Saturday, September 25, 2010

moroccan bastilla

The Kingdom of Morocco...ever been?

I have...kinda.  Okay, okay, not really.  I've been to Disney World where there happens to be a Moroccan Pavilion at Epcot. 

Great honeymoon memories happened there...  

Gosh, I'm in love with him.

So why am I talking about Morocco?  Thanks to your votes, I made it through the first round of the Project Food Blog competition and am moving forward to Challenge #2 - making a classic dish from another culture.  My facebook fans gave me great suggestions, but in the end I kept coming back to that awesome honeymoon memory...and to the dessert we ate right after that picture was taken.

The dessert was called bastilla - it was layers of thin pastry topped with cream, cinnamon, sugar, and almonds.  It was absolutely delicious.  After doing some research, I discovered that bastilla (also called pastilla) is also the name of a classic Moroccan pigeon pie made with layers of meat, egg, almonds, and those same layers of thin pastry.  

Welcome to my take on this classic dish.

the pastry
The official name of the Moroccan pastry is warqa, but it's so complicated to make that most recipes encouraged the use of Phyllo dough instead.  I fortunately found a recipe for homemade warqa by Chef Paula Wolfert and, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to give it a go.  You can check out her recipe here...I'm going to give you my rendition.

(Note: you really should make the dough in a food processor.  I don't have one, so I opted for my blender.  It worked, but I think I took years off of my blender's life in the process.)

Process 1 1/2 cups of better for bread flour (or other higher gluten flour), 1/4 cup of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Add 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and about 1 cup of water and pulse until dough forms a soft ball.  Then, gradually drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and process for another 30 seconds.  It will look like a mess...

Then, add 3/4 cup of water to the dough and process for another minute.  At this point, the dough will look a lot like pancake batter.  Cover and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, heat up a nonstick skillet to about 200 degrees.  It's simple to do if you have an electric skillet that allows you to set a specific degree (like mine below).  If not, see Paula Wolfert's tip for using a conventional nonstick skillet.

Using a basting brush, lightly and quickly brush the warqa batter onto the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the pastry sheet has turned white.  Don't worry if the batter doesn't completely cover the skillet - the more lacy the better!

Gently lift up your cooked pastry from the skillet and place it, uncooked side down, on a paper towel.  Spray the top with cooking spray and place another towel over it.  Continue until all the batter has been used up and you have a full stack of warqa.  It takes a while, but it works!

the pie
Although the traditional dish calls for pigeon, I decided to use chicken instead.  I don't really have a lot of pigeon lying around...

You boil your chicken in a variety of aromatic spices: 2 teaspoons salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, and a pinch of saffron threads (top right of picture below).  To release their fragrance, place the saffron threads in a small amount of hot water for a few minutes and then breathe in.

Take the skin off of a whole chicken, cover it with water, and add spices and a quartered onion.  Boil for about an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through.

To make the egg layer, saute an onion in a few tablespoons of butter.  I added a few dashes of each of the spices mentioned above to give it a little flavor.  Once the onion is tender, add about 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro and stir for another minute.  Finally, add six well-beaten eggs and cook until they are set.

For the almond layer, place 2 cups of almonds on a cookie sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until they turn a golden brown. 

Process the almonds with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.  If at all possible, do not use a blender.  Man, what I would have given for a food processor today!

To assemble, spray a pie dish with cooking spray and lay one sheet of warqa in it.  Brush with melted butter and lay another sheet down, rotating slightly.  Continue with 2 more sheets and then fill with the chicken and the egg mixture.  Lay another piece of warqa over the eggs and top with the almond mixture. 

Top almond mixture with another piece of warqa and fold over the sides.  Brush with butter to seal sheets together.

Isn't it beautiful?

Bake at 350 for until lightly browned (30 minutes).  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon before serving.

This pie took a lot of time and effort, but it turned out beautifully!  I learned two very important things in the process:
  1. I really, really, really need a food processor if I want to be Moroccan.
  2.  Homemade Phyllo dough (aka warqa) is some amazing stuff.
the dessert
I had a few sheets of warqa left over, so I though I would go ahead and recreate the dessert that I so loved in Disney World.

I layered the sheets on top of one another, brushing with butter in between each.  Then, I sprinkled some almonds over the top and baked at 350 until they browned (about 15 minutes).  To serve, I topped the sheets with powdered sugar and a scoop of homemade ice cream.

