Its here!

6 months ago my house in Singapore looked like this

And today, after a long ocean voyage, numerous customs checks, scans, and stamps, and a few weeks sitting on a North African dock, we will be reunited with all our "stuff". 

I'm not even sure what we packed, but I do know that there is a new block of knives, my food processor, and tongs in there somewhere.

Even though today means trying to speak to the movers in a mixture of pantomime and French (really Franglish), unpacking a myriad of boxes, and hopefully finding a few extra ounces of patience and grace I am really, really, really excited!

Full of Thanks

We have had a busy week. Last weekend we went to Barcelona (I know, poor me) to watch our daughter compete in a volleyball tournament. We only saw a few snippets of the city, but oh, I fell hard for Barcelona. I need to find a way to get back there soon.

Of all the things one could take photos of in Barcelona this was my favorite. The changing colors of the leaves. I was reveling in my love for Autumn, when I realized we are nearing the end of November which I guess technically qualifies as winter.

I don't know about that though, the skies were impossibly blue, the air crisp but not so cold that you needed to bundle up, and by mid-day you could ditch the jacket if you were walking briskly.

After watching volleyball all day we would head to Las Ramblas, which is a pedestrian mall downtown. The street is flanked by high end retail, tapas bars, gelato stands, souvenir shops, and La Boqueria market. The market was beautiful and you can stroll through all the produce stands while sipping sangria (in a to go cup with straw mind you) and nibbling on a freshly made calzone.

We returned home to a short sprint of a work week leading to Thanksgiving weekend. I really love Thanksgiving, and enjoy filling our house with friends and family, sharing a meal together, and also sharing what we are thankful for. This year we spent the evening with some new friends who also moved to Tunisia this year. We shared stories of our family's holiday traditions, talked about life, and laughed a lot.

The past few months have been filled with many new experiences, the pendulum has swung from the maddening to the exhilarating (and back and forth a few times)  I realized during one maddening episode that I can be mad and let my thoughts run to the negative, OR I could be thankful. Sometimes being thankful is hard. One day the only thing I could think of to be thankful for was the fact that I liked the scent of my dish washing liquid. That was a bad day.

Today though, I am full of thanks. I am thankful for my husband, his eternal optimism and sunny personality makes our days brighter. My daughters who are so beautiful, witty, and kind. My family who love us and whose presence I miss so much. Our friends both near and far who we have travelled life with.

I am thankful!

Now, what to do with that leftover turkey?  I'm planning to make soup from the leftover carcass. David Tanis writes the City Kitchen articles in the New York Times and he has a recent article on what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers besides the usual sandwiches and casseroles. He suggests this soup that is fragrant with lime, warm with chilies and has the earthiness of corn tortillas. I'm in. 

Turkey Soup With Lime and Chile
Time: About 1 hour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
8 cups unsalted turkey or chicken broth
Vegetable oil for frying
4 corn tortillas, at least a day old, cut in 1/2-inch strips
4 to 6 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded
1 or 2 firm-ripe avocados
6 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeƱos, thinly sliced
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
Lime wedges.

1. Heat vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot and let soften, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
2. Toast the cumin, coriander and peppercorns in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute, then grind in a spice mill or mortar. Add the ground spices to the pot, along with the garlic, cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne and salt.
3. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to a brisk simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then taste for salt and adjust. Keep hot, covered, over very low heat.
4. Pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a wide skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and looks wavy, add the tortilla strips and fry until barely colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt. (The oil may be strained and saved for future frying.)
5. In a medium saucepan, heat the shredded turkey meat with a little of the hot soup. Divide the meat among 4 to 6 soup bowls and add a few slices of avocado to each. Ladle about 1 cup soup into each bowl, then garnish with tortilla strips, scallions, jalapeƱo slices, chopped cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime juice.
Yield: 4 to 6 large servings.

I Like Big Bundts

I wish that I was the clever person who came up with that line. The person responsible for spreading Bundt Cake love all over the Internet is none other than the Food Librarian.  For the past 3 years she has celebrated November 15, National Bundt Cake Day with a lead up of 30 days of Bundts.

She's awesome. I want to be her friend.

I had been planning to make a special Bundt Cake for this day. I wanted to make something that reflected the flavors of North Africa, maybe a Halva Bundt, or a Bundt with preserved lemons, and it would be made with Tunisian olive oil, bien sur!

But time got away from me.  I did however make an Apple Bundt for a sleepover breakfast. It was filled with loads of shredded apple, crystallized ginger, and toffee bits. We served it warm with yogurt and homemade applesauce. It hit all the right notes for a crisp November morning.

