Blood Oranges

I think I have found my favorite season here in Tunisia. The weather is not too cold, the sun still shows a brilliant blue nearly everyday, and the waves on the Mediterranean Sea have changed from their usual languid roll to a more spirited crash.  That, and it is citrus season.

I have yet to tire of the variety of citrus that is available to us. I just adore the happy sight of tree branches laden with lemons and oranges, hanging over walls and lining the streets. Our local produce stand is keeping me flush with blood oranges, I am mad for them. The rind is pebbly and blushed crimson.  When sliced, they reveal a deep orange that gives way to red and purple. Their flavor is a cross between an orange (duh) and berries. They are abundant and cheap, I bought a big bag full of them for around 2 bucks.

We've been eating them straight up, mixed into salads with fennel and arugula, and juiced. You will never see a more gorgeous juice and I highly recommend that you grab a nearby bottle of something sparkly and make yourself a Mimosa. No need to thank me, giving you that advice is just the right thing to do.

Last week I made the juice into a salmon hued curd. I intended to serve it as a parfait with some cream that would be whipped and blended with a little curd. The curd and cream would then be layered in a little compote and topped with candied pistachios. Well, that didn't happen.

The cream I had purchased would not whip. I had the Kitchen Aid cranked, and after 30 minutes my one cup of cream was only ever so slightly frothy and most of the kitchen was coated in milky splatter. Boo. You should know that the cream we have here is UHT, (on the left in the photo below) and usually it will whip with some effort but it wasn't going to cooperate that day. Instead we had blood orange curd with almond shortbread. It was still yummy, like a really decadent creamsicle.

I really wanted to try the parfait so I broke down and bought what a lot of people I polled use for whipped cream. A boxed mix for Creme Chantilly, in the photo above on the right. While it wasn't great, as you can imagine, it was okay. It tasted more of meringue than cream. I then made a quick syrup of equal parts water and sugar and cooked the pistachios in the syrup until they were bright in color and sticky. They were a pretty addition to the parfait.

Blood Orange Curd Parfait
Adapted from The Kitchn by Rebekah Peppler
makes about 1 1/2 cups
½ cup pistachios

¼ cup water

¼ cup granulated sugar
4 blood oranges, juiced and zested

2 lemons, juiced and zested

3 eggs

1 yolk

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter; cut into small pieces
½ cup heavy whipping cream

First make the candied pistachios. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in pistachios and cook until the liquid is almost gone and the pistachios are coated with a fine candy coating. Remove from heat and spread pistachios to cool on a square of foil. While the pistachios are still slightly wet sprinkle with a little sugar so that they sparkle and are a little crunchy.
For the curd, whisk together the juice and zests, eggs, yolk and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and stir mixture with a wooden until thickened and you can draw a line across the back of your spoon (about 20 minutes). It should be the consistency of a loose pudding. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the butter until smooth and creamy. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Discard zest and any curdled egg bits. Chill completely.
Once the curd is chilled, whisk the whipped cream until soft peaks form. Fold together half of the blood orange curd with the whipped cream.
Ladle curd into cups, top with cream and sprinkle with pistachios.

The Expat Kitchen

For those of us who live overseas our kitchens are the means through which we create a home.
Our kitchens are probably the same as yours but with a few twists. We bring things from all the places we have lived, taste memories and smells, and blend them into our new lives. For example your mothers roast chicken may sport a new Harissa glaze, and the curry you learned to make from your Amma, or housemaid, in Asia becomes something your children identify with as "home food". We don't love Laksa or Mee Goreng or Shwarma because street food is trendy, we love them because those foods are identified with a place, and people. The boundaries of our culinary worlds are a little blurred, and our kitchens reflect that.
When we go home we pack our suitcases with "essentials" to bring back with us. I often wonder what custom agents think when they see suitcases filled with peanut butter, tortillas, gatorade packets, and feta cheese. We visit grocery stores when we travel in the hopes of finding a longed for item, and when we find those things in our host country, we hoard. Even though we stockpile favorite foods we are quick to throw open our pantries to each other, to share our cache of chocolate chips, canned chipotles peppers, or vanilla extract.
There are some recipes however that we will never change. No matter where we live, or how many times we have moved, some recipes evoke such a strong memory of home that we would never dream of tinkering with them. This chocolate cake is one of them. My babysitter Stephanie taught me how to make it in elementary school. It was my favorite after school snack and I took pride in being able to make it myself. It's not a fancy cake but it is perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon at home.

Chocolate Crazy Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
This cake is vegan, the frosting however is not. The cake goes by many names, wacky cake, crazy cake, depression cake.....the baking soda interacts with the vinegar giving the cake its rise.
Spoiler alert: This is not a deeply gooey chocolate cake. It is very moist and lovely, but not super chocolatey. You can try to mess around with it, increase the cocoa powder or add chopped chocolate if you want, but when I make it, I don't change a thing.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup strong coffee

Preheat to the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 9-inch square or round pan.
In a medium size mixing bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt  and sugar. In a glass small bowl combine the vanilla, white vinegar, vegetable oil and coffee. Pour the liquids over all the ingredients and stir the ingredients together until you can’t see any more flour and the batter looks fairly well homogenized.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is springy and a tester inserted in the center comes out dry. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack, then cut and serve it from the pan.

Variation: Instead of frosting this cake with the buttercream I have also had this cake sprinkled with 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon before baking. It is excellent!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
2 cups confectioners' sugar
½ cup butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until very fluffy.
Add vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more milk if needed for spreading consistency.


As I posted previously, I really have an obsession with ginger at the moment.

No, not her, that's weird. Ginger the rhizome. I am fixated on ginger the rhizome.
In my pantry is a bottle of ground ginger, a jar of larger pieces that are dried, sort of like what you would find at the Chinese herbalist, a moderate stockpile of crystallized ginger, and a "hand" of fresh that I picked up at the market last weekend. Too much?

I have a habit of falling hard for a flavor. Then