Cold ice cream over hot, flaky pastry...doesn't get better than that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

brie brunch casserole (featuring Nature's Pride bread)

 Tomorrow is the first day of fall.  I'm ecstatic...beyond ecstatic actually.

But what is beyond ecstatic?  Jubilant?  Deliriously exuberant?

Whatever it is, that's what I am.  Fall is my favorite time of year.  Pumpkins are turning orange on the vine, the neighborhood corn maze opens its gate once again, and I can eat soup and pie until I drop.  I love the cool, crisp breeze that flows through the trees in the mornings and the yellow and orange leaves that start to grace the sidewalks.

I also love that in the fall, there is always an excuse to get together with friends.  Whether it's a Halloween party, Thanksgiving dinner, or fall hayride, the social events are always plentiful and fun.

If you are considering hosting a get together, might I suggest a brunch?  
And, when you begin to plan your menu for that brunch, might I suggest this breakfast casserole?

This recipe features Nature's Pride potato bread - it's smooth, light, fresh, and delicious.  Nature's Pride gave me a free loaf of this bread (ahem...disclosure!), and so I decided to create a brunch casserole that lived up to it.  While easy to make, this dish is also more fancy than your traditional breakfast casseroles in that it contains both Brie and Parmesan cheeses alongside sauteed mushrooms and peppers and a crunchy Grape Nut topping.

And it's good.  OH is it good.

First, brown a pound of sausage.  Because I'm vain and care about the size of my thighs, I used turkey sausage.  Once it's brown, remove it to a separate dish, and throw into the same skillet a cup of diced mushrooms and 1-2 diced green peppers.  Saute these until they are tender.

Mix together 1/2 cup of flour with 4 cups of milk (skim milk will do!).  Pour this milk mixture into the skillet with the peppers and mushrooms.  Add 2 tablespoons sage, 1 teaspoon dried mustard, and 1 teaspoon seasoned salt; bring to a boil.  Once it thickens up, turn off the heat and let this mixture cool for a few minutes.  Whisk together 5 eggs in a separate bowl and add a few large tablespoons of the milk mixture to temper; add the eggs to the skillet and mix well.

 To assemble casserole, cut 6 slices of Nature's Pride potato bread into cubes and place in a 13x9 inch casserole dish that has been coated with cooking spray.

Top bread cubes with cooked sausage and 1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.  Trim the rind off of an 8 oz. round of Brie and drop Brie by small cubes into the casserole dish.

Pour milk mixture evenly into the casserole dish.  Cover this and chill it 8 hours (or overnight).

Before baking, sprinkle 1 cup of Grape Nuts cereal over the top of the casserole for that extra special crunch.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until it's set.

Brie Brunch Casserole
6 slices Nature's Pride potato bread, cubed
1 lb. sausage
1-2 green peppers, diced
1 cup mushrooms, diced
4 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
5 eggs
2 T. sage
1 t. dried mustard
1 t. seasoned salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. Brie, trimmed of its rind
1 cup Grape Nuts cereal

Brown sausage in skillet; remove to a separate dish.  Saute green peppers and mushrooms in sausage drippings.  Whisk together milk and flour and pour into skillet; bring to a boil and cook a few minutes until thickened.  Add spices.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs; add several tablespoons of milk mixture to temper the eggs.  Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and mix well.

To assemble casserole, place bread cubes in the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish.  Top with sausage, Parmesan, and cubes of Brie.  Pour milk mixture over the top.  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.  Before baking, top casserole with Grape Nuts cereal.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until set.  Serves 12 (these are generous servings).

Nutrition (using skim milk and turkey sausage): 334 cal, 14g fat, 6g sat fat, 0g trans fat, 144mg cholesterol, 861mg sodium, 28g carbs, 2g fiber, 8g sugar, 23g protein, 20% vit. A, 20% vit. C, 34% calcium, 30% iron.

Linked up with Foodie Friday
Also linked to This Week's Cravings: Christmas Morning Breakfast and Brunch!
This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday , Tasty Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table

Monday, September 20, 2010 they should be!

 Of course.

The minute I announce that I'm going to deliberately try to rid myself of a food baby, my husband decides that he needs dessert.

I wanted to say no, but who could resist those blue eyes?

Instead, I took this opportunity to dive into the trove of recipes I've been collecting from Tasty Kitchen and try something new.  This one comes from rainydaygal and intrigued me from the moment I saw its title - Brownies, As They Should Be.

