiced chickpeas, then a big dollop of whipped feta.  Eat while pasta is still hot.

Pasta with Spiced Chickpeas and Whipped Feta made the Foodbuzz Top 9 today! The Foodbuzz Top 9 is a photo-driven collection of top-buzzed posts within the Foodbuzz community.  Congratulations again, and thanks for being a part of Foodbuzz! 
Cheers, The Foodbuzz Editorial Team

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Silk Road Cauliflower Pilaf

There's a fine line in cooking between creativity and just plain weird.   If you look at the recipe below, you'll conclude that this pilaf falls into the latter category.  But we assure you that the flavors meld perfectly from the admittedly unusual combination of cauliflower, rice, marcona almonds, and raisins.   The Silk Road now stretches to Texas.

Silk Road Cauliflower Pilaf


1 1/2             cup            long-grain white rice
2                   Tbs            olive oil
2                   cups           vegetable stock
12                                   cardamom seeds (not powder)
1                   tsp             cumin seeds (not powder)
1/4                tsp             chopped dried chile pepper
                                       (we used Anaheim from the garden)
1                                     cinnamon stick
1                   tsp              sea salt
2                   cups            cauliflower florets
1/4                cup              Marcona almonds, chopped
1/2                cup              raisins

  1. Cook rice in the olive oil, stirring, over low heat until rice is coated with oil, about 1 minute.  Add stock, bring to a boil.  Add spices, salt and cauliflower.  Reduce to a simmer and cover. 
  2. Cook until rice is done, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and as many cardamom pods as you can find.  Add almonds and raisins and eat immediately.
Frank of the beautiful site Memorie di Angelina writes "Not so weird, really, but delicious yes! In Italian cooking the combination of cauliflower, raisins and pinoli nuts (often with saffron or anchovy added) is a classic one, often paired with pasta. It is found in dishes that come from Moorish influence."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hortaropita (Asian Greens, Feta and Filo Pies)

The spinach, chard, kale and other leafy green seedlings we started in October are growing extremely slowly.  They are so small that we have to keep digging them out from the pine needles and leaves our trees are constantly dumping on the garden.  The dramatic temperature fluctations we have been experiencing here in Texas are certainly not helping encourage seedling growth.

Amazingly, our Asian greens are still flourishing.   These greens seem almost indestructible.  We selected varieties that were developed for hot, tropical climates, and they produced heavily all summer.  We didn't expect them to survive once the temperatures dropped, so we have been pleasantly surprised that the plants are not only alive but thriving.  Although bred for heat, these greens are truly year-round vegetables for the Zone 9 garden.  If you live in a climate similar to ours, we strongly encourage you to include these greens in your garden next year.  If you want to learn more about the greens we are growing, click here.  Evergreen and Kitazawa both have excellent seed selections.

Since spinach from the garden seems but a distant dream, we are grateful for the abundance of Asian greens.  We have already used them to make delicious Lebanese PiesPasta with Goat Cheese and Eggplant and Spicy Tofu with Asian Greens.  Asian greens are an excellent substitute for spinach in all these recipes.  Here we use Komatsuna and Misome to make Turkish pies similar to spanakopita.   Thanks to Mae of the wonderful site, Peas Love Carrots, we now have a name for our pie -- Hortaropita.  As Mae writes, "it's a phyllo pie dish (pita), but not using the traditional spinach, but other "greens" (horta) instead".  Not traditional, but tasty none the less.

Hortaropita with Asian Greens, Feta and Filo


1 1/2             pounds                  Asian Greens, thick stems removed
                                                  (or spinach)
1/2                cup                        olive oil
1/2                cup                        butter (we used clarified)
1                   bunch                     scallions, white parts only,
                                                   finely chopped
3                                                 eggs
12                  oz                          feta
1/3                 cup                        Italian parsley, chopped
                                                   (we used fresh-picked parsley;
                                                    you may need more if you use
                                                   store-bought, which tends to have
                                                    less flavor)
1/3                 cup                         milk
1                                                  box (1 lb.) filo dough, defrosted
1                                                  egg yolk
1/8                cup                          milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350° convection (375° conventional).
  2. Blanche the greens in boiling water.  Drain, squeeze dry, then chop.
  3. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup butter over medium, then add greens and scallions.  Cook briefly, stirring (about 2 minutes).
  4. Let greens cool, then add feta, 2 eggs, and parsley.  Combine well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. In a pyrex measuring cup (or something with a spout), combine 1/4 cup melted but cooled butter with 1/3 cup whole milk, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1 egg.  Mix well.
  6. Spread a tiny amount of the butter mixture on a sheet pan, then layer 1 sheet of filo.  We pour the mixture on with the measuring cup, then spread with the back of a spoon.  You can also use a pastry brush if you have one. 
  7. Layer a single filo sheet on the buttered sheet pan, then spread a little more of the butter mixture on top of the filo.  Repeat until you have 10 layers of filo dough.
  8. Spread the mixture of greens and feta on top of the filo dough.  Evenly distribute.
  9. Use rest of filo dough to make a top for the pies, repeating the process of layering a single layer of dough, spreading butter mixture, then adding another layer of dough. 
  10. Mix 1 egg yolk with 1/8 cup whole mik, then use this as a glaze to cover the top layer of filo dough.  Before putting into the oven, cut your pie into triangles.  We used a pizza cutter for this, and ended up with 20 triangles.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower temperature to 300° convection (325° regular) and bake until top is browned and flaky.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Budin de Elote (Corn Pudding with Zucchini)

The weather here in Texas has been crazy.  One day the temperature is 40°, the next it's 75°.  As a result, we vacillate from craving hearty winter meals to wanting a quick summer supper.  Yesterday was a warm, balmy day so we opted for a summery "pudding" of corn and zucchini for dinner.  We have never grown corn due to it's demanding nature, and our zucchini harvest was a total bust thanks to the squash vine borers.  But although the vegetables in this dish all came from the grocery, the flavors reminded us of summer and the garden.   Made with heavy cream and egg yolks, this is definitely not low-fat, so perhaps despite the summer vegetables it contains, it is best to enjoy this dish during the winter when it is not swimsuit season.  Luckily, this pudding is so rich and filling, with a wonderful texture reminiscent of flan, that a little goes a long way. 

Budin de Elote (Corn Pudding with Zucchini)
adapted from the L.A. Times


3          cups            fresh corn, removed from ears
1 1/2    cups            zucchini, diced small
1/3       cup             unbleached A.P. flour
3                             eggs
3                             egg yolks
3         cups             heavy cream
2         tsp               sea salt
                               pyrex baking dish

  1. Heat oven to 350° convection (375° conventional).  Butter pyrex baking dish.
  2. Toss corn and zucchini with the flour until evenly coated, then spread on the bottom of baking dish.
  3. Combine eggs and yolks well.  Add cream and salt and combine well.
  4. Pour over vegetables and bake until lightly browned on top and center is not wobbly when you touch it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chickpea and Lentil Pilaf

Although only seasoned with cumin and red pepper, this dish has layers of complex flavors.  It is also loaded with protein, and makes an extremely filling, satisfying vegetarian meal.  We used fresh parsley from the garden for this dish, but the cold snap here in Texas which killed most of our summer vegetables has forced us to rely heavily on pantry items such as chickpeas and lentils lately.  I feel depressed every time I look out the window at our dead eggplant and basil plants, but I have to admit that it has been a welcome change to eat our version of "cold weather" meals such as soups, stews and dishes like this tasty pilaf.  And I'm cheered by the fact that we're already ordering eggplant and tomato seeds for next spring (which here in Houston is only 45 days away).

Turkish Chickpea and Lentil Pilaf
adapted from The Sultan's Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan


1/4           cup            dried green lentils
1/2           cup            chickpeas
4              Tbs            olive oil
3                                yellow onions, diced
2               tsp             sugar
1               Tbs            lemon juice
1/2            cup            sushi rice
1/4            cup            orzo
2                                 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1               Tbs            cumin
1                tsp             ground red pepper
2               cups           vegetable broth
1/4            cup            chopped Italian parsley

  1. Combine lentils with 2/3 cup water and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Saute onions with sugar in olive oil over low heat, covered, until tender.  Uncover and add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Increase heat to high and cook until onions are browned.
  3. Add rice and orzo and cook about 2 minutes.
  4. Add lentils, chickpeas, cumin, red pepper and stock.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook about 20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed. 
  5. Remove from heat, add parsley, and let stand covered about 5 minutes.
  6. Serve with thick Greek yogurt on the side.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cloud Pie

When we served desserts at our restaurant, this was always one of the best sellers.   Now it's a recipe we pull out at home when we want something really rich and decadent.  It's also one of the few desserts that everyone in the family loves, not something that occurs often thanks to all of our strong opinions and unusual dessert preferences (need we remind you of our ketchup sufganiyot?).

This is an odd recipe because it makes two pies, which was perfect for the restaurant but not always at home.  Since it's a difficult recipe to divide, we suggest you make one for yourself, and one to give away.   You'll have no problem finding eager recipients.  Or if you're like us, keep them both.  Top only the first one and store the extra baked pie untopped at room temperature until you've polished off the first pie. 

Chocolate Chip Cloud Pie


2 3/4         cups       unbleached A.P. flour
1 1/2         tsp          salt
1 1/4         tsp          baking soda
1               tsp          baking powder
1               cup         butter, room temp
1 1/2         cups        light brown sugar, packed
1/2            cup         granulated sugar
3                              eggs
1               Tbs         vanilla
3               cups        semi-sweet chocolate chips
2               cups        walnuts, chopped coarsely

(divide in 2 if you're going to top the pies one at a time)
4               cups        heavy cream
1/4            cup          powdered sugar, sifted
1/2            cup          mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Heat oven to 325° convection (350° standard).  Butter two pie pans (we use Pyrex).
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
  3. Cream butter with both sugars over medium high until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time.  Add vanilla.
  4. Add dry a little at a time.  Scrape down bowl so everything is well combined.  Add chips and walnuts and mix on  low until evenly distributed.
  5. Divide batter between two pans and smooth with a spatula.
  6. Bake until light golden brown on top.  Pies will be slightly firm, but still be a bit soft (don't overbake).  Cool completely.
  7. For topping, whip cream.  Once whipped, add powdered sugar and combine well on low.  Add chocolate chips.  Top pie(s) with whipped cream, then sprinkle more mini chocolate chips on top.
  8. Once pies are topped, they must be refrigerated.  Untopped, they store best at room temperature.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Eggplant compote with yellow split peas

Here we use the last Thai Long Green eggplants of the year.  This was definitely our favorite eggplant variety of the year -- beautiful, very productive and great taste.  Second place goes to Cloud Nine, even prettier and more productive but the fruits are smaller so a bit trickier to use in the kitchen.  Since both varieties are hybrids, we did not save seeds, but we will be sure to order Thai Long Green and Cloud Nine seeds for next year and we recommend that you do the same.

This dish is time-consuming, but well worth the effort.  It is inspired  by a Diane Kochilas recipe, but we adapted it to use our eggplants, basil and tomatoes.  A delicious weekend project.

Eggplant Compote with Yellow Split Peas


Split Peas
1        lb         yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
6        cups     water
2        cups     red onion, chopped
2/3     cup      olive oil
1                    bay leaf
2        tsp       sea salt
1/4     cup      fresh lemon juice

Eggplant Compote
1        lb        eggplant, sliced
1 1/4  tsp       sea salt
2        cups    tomatoes, peeled and diced
6        Tbs     olive oil
2                   yellow onions, diced
1        tsp      honey
2        Tbs     fresh basil, chopped
1/4     tsp      black pepper
2        tsp      balsamic vinegar


Split Peas
  1. Cook onions in 1/3 cup olive oil until soft.  Add split peas and mix well, then add water and bay leaf.  
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, partially covered, until peas have broken down, about 1 hour.
  3. Add salt and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until peas are thick and creamy.
  4. Discard bay leaf, add lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil, then cover and set aside to thicken.
Eggplant Compote
  1. Heat 3 Tbs olive oil over medium and saute eggplant until golden.  Flip and repeat.  Remove to paper towels to drain.
  2. In same pan, add 3 more Tbs olive oil and saute onions over low until soft and golden, about 20 minutes.  Add garlic and cook a few more minutes.  Add honey, then eggplant, tomatoes, basil, pepper and salt.  Simmer gently.
  3. Add vinegar at the end, then remove from heat.
  4. Serve warm compote on top of warm split peas.
Eggplant Compote with Yellow Split Peas made the Foodbuzz Top 9 today! The Foodbuzz Top 9 is a photo-driven collection of top-buzzed posts within the Foodbuzz community. Check it out here: Congratulations again, and thanks for being a part of Foodbuzz! Cheers,  The Foodbuzz Editorial Team

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Green Split Pea, Orzo and Yogurt Stew

    Last week's Red Lentil, Bulgur and Mint soup did in fact make it to the Be-Wiched Express menu this week.  And, the red lentil soup was such a perfect dinner that we decided to make another soup at home this week.  The recipe was inspired by a Turkish split pea soup, but we transformed the original into a thick vegetarian stew with green split peas, orzo and yogurt.  A delicious and filling dinner, with enough leftover for a second night. 

    Green Split Pea, Orzo and Yogurt Stew
    serves 4


    1           Tbs        olive oil
    1           Tbs        butter
    1                         yellow onion, diced
    1 1/2      cup        dried green split peas
    6            cups       vegetable stock
    1/4         cup        cornstarch
    1            Tbs        dried mint
    3             Tbs       heavy cream
    1             cup       orzo
    1             cup       thick Greek yogurt
                                salt and pepper to taste

    1. Melt butter and oil together in large sauce pan over meidum.  Add onion and saute until soft.  Add split peas and stock, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cover.  Cook until split peas are soft and broken down, about 1 hour.
    2. Puree until smooth.
    3. Cook orzo, drain and set aside.
    4. Combine cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water until smooth.  Add to soup, then bring soup to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce to a simmer, add mint, season with salt and pepper.  Add orzo and simmer until soup is thick.
    5. Remove from heat and add heavy cream.
    6. Serve with 1/4 cup dollop of yogurt in each bowl.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Apple Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

    The second night of Hannukah was a pot-luck dinner.  Our contribution was an apple cake from Dorie Greenspan's From My Home to Yours.  Although apples are traditionally associated with Rosh Hashanah, for us here in Houston it is just now cool enough to crave apples and other autumn desserts.  We stayed true to the recipe for the most part, but added a cream cheese icing instead of the sugary glaze in the original.  This amazingly moist and flavorful cake is easy to prepare, and will keep well for several days at room temperature if well-wrapped.

    Apple Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
    based on Dorie Greenspan's Double Apple Bundt Cake


    2             cups        unbleached A.P. flour
    2             tsp           baking powder
    1/2          tsp           baking soda
    1/2          tsp           cinnamon
    1/4          tsp           nutmeg
    1/4          tsp           ginger
    1/4          tsp           salt
    10           Tbs          unsalted butter, at room temp
    1 1/2       cup          sugar
    2                             eggs, at room temp
    1             cup          apple butter
    2                             red apples, peeled and grated
    1/2          cup          pecans, chopped
    1/2          cup          walnuts
    1/2          cup          dark raisins

    8             oz            cream cheese, at room temp
    1/4          cup          butter, at room temp
    1             cup          powdered sugar, sifted
    1/4          tsp           vanilla

    1. Preheat oven to 300 convection (350 regular), with shelf in the middle. 
    2. Butter and flour bundt pan.
    3. Combine first 7 ingredients, mix with a fork or whisk, and set aside.
    4. Cream butter and sugar on medium high until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating about 1 minute after each.
    5. Reduce speed to low and add apple butter.  Scrape sides and mix under well incorporated.  Batter will look ugly and curdled.
    6. Add grated apples and mix well.
    7. Add dry ingredients and mix on low until fully incorporated.  Don't overmix.
    8. Fold in nuts and raisins.
    9. Fill bundt pan, then bang on the counter several times to level.
    10. Bake straight on oven rack (no sheet pan) until cake is springy and knife comes out clean, about 1 hour in our convection oven at 300 (may be less in a conventional oven at 350).
    11. While cake is cooling, make icing:  mix butter and cream cheese until well combined and fluffy.  Add vanilla.  Then add powdered sugar.
    12. Because icing must be refrigerated, but cake is best stored at room temperature, do not ice the cake.  Instead, serve slices of cake with the icing on the side.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Ketchup Sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts)

    Sufganiyot are the jelly-filled doughnuts traditionally enjoyed during Hanukkah.  Our recipe is one the whole family can help out with.  And thanks to our younger son's obsession with ketchup, we have now established that it is in fact possible to make ketchup-filled sufganiyot.  Whether or not this is advisable depends on your desire for deep-fried ketchup balls.  The trick is to fill the doughnuts before frying so the ketchup is sealed inside.

    For the rest of the family, we filled our sufganiyot with blackberry preserves, strawberry preserves and nutella.   Although nutella is no more traditional than ketchup as a filling, it was everyone's hands-down favorite.   Ketchup.  Nutella.  A new Hanukkah tradition is born.



    1        cup           whole milk
    2        Tbs           granulated sugar
    1        tsp            salt
    2 1/2  tsp            active dry yeast
    4        Tbs           warm water
    3 1/2   cups         unbleached A.P. flour
                               (plus more for dusting)
    10       cups         vegetable oil
     2                        eggs
                               powdered sugar
                              fillings of your choice      

    1. Bring milk to a simmer, add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.  Remove from heat to cool to lukewarm.
    2. Dissolve yeast in warm water, stir until creamy, then let stand until foamy.
    3. In stand mixer with a dough hook, combine flour, 2 Tbs oil, eggs, milk and yeast mixture.  Mix on medium-high until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
    4. Coat ball of dough on all sides with flour in a large mixing bowl, then cover with a towel and leave somewhere warm to rise. 
    5. When dough is doubled in size (which took our dough about 45 minutes), roll out on a floured surface to 1/2" thick.  Cut out 2" circles -- we used a 1/4 cup measuring cup because we couldn't find our biscuit cutter.
    6. On one circle, create a depression with your finger and add 1 tsp of filling.  Place another circle of dough on top and pinch the edges all around.  Your circle will stretch out a bit, which is the idea.  Create a good seal all around, then press your cutter firmly on your doughnut to cut out a 2" circle.  Now the sides will be very well sealed.  Set on a silpat-lined sheet pan and use up rest of the dough.  You can re-roll out the scraps to make more doughnuts, and will end up with 20 or more doughnuts.
    7. Cover the doughnuts and let rise 30 minutes.
    8. While doughnuts are rising, heat your oil in a deep sauce pan.  The oil will only be about 3" high, which prevents your kids from getting burned from splattering oil.  When oil reaches 375 degrees, start frying the doughnuts.  We do one or two at a time.  They will immediately puff up and start browning.  Use a slotted spoon to keep them under the oil and flip them to brown evenly on both sides.  Remove to paper towels to dry.
    9. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (not the ketchup-filled doughnuts) and eat.
    Thanks to all of you who sent in suggestions for the ketchup sufganiyot.  Leo is eternally grateful.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Red Lentil, Bulgur and Mint Soup

    At our restaurant, we make six different soups from scratch every day.  David spends the morning tasting and refining each soup, a lengthy process, so he is totally sick of soup by the time he comes home.  This means we rarely cook soup at home even though we both love it.  Last night, the cold weather persuaded David to make an exception and the results were spectacular.  This Turkish soup was so good, in fact, that we may try to adapt it to make the large quantities required for the restaurant.  So perhaps, coming soon to a restaurant near you...

    Red Lentil, Bulgur and Mint Soup
    adapted from The Sultan's Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan
    serves 4


    2         Tbs         olive oil
    2         Tbs         unsalted butter
    1                        onion, diced
    2                        garlic cloves, minced
    2         Tbs         tomato paste
    1                        tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
    2         Tbs         paprika
    1/2      tsp          ground red pepper
    1 1/2   cups        red lentils
    1/4      cup         long-grain white rice
    6         cups       vegetable stock
    1.4      cup         fine-grain bulgur
    1         Tbs        dried mint
                             salt and pepper to taste

    2         Tbs       unsalted butter
    1         tsp        mint
    1/2     tsp         paprika

    1. Heat olive oil and butter in sauce pan over medium, and saute onions and garlic until soft but not brown.  Add tomato paste, fresh tomatoes, paprika and red pepper and stir.  Add lentils, rice and stock.  Cover and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until rice is cooked and lentils have broken down, about 35 minutes.  Add bulgur and mint, season with salt and pepper, and cook until bulgur is done, about 10 minutes.
    2. While soup is cooking, make the topping by melting butter over low.  Add mint and paprika and stir until the mixture sizzles.  Drizzle on top of each bowl of soup.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Boca Burger with Grilled Haloumi and Lemon

    Please check-out Jamie Dougherty's excellent write-up for The Examiner on easy homemade foodie gifts under $15.  It includes our recipe for Sage Salt, plus many other excellent ideas for the holidays.  

    We're getting ready for the first night of Hanukkah tomorrow, which means making sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) with the boys for our family celebration.  Our younger son wants to fill his sufganiyot with ketchup, his favorite condiment.  If anyone has any suggestions for how to make that work, they would be most welcome.

    We are in one of our busiest seasons at both the restaurant and the flower shop, which means long tiring days at work.  Add in all of our holiday preparations, and it's been a week for quick and easy dinners.  Boca burgers are one of our favorites for those nights because everything is on hand without running to the store.  Last night, we added grilled haloumi, lemons, and a lemon-garlic sauce for some fantastic "burgers".

    Boca Burger with Grilled Haloumi and Lemon
    serves 2


                     sourdough bread, sliced thickly
                     boca burgers (we use the "original")
                     defrosted, salt and pepper sprinkled on
                     both sides
                     olive oil
    1-2            lemons
    1               package haloumi cheese
    1               garlic clove, minced
    1/4            tsp sea salt
    1/4            tsp sugar

                     indoor electric grill

    1. Cut 4 very thin slices from a lemon.  Then juice the lemon(s) until you have 2 Tbs of juice.
    2.  Combine garlic, salt, sugar and lemon juice and whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and whisk until well combined.
    3. Slice the haloumi cheese so you have one or two slices per burger.
    4. Toss the haloumi slices and lemon slices in the lemon-garlic sauce. 
    5. Heat grill to high and grill haloumi and lemon slices until you see the grill marks.  Flip and repeat. 
    6. Lightly brush both sides of bread with olive oil and grill until you see the grill marks.
    7. In a saute pan, cook boca burgers over medium in olive oil under browned.  Flip and repeat.
    8. Assemble sandwiches, drizzling extra lemon-garlic sauce on the bread and boca burgers.  
    9. A word of warning:  We thought the lemon peels were too bitter, so after taking our first bite, we trimmed the peels before eating the rest of the sandwiches.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Lentils with Fried Onions

    Mujaddara is comfort food in our house.  Lentils and rice topped with fried onions served with thick Greek yogurt,  this dish is loaded with flavor despite the modest list of ingredients.  Serve with a Jerusalem Salad for a healthy, filling weeknight dinner.  Our salad includes Kyoto Mizuna, Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes, Red Rib Dandelion Greens, Marketmore Cucumbers, and California Wonder Sweet Peppers from the garden, the last of our summer harvest thanks to Friday's snow.

    based on Mary Bsisu's recipe in The Arab Table


    2              cups           brown lentils
    1              lb               onions, diced
    1              cup             olive oil
    1/3           cup             short-grain white rice,
                                       rinsed, soaked and drained
    1              tsp               cumin
    1             Tbs               sea salt
    1/2           tsp              black pepper
    1/4           tsp              sea salt
    2               lbs             onions, sliced thinly
                                       vegetable oil for frying

    1. Combine lentils, chopped onions, 1/2 cup olive oil and 5 cups water in large pot.  Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes.  As lentils cook, skim foam from the surface.
    2. Remove from heat and cool.  Puree lentils until smooth, then return to the pot and set aside.  If lentils are too thick, add up to 1 cup of water to obtain the thickness of a creamy soup.
    3. Cook rice in 2 cups of water, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes.
    4. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt over onion slices and mix well.  Heat oil over medium hig and saute onions, stirring, until onions are golden, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, stir occasionally, and cook until onions are dark brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to dry.
    5. Drain rice, then add lentils.  Add cumin,1 Tbs salt, and pepper.  Add 1/2 cup olive oil, and warm over medium heat uncovered until lentils begin to boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt to taste.
    6. Serve at room temperature with fried onions on top, and thick Greek yogurt on the side. 
    For a variation on this dish, try our Eggplant Rishta Bi.

      Tuesday, December 8, 2009

      Lemony Pasta with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

      Summery lemon-infused pasta is given an autumn twist with roasted Brussels sprouts.  Brussels sprouts are a member of the brassica family which includes cabbage, broccoli, collards and kale.  All brassicas need cool temperatures, something in short supply in Houston this year.  Brussels sprouts are the most challenging brassica to grow here because good, hard frosts are required to develop their flavor.  Our seedlings are in the ground, but with temperatures lingering n the 70's at the end of November, a meaningful harvest is far from certain.   

      Lemony Pasta with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
      serves 4


      1 1/2   lb              Brussels sprouts
      12        oz            dried spaghetti
                                  juice of 3 - 4 lemons
      1         cup           olive oil
      1 1/2   cup           aged Romano cheese, grated
                                 sea salt and black pepper
      1          tsp           lemon zest

      1. Preheat oven to 425.
      2. Trim brussels sprouts and cut each in half.
      3. Toss sprouts in 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper.
      4. Spread brussels sprouts, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
      5. Bake in top third of oven until blackened on top and soft.
      6. Remove from oven and set aside.
      7. Cook pasta in salted water, then drain.
      8. Combine lemon juice with 2/3 cup olive oil.  Than add the cheese and mix until thick and creamy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
      9. Combine pasta, Brussels sprouts and lemon sauce and toss well to coat.  Top with lemon zest and additional grated Romano.

      Monday, December 7, 2009

      Preserved Cloud Nine Eggplant

      A beautiful way to preserve surplus eggplant, or create a unique gift from the garden.  The combination of the green mint leaves and jalapeno slices with the white skins of the Cloud Nine eggplant is particularly beautiful here, but use any firm eggplant from the garden.  Thanks to Friday's snow and freeze, we have harvested the last of this year's eggplant, making preserved eggplant a great way to enjoy our summer eggplant in the weeks to come.


      1 1/2           lb           Cloud Nine eggplant, stems
                                       removed and sliced thinly
                                       sea salt
      1 1/2           cups       vinegar
      1/2              cup         white wine vinegar
      1                 pint         bell jar and lid
      2                                jalapeno, thinly sliced
                                       (we used "Early Jalapeno" from the garden)
      2                                garlic cloves, thinly sliced
      2                 Tbs         fresh mint leaves
                                        (we used a mixture of mints from the garden)
      1                 tsp          dried oregano
                                       olive oil
      1. In a large bowl, make a layer of eggplant slices and then generously spinkle with sea salt.  Repeat layering eggplant slices and salt until all the eggplant is in the bowl.  Place a plate on top to cover, and weigh down with a full teapot or heavy cans.  Leave for 24 hours, draining liquid occasionally.
      2. Combine vinegars with 2 cups water in sauce pan, cover and bring to a boil.  Add eggplant and cover.  As soon as liquid boils again, remove from heat and drain off liquid.
      3. Spread eggplant slices on paper towels to dry, leaving out for several hours.
      4. Sterilize jar and lid in boiling water.
      5. Make a layer of eggplant in bottom of jar.  Top with one slice of jalapeno, one slice of garlic, a mint leaf, and sprinkle a little oregano.  Repeat layering until jar is full.  Fill with olive oil, using a butter knife to pull eggplant back from sides of jar to allow oil to go all the way to the bottom of jar.
      6. Close tightly and return jar to boiling water to create a seal.
      7. Cool, then refrigerate for at least one week to allow flavors to develop before using.
      8. Keeps several weeks in the refrigerator.

      Saturday, December 5, 2009

      Cosse Violette Purple Beans with Sage Salt and Lemon Brown Butter

      Lemon brown butter and Sage Salt elevate the lowly snap bean to a memorable side dish.   A beautiful way to enjoy the last of the season's Cosse Violette harvest.


      2         cups         (more or less) Cosse Violette beans,
                                 or any snap bean, trimmed
      2         Tbs          unsalted butter
      1         tsp           lemon zest
                                juice of 1/2 a lemon
                                Sage Salt

      1. Boil water and blanche beans.  Remove from heat and run beans under cold water to stop cooking immediately.
      2. Melt butter over medium.  When foam subsides, stir frequently.  When white solids turn brown and butter is fragrant, remove from heat.  Add lemon juice and stir well.
      3. Put pan back on heat and add blanched beans.  Saute, adding 1 tsp sage salt and lemon zest.   Cook until beans are tender, adding more sage salt to taste.
      If you like this recipe, try Roasted Cauliflower with Sage Salt and Lemon Brown Butter.
      Here's a lovely, simple way to prepare Cosse Violette beans.

      Cosse Violette Purple Beans made the Foodbuzz Top 9! The Foodbuzz Top 9 is a photo-driven collection of top-buzzed posts within the Foodbuzz community.  Check it out here: Cheers, The Foodbuzz Editorial Team Congratulations again, and thanks for being a part of Foodbuzz!


        Friday, December 4, 2009

        Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt

        This recipe from the New York Times introduced us to Sage Salt, now a staple in our kitchen.  Here it is used to season roasted cauliflower for a rich and filling vegetable dish.

        Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt
        adapted from New York Times

                        Sage Salt
        1/4  cup   olive oil
        1     tsp     sea salt
        2               small heads or 1 large head cauliflower
        6     Tbs    unsalted butter
        1               lemon, juice and zested

        1. Break cauliflower into florets, toss with olive oil and sea salt.  Spread onto sheet pans.
        2. Heat oven to 375, put a roasting pan with 1" of water in the bottom of oven.  This water slows the cooking, but the moisture will keep the cauliflower moist.
        3. Bake until brown, about 30 minutes.
        4. Melt butter in small pan over medium heat.  When foam subsides, watch closely and stir often. When white solids are brown and butter smells toasty, turn off heat, squeeze in juice of lemon and stir well.
        5. Toss cauliflower with lemon butter, lemon zest, and sprinkle with sage salt.  Add more to taste.
        Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Brown Butter and Sage Salt made the Foodbuzz Top 9 today! The Foodbuzz Top 9 is a photo-driven collection of top-buzzed posts within the Foodbuzz community.  Congratulations again, and thanks for being a part of Foodbuzz!  
        Cheers, The Foodbuzz Editorial Team.

          Thursday, December 3, 2009

          Sage Salt

          Sage is thriving in the garden, but what to do with this pungent herb?  Although it is a beautiful, ornamental plant, sage is not an herb we often use in the kitchen.  Sage salt may change that forever.  We've already seasoned cauliflower and Cosse Violette beans with sage salt (recipes coming soon), both times with excellent results.  The salt keeps well, so feel free to scale up this recipe.

          Sage Salt

          1/4     cup    olive oil
          1/4     cup    sage leaves, loosely packed
          1        Tbs    coarse sea salt such as Maldon's

          1. Heat oil in a small pan over medium high until hot but not smoking.  Add sage and fry, stirring, until crispy (about 2 minutes).
          2. Remove from heat to paper towels to dry.
          3. When cool, crumble into a ramekin or small bowl.  Toss with salt.  Store in air-tight container.

          Wednesday, December 2, 2009

          Black and White Eggplant Layered with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

          Layer Black Beauty and Cloud Nine eggplant slices to create contrasting black and white tiers, with red tomatoes and fresh basil from the garden providing lots of color.  The flavors pull together with baked goat cheese and a thick balsamic vinegar-tomato puree.

          Baked Black and White Eggplant with Tomatoes, Basil and Goat Cheese


          1        lb          eggplant, half Cloud Nine and half Black Beauty
          1        lb          red tomatoes
          9        oz         goat cheese
          1/4     cup       fresh basil leaves
          1                    garlic clove, minced
                                olive oil
          1/3     cup       pureed tomatoes
          1/4     cup       balsamic vinegar
                                sea salt and black pepper to taste

          1. Slice eggplants and saute in olive oil over medium until golden brown.  Flip and repeat.  Remove to paper towels to dry.
          2. Slice tomatoes thinly.  Slice goat cheese from the log thinly (use very cold cheese).
          3. On a sheet pan, layer eggplant, goat cheese, basil and tomato.  Add a few pinches of pepper.  Start next layer with opposite color eggplant and repeat.  Finish with eggplant slices as the top layer.  Drizzle a little olive oil on top.
          4. Heat convection oven to 300 (325 conventional).  Bake until goat cheese is soft and oozing a bit.
          5. While eggplant is in oven, make sauce by combining garlic, balsamic vinegar, pureed tomatoes, and 3/4 cup olive oil in a food processor until well combined and thick.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
          6. When layered eggplant is done, remove from oven and serve with balsamic vinegar-tomato puree.

          Tuesday, December 1, 2009

          Get Growing in December

          Get Growing

          Welcome to our first Get Growing entry.  This series will span 12 months, and is designed to help aspiring vegetable gardeners get out of the kitchen and into the garden.  On the first of each month, we will discuss one garden project for the novice vegetable gardener.  Because we are located in Houston, Texas, our growing conditions differ from many parts of the English-speaking world.  To help guide gardeners in cooler climates, our Get Growing partner is Daphne of Daphne's Dandelions.  Daphne gardens in Boston, and she will be providing monthly advice for Northern gardeners (although her excellent site is a wonderful resource for gardeners everywhere).  For Get Growing in December, Daphne will help you decide what to grow, where to put your garden, the different styles of gardening, and where to buy seeds.  Regardless of where you garden, her advice is invaluable.

          Determine Your Gardening Zone

          Before getting started on your vegetable garden, establish your gardening zone.  Zones are determined by the average minimum temperature for your area and help you decide when to start your seeds.   We are located in Zone 9, which means our average minimum temperature is 25 degrees.  It rarely gets that cold for more than a few nights each winter. Daphne is located in Zone 6.

          You should also know when to expect the last frost of the year.  For Houston, the average last frost occurs by February 15th, but it varies from year to year.  Some years we have no frost at all (which is a bad thing because those frosts help reduce the mosquito population) and others we have several hard frosts.  Last year, the guidelines were way off and Texas had extremely late frosts which destroyed the state's peach crop and many vegetable crops.  Luckily for us, we were hopelessly disorganized last spring and didn't plant anything until April.  So frost wasn't a problem for us, but we also missed the window to grow several spring vegetables and we shortened the life expectancies dramatically of others that were planted too late.

          Gardening is a balancing act between starting your vegetables as early as possible and being punished by unseasonal weather.   Northern gardeners have elaborate tricks to avoid these problems such as starting seeds indoors with grow lights, using poly tunnels or greenhouses, and growing in cold frames.  If you need help with these projects, Daphne is the expert.  Here in Houston our biggest problem is the heat, not the cold, so we don't take all those steps to lengthen the growing season.  Instead, we need to start seeds as early as possible to beat the punishing heat which arrives by June each year, killing many herbs and vegetables. 

          Click here to find your zone.  Click here to find your average last frost date.

          Planting in December (in Houston)

          Once you've determined your zone and last frost date, you'll be able to adapt our advice to your own growing conditions.  If you live in L.A. or Orlando, you can probably use our calendar.  Those in Dallas should wait about a month longer for spring planting, and Chicago around three months.

          That was painful, but now that the technical stuff is out of the way we can get to the fun stuff, playing in the dirt.   December is the second coldest month of the year, with January just a few degrees cooler.  "Cold" in Houston is summer weather for many.  As I write this I'm wearing a sundress and it is 72 degrees outside, hardly frigid.  But, this is the time for us to grow the vegetables that need cold temperatures to thrive.  If you're only going to plant one type of seed in your Zone 9 garden this month, it should be peas.


          Fresh-picked organic vegetables are always better than what you buy at the grocery, but peas are practically a different species when you eat them straight from the garden.  Peas are also highly productive plants so you will have a large harvest, and like other legumes, peas are "nitrogen fixers".  This means that pea roots actually improve the soil and make your garden more fertile.  A perfect, organic way to have a healthy garden and amazing harvest. 

          Peas have a very low tolerance for heat, making them a challenging vegetable to grow in our sub-tropical climate.  There is a very narrow window to start peas here, with most gardeners starting their seeds at the end of December.   There are three types of peas you can grow.  Growing instructions will not vary, so make a selection based on eating preferences and how much space you have in your garden.
          • Sugar Snap -- most productive type of pea (therefore requiring the least amount of space).  Both the pod and seeds are eaten.
          • Snow Pea -- grown for the edible pods, not the seeds.  Less productive than sugar snaps, but many prefer their flavor.
          • English Pea -- only the seeds are eaten, so this type of pea is bred to produce more seeds of better quality per pod.  Petit pois, developed in France, are small but especially tasty.  It takes a lot of English pea pods to produce enough for cooking, so this type of pea requires the largest commitment of garden space.  It also requires the most time to harvest because the peas must be removed from the pods much like lima beans or edamame.

          Buy Your Seeds

          Every seed company carries peas.  See the column on the right for recommended seed companies, all of which have excellent websites.  We are growing Alderman (English) and Waverex (petit pois) from Territorial and Super Sugar Snap (sugar snap) from Park.  Since you'll be planting at the end of the month, you have plenty of time to purchase your seeds.  If you have never grown peas before, you may want to purchase an inoculant to provide your soil with the necessary bacteria.   This will be sprinkled in when the seeds are planted to help the pea plants fix the nitrogen necessary to thrive. 

          Plant, Water and Wait

          Pea plants become quite tall, and should be planted at the back of your border.  Choose a location that gets plenty of sun, and drive in bamboo poles or a trellis to support the plants. 

          The seeds should be planted at a depth of about 1" and around 3" apart.  The "seeds" will look like shriveled peas, and their relatively large size makes them easy to handle and less fussy than tiny seeds when it comes to planting depth.  The soil should be loose and well-draining.  Well-drained soil is the key to healthy pea plants, so if you have heavy clay soil and/or tropical rains like we do in Houston, consider growing in raised beds.  Keep soil moist until seedlings emerge.  About three weeks later, plant additional seeds in between your existing seedlings.  These younger plants will extend your harvest period by several weeks.

          Harvest sugar snaps when the pods start to fatten but before the seeds grow very large.  Harvest snow peas when they are still quite flat.  Harvest English peas when the pods are swollen and round.  For all peas, flavor deteriorates rapidly once harvested (which is why your peas will taste so much better than anything you can purchase).  Don't pick your peas until you are ready to cook or eat them.

          Other seeds to start in December (in Zone 9) include:
          • Cabbage
          • Beet
          • Arugula
          • Carrot
          • Garlic (beginning of the month only)
          • Kale
          • Mache
          • Mizuna
          • Parsley
          • Salad Greens (see our list of Greens for ideas)
          • Spinach
          • Radish
          • Tatsoi
          • Turnip
          • Yu Choy
          Other posts in the Get Growing series

          Garden planning, planting methods, and seed selection (Get Growing in December, Daphne's Dandelions)