Happy National Bundt Cake Day by the way!

I like Big Bundts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny......

Brown Butter, Caramel Apple Cake
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup butter
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup applesauce
1 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
½ cup chopped toffee bits such as Heath brand
1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (about 3 1/2 ounces)
Applesauce, Greek yogurt and crystallized ginger for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray.
Slice the butter and place it in a heavy gauge saucepan.  Melt the butter over medium high heat stirring frequently. Once the butter melts it will start to foam. The foam will soon subside and you will notice brown bits beginning to form on the bottom of the pan.  Watch the butter carefully at this point. The butter should have a pleasant nutty aroma and change from golden yellow to light mahogany in color. Remove the butter from the heat and place on a cool surface or in a small bowl to prevent it from burning. Allow the brown butter to cool.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
In a large mixing bowl combine the browned butter, applesauce, brown sugar, crystallized ginger, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Using electric mixer, beat until mixture is thick, about 4 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture, and then stir the pecans into the batter; transfer to prepared Bundt pan.
Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer cake in pan to rack and cool to room temperature.  Serve with applesauce, yogurt and more crystallized ginger if desired.

A reason to get out of bed in the morning!

Make this the next time you need to get someone out of bed in the morning.

Would you not have a little spring in your step if you woke to the smell of cinnamon, cocoa, and bread baking? Well, if it was this bread and some coffee. Yes, that would do it.

I saw this pull apart bread recipe on Joy the Baker's website and immediately felt compelled to make it. I had to wait three whole days before I had the time to make it. Three whole days of staring longingly at the photos, reading the recipe over and over.  I mean look at it, how could you not?

I was so completely obsessed with this bread that it was very late at night before I was able to make the dough and get it snuggled in the fridge for an overnight rest.

It is a yeast dough made rich with butter and eggs then rolled out and spread with browned butter, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa.  It is very similar to making cinnamon rolls but instead of rolling the dough up into a log and slicing it, you slice this dough into strips, stack them, cut them into sections and then place them in the pan sort of like a flip book.

What sort of evil genius came up with this?

I had to summon every spare ion of self control I could muster to take a few photos before I called my family to breakfast.  This was really lovely. Some of the sugar caramelized making the edges crunchy, the middles were soft and yeasty, and the cocoa rounded out the flavors and made it seem, if possible, richer and more decadent.  I hope you'll make this soon for someone you love, or better yet, I hope you wake tomorrow morning finding that someone has made this for you!

We added a little icing drizzle to the top while it was still warm. Oh my.

The finished product.

Cinnamon Sugar and Cocoa Pull-Apart Bread
Makes: one 9x5x3-inch loaf
For the Dough:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned
For the Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl whisk together all purpose flour, sugar, yeast, and salt and then set aside.
Whisk the eggs until well combined and set aside.
In a small saucepan, gently warm the milk and butter over medium low heat until the butter is melted.  Remove from the heat and add the water and vanilla extract.  Let mixture stand for a few minutes, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees F.
Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula.  Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter.  The dough will be very wet and seem like it will never come together.  Be patient, keep stirring.  Add the whole wheat pastry flour and stir with the spatula until the flour is incorporated. You still want the dough to be a bit sticky but it should be smooth and elastic looking. 
Place the dough in a large bowl that has been oiled with a bit of vegetable oil.  Give the dough a turn to make sure the top surface is lightly oiled. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. After the dough has had a chance to rise you can place some plastic wrap over the dough and place it in the refrigerator overnight.  Before continuing with the recipe allow the dough to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes on the kitchen counter should do the trick.
If you plan to make the bread right away, then while the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and cocoa for the filling.  Set this aside and then melt 2 ounces of butter over medium heat until browned.  Remove the butter from the heat and set aside.  
Lightly oil a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan, line the pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 F.
Deflate the risen dough and knead in about 2 additional tablespoons of flour.  Cover again and let rest for 5 minutes.  On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to a rectangle approximately 12 by 20 inches.  By all means guesstimate! Brush the melted butter evenly across all of the dough.  Sprinkle with all of the sugar mixture.
Slice the dough into four equal strips.  Carefully stack the strips on top of one another and then slice the stack into eight equal portions.  You’ll have eight stacks of four squares.  Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book.  Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown.  Joy warns that "The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw.  A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well".
While the bread is baking mix together the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth and set aside.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. If you are able to accomplish this you may be canonized for saint hood. Evenly drizzle the icing over the warm bread. Lift the bread out of the pan using the parchment paper.  Serve warm with coffee or tea.
I think this bread is best served the day it’s made, but it can also we wrapped and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days. If it lasts that long.

I'm just here for the cookies

Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put forth your best.
Juliette G. Low, founder of Girl Scouts of the USA

I was a Girl Scout. I didn't like wearing my green uniform to school on Thursday's, it was itchy and a little too short after I had a growth spurt. I did however like feeling part of the group, all the cool girls in my grade were girl scouts. Our troop badge was the pansy, probably because it was purple, which was Janine's favorite color. Janine was the coolest of the cool girls in 5th grade.

I lasted a year.

I was really only after the cookies, specifically Thin Mints, and well, it was too much work to sell them. I had to give up valuable cartoon watching time on Saturday mornings to go to the local Safeway and stand outside to sell them.  I also had to give up valuable kickball time after school to go door to door to sell them. It was easier to sit with my sister in our green shag carpeted rec-room and just eat them while watching Gilligan's Island reruns. My parents financed the whole operation.

I was a slacker Girl Scout.

I didn't have many badges. I had one for crafts, I made a beaded macrame hanging plant holder. I had one for cooking, and one for first aid. Pretty sure that was all. The first aid one might not be true.

The Girl Scouts have unveiled a new badge to go along with their 100 year anniversary.

It is the new "Lovavore" badge.  It it awarded to those who explore their local food movement, farmers markets, sustainable farming, health, nutrition, and the environment. 

To earn the badge the Scout must:
1: Explore the benefits and challenges of "going local".
2: Find local food sources.
3: Cook a simple dish showcasing local ingredients.
4: Make a recipe with local ingredients.
5: Try a local food challenge.
Each of the steps includes specific challenges such as interviewing chefs who specialize in locally grown foods, taking a favorite recipe and making it local, or preparing a three-course meal based on local ingredients.
And, just in case you think the Girl Scouts are jumping on the bandwagon of the local food trend, (because we all know how au courant those Scouts are),  Alisha Niehaus, the Executive Director of Program Resources, says that the organization has a long history of eating locally. She notes that the Girl Scouts had a Canner badge way back in 1920, almost a century before food preservation became cool. Hmm, maybe they are trendsetters after all.

Can you earn a Girl Scout badge in your 40's? I'm going for it, who's with me?

What are you waiting for?

I posted a link for this recipe a bit ago and it occurred to me that you may not have realized that I think you need to make it.
Now I am certain that you think your very own homemade macaroni and cheese qualifies for Best of Show, but you are wrong. Someone lied to you, your Mac and Cheese isn't the best. This recipe is. It is rich, creamy, velvety and I might even say.....seductive.
Probably not a word you would associate with macaroni and cheese.

This Mac and Cheese is a very easy stovetop dish, I think it is genius. You cook the pasta sort of like a risotto, stirring constantly, AND you cook the pasta in milk.  The starch from the pasta thickens the milk making a velvety sauce, the cheddar just melts right in and voila! I didn't have the granulated garlic called for in the recipe instead, I used 2 whole cloves of garlic that I added along with the milk. I had a heck of a time though trying to fish the garlic cloves out before serving. The garlic cloves and the shell pasta I used looked identical once cooked. Note to self, use a different shape pasta next time.

Why are you still reading, seriously, go make this!

Lucy's Ultimate Mac & Cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon powdered mustard
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
12 ounces, or more, shredded sharp cheddar
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 to 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the macaroni, milk, butter, mustard, granulated garlic, cayenne, and 3 cups of water in a medium, heavy pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly and adding more water as necessary any time the macaroni looks dry, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the macaroni is just tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6. The trick to this recipe's seductive creaminess is constant stirring from the time the pot is put on the heat and making sure there's enough water in the pot. There will be plenty of liquid in the beginning. When the mixture comes to a boil, the starch from the pasta will make it thicken, creating a creamy sauce. The sauce will reduce and continue to thicken as it simmers and as the pasta absorbs water. Adjust the heat so that it cooks at a lively bubble. Too slow, and the pasta will take forever to cook. Boil it too fast, and it'll be hard to monitor the level of the liquid. Toward the end of the cooking time, there should still be enough sauce in the pot to just cover the macaroni—if not, or if you like it creamier still, add more water a little at a time, keeping in mind that the cheese will thicken the sauce considerably. It's best to incorporate the cheese off the heat. Do not boil the mixture once the cheddar has been added, or it will have a grainy texture. And speaking of cheddar, why stop at 12 ounces when you can add a whole pound? Or mix it up—consider substituting a portion of the cheddar with provolone, mozzarella, and/or Parmegiano for a different flavor and some stringy action. Top with toasted buttered breadcrumbs or some such crunchy thing if you must, but I prefer to appreciate the creaminess unspoiled.
©Lucy Vaserfirer

Adventures in Chicken Salad

Leading up to the Elections here in Tunisia we made sure that we stocked our pantry and freezer very well.  We weren't sure how people would respond to the results and we wanted to make sure that we had several days worth of food on hand in the event we weren't able to get out to the markets.  Now I'm trying to use up what we have on hand, today's theme was using up frozen chicken breasts.

Very exciting I know, I can sense that you are sitting on the edge of your seats.

Years ago (like in the late 90's to be precise) there was a very popular chicken salad recipe that added walnuts, grapes and poppy seeds to the usual chicken and mayo base. It was great, and a little Cha-Cha if you used it as a filling in a croissant for a sandwich.  The local grocer in our hometown made one with turkey and my oldest daughter still loves to buy small tubs of it when we are home in the summer.

I've stuck close to the spirit of the salad but I modeled this one after a lunch I had with a friend one summer in Michigan.  Instead of grapes I busted into my stash of dried Montmorency cherries, swapped pecans for the walnuts and added some flat leaf parsley and bits of red onion for bite.  To brighten the dressing I used half mayo and half creme fraiche and a little lemon juice.  Feel free to go a little crazy, dried cranberries, dried apricots, almonds, pistachios...

Chicken Salad with Dried Cherries and Pecans

2 cups cooked chicken chopped, about 3 chicken breasts or one whole small rotisserie chicken
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 red onion minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise, or more to taste
1/2 cup creme fraiche, or more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl combine the chicken, pecans, cherries, parsley, and onion.  In a small bowl mix together the mayonnaise, creme fraiche and lemon juice.  Pour dressing over the chicken mixture and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Feel free to use sour cream if creme fraiche is not readily available where you live. Add more mayonnaise or creme fraiche if you like your chicken salad a little creamier.

Almost Everyday

Continuing on yesterday's theme of familiar foods this is a staple that I make a lot. The granola is great on it's own, as a breakfast cereal, stirred into yogurt, or added to a batch of banana bread. Here I've layered it with some yogurt and fruit, fancy I know.

The great thing about making your own granola is that you can control the quality of the ingredients, AND, customize it to the tastes of your family. If you don't like nuts, omit the nuts. If you think raisins are evil (and they are) by all means skip them. If you find coconut offensive, well then I don't want to know you.

My Almost Everyday Granola
6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped
walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts or cashews
¼ cup flax seeds
1 cup dried shredded coconut
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Dash salt
1/2 to 1 cup honey or pure maple syrup, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, cherries, apricots, dates, or figs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, cinnamon, ginger, salt, sweetener, and olive oil. Spread evenly on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and put in oven.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the mixture is very evenly browned, stir every 10 minutes and rotate pan in the oven.
The browner the granola gets the crunchier it will be. It can burn easily though so keep a close eye on it in the oven.                   
Remove the granola from oven and add raisins or dried fruit. Cool completely, stirring once in a while. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.

Note:  I have used agave nectar with really good results although I have a hard time keeping the granola crunchy. If you don’t mind a sort of moist granola by all means use agave nectar as a sweetener.

A Day of Honey

I recently read the book Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo with my bookclub.  There is much to love and to recommend about this book.  The author writes about hospitality, humanity, and home and what it is that makes each of those things real for her.  I was struck at how wherever she was, Lebanon, Iraq, or New York she made a home, she created a family, she extended hospitality.  I think that as an expatriate those are themes I can relate to, especially now as I am daily trying to build a home, teach my daughters about hospitality, and how to invest in peoples lives.

She brought up a great premise that really resonates with me, home is something that can be made, it isn't always necessarily where you live.

As we have settled a little more everyday here in Tunisia it is beginning to feel like home. A shower curtain hung, a basketball hoop mounted outside,  people coming over to share meals (and bringing their own dishes and flatware if we have more than 6 to dinner).

I also have a great need to make food that is familiar, comfortable, and known by my family. I've been making soups, creamy mashed potatoes, a pork roast that I remember my grandmother making, roasted chicken and lots of baked goods. This morning I made an old family favorite. I haven't made them in years but this morning it felt right.

Chocolate Chip Toffee Scones
adapted from Bon Appetit

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup toffee bits such as Heath brand
milk and coarse sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the whipping cream and vanilla extract to soft peaks.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the flour mixture. Add the chopped chocolate and toffee bits and mix through gently.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a bit until the dough comes together but is still slightly sticky.  Divide the dough in half.

Gently pat out the half of the dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut the dough into 8 pieces and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.  Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk and then sprinkle with some coarse sugar.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown but still moist looking.