This recipe has numerous rave reviews, and why shouldn't it?  It's incredibly easy, requires simple ingredients, and the batter tastes amazing (I admit...I cheated on my diet plan and licked the bowl).  The brownies have that absolutely perfect crust that I've never seen on anything but a boxed recipe.

What did Mr. Blue Eyes think?  He said that they were out-of-this-world excellent!  They aren't oily, like most boxed recipes are, and they are incredibly chocolaty.  He especially likes them served warm underneath a scoop of double chocolate cheesecake ice cream.

This is definitely a recipe that will be made in our kitchen in the future.  I hope you make it in yours!

Start by mixing together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

In a saucepan, melt 2/3 cup of butter and stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar and 4 tablespoons of water.  Once it's all mixed together, remove it from the heat.

Stir in a 12 oz. package of chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons (or more!) of my opinion, these are magical ingredients.

Then, mix in 4 eggs, one at a time.

Whisk in the flour mixture.

 And now...for the really exciting part...

...drum roll, please...

...add some chopped walnuts (optional) and another package of chocolate chips!  I used white chocolate chips for some extra fun.  If your batter is still really hot, the chocolate chips may melt.  If you want to ensure that they stay as chunks, I suggest letting the batter sit and cool awhile before doing this step.

Pour this concoction into a greased 13x9 pan, making sure to leave plenty of batter in the bowl for licking.  That's very important. :-)

The recipe says to bake at 325 for 30-40 minutes, being careful not to over bake. I ended up baking mine for a good 45 minutes, and they were still a little underdone.  Every oven is different, so use your own judgment.  Just remember...a gooey brownie is better than a burnt brownie!

Let these cool for at least 2 hours before serving (if you can!).

PS - Voting is now OPEN for Project Food Blog!  You should definitely go check out what all of the food bloggers competing have to offer (and of course I would love your vote, too!).  Either click here or follow the icon on my top right sidebar to see the competitors and VOTE!

Brownies, As They Should Be
From Tasty Kitchen's rainydaygal
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
4 T. water
2 packages (12 oz.) chocolate chips, divided
2 t. vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.  In a large saucepan, melt butter with sugar and water; remove from heat.  Add one package of chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until chocolate chips have melted.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each.  Stir in flour mixture and then fold in remaining chocolate chips and walnuts.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Nutrition: you've got to be kidding...

This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday , Tasty Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table

Friday, September 17, 2010

shrinking jeans?

I have a baby bump.

The problem?  It's a food baby...not a real baby.

Food baby bumps aren't cute.  They don't make me squeal or glow.  They just make me hang my head in shame as I reminisce about all of the food I've eaten this summer.  I've had a little too much fun!

For example...this past week my parents have been in town visiting.  Whenever anybody comes to visit, I have to take them to Napa Valley.

I took them on a tour of the amazing castle winery...

...and the best winery ever...

While tasting wine at each of these (and more!), I found out the darndest has calories!  Who knew?

(Judging by the smiles on their faces, I don't think Mom and Dad knew.)

Then, we ate the best...the best...hamburger I have ever had at a roadside stand in the cute little Napa Valley town of St. Helena.

I know what you are thinking...roadside stand?  Don't scoff.  Taylor's Refresher (aka Gott's Roadside) is phenomenal and one of the most popular places in the area.  I've never been there when there wasn't a line.

Dad got the basic cheeseburger...freshly cooked to medium well and dripping with flavor.

Mom and I got the Wisconsin...a beautiful burger smothered in bacon, grilled mushrooms, cheese, and BBQ sauce and sandwiched in between two pieces of fresh sourdough.  I was a very happy girl.

On the side, we had some delicious potato and sweet potato fries...

...and onion rings.

Oh, and then Mom had a chocolate shake.  I stole a sip and just about died.  It was made the way that chocolate shakes are supposed to be made...with real chocolate ice cream and milk.

I think I gained 5 pounds with this I look fatter?

Okay, maybe not.  But that picture was taken before I devoured all of that food you see sitting in front of me.  Yikes!

I put my parents on a plane back home this afternoon, so now it's time for me to get back on track.  I don't plan on giving up flavor (heck no!), but I do plan on cutting down on my mass consumption of fat and calories.

I've signed up for the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans' latest challenge - SHRINKVIVOR.  Based off of Survivor, this contest puts each participant on a tribe and engages us in both physical and non-physical challenges.   I'm on Tribe Beige Booty Busters, and we are going to kick know.

This week's physical challenge - mileage.  Walk/jog/run as many miles as you can.  Prize = immunity.  I've committed myself to 2 1/4 miles every day.

This week's non-physical challenge - water.  We are supposed to take what we weigh, divide it by 2, and use that as our number of ounces of water to drink each day.  I wasn't going to tell you what I weigh, but let's just say that I'm drinking about 73 ounces of water a day.  My water bottle is currently the bane of my existence.

What am I eating?  Familiar favorites from Delightful Country Cookin'!  Things like creamy chicken and rice soup...

...and bacon-infused risotto...

...and the favorite spicy peppered beef.

All of these foods are low in fat and calories, high in taste, and perfect choices to keep me off Exile Island.

Roadside stand...I'll miss you.

Food baby bump...won't miss you so much.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

hearty squash soup

It's now September. September is the month for squash and apples...for changing leaves and cooler weather.  I've seen the sun begin to go down earlier and earlier.

And yet...nobody seems to have let northern California know that fall is on the way.  It's still over 90 degrees here!

Numerous people have insisted to me that this is just not the weather for soup, much less squash soup.  But I'm tired of waiting.  I love the fall...apples...squash...the whole lot!  Instead of waiting, I'm rebelling.  I am going to will fall to start.  I'm going to turn up the air conditioner, wear a sweatshirt, and eat the best squash soup ever.

It's hearty.  It's savory.  It's delicious.

Okay, okay...I realize that the appropriate setting for a soup of this type is in a fall-colored bowl surrounded by orange and red leaves and squash and gourds.  If it upsets you that my above picture did not reflect this, please see the above description of California...then pity me.

You know a recipe is going to be delicious if it contains bacon...and this one does!  If you are a vegetarian, it's okay to leave it out.  But if you want an over-the-moon dining experience, throw it in!  In fact, throw in the entire package.  I can justify doing this because I used turkey bacon, right? 

Place the bacon in a pot, and cook, stirring often, until it's nice and crispy.  Remove to a separate dish, keeping the bacon grease in the pot.  (To reduce fat content, feel free to remove as much bacon grease as you like.)

Next, pour about 3/4 of a box of chicken broth (or 3 cups) into the pot to deglaze it a bit.  

Chop up about 2 carrots and 3 potatoes, and drop them into the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat slightly.  Let them simmer until they get nice and tender.

While your veggies are simmering on the stove, use a fork to punch holes into a butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds).  Microwave on high for 10-15 minutes, rotating ever few minutes, until it's soft when squeezed.  Make sure you use a potholder when turning or squeezing it...don't forget and be like me. :-)

When your squash is done, cut it in half lengthwise and then just run a knife along the edges to remove the peeling.  Also remember to cut it down the middle and remove the seeds from the inside...don't forget and be like me.

Place your squash into a blender or food processor, and add the last cup of chicken broth.  Blend until nice and smooth.

Once your carrots and potatoes are tender, add the pureed squash to the pot and stir it in.

Finally, add about a cup of corn (if you use frozen corn, you don't need to thaw first) and some seasonings to taste.  I recommend a teaspoon or two of Creole seasoning (or just a teaspoon each of salt and pepper), a teaspoon of cumin, and a half teaspoon of nutmeg.

Stir into the soup and continue simmering until the corn has heated through.

Finally, sprinkle bacon bits over the top of each serving!

I love this soup and often make it using two cans of pumpkin instead of butternut squash.  Sometimes I leave the bacon out, other times I add chicken and beans.  It's a great soup to modify to your own tastes, and nutritionally you can't go wrong!

Hearty Squash Soup
butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds) or two cans of pumpkin
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 lb. bacon, diced (optional)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup corn
1-2 t. Creole seasoning
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. nutmeg

Cook bacon in large stockpot until crispy; remove to a separate dish.  Pour 3 cups chicken broth into pot and add carrots and potatoes.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, use a fork to punch several holes in the butternut squash.  Microwave on high for 10-15 minutes or until tender when squeezed (rotate several times while cooking).  Peel and remove seeds.  Place in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of chicken broth and process until smooth.  Add to stockpot.

Add corn and seasonings; simmer until heated through.  Sprinkle reserved bacon pieces over each serving.  Serves 6.

Nutrition (calculated with just one cup of turkey bacon for the whole recipe): 270 cal, 4g fat, 1g sat fat, 0g trans fat, 13mg cholesterol, 1263mg sodium, 51g carbs, 6g fiber, 4g sugar, 12g protein, 233% vit. A, 84% vit. C, 8% calcium, 17% iron.

Linked up with This Week's Cravings: Soups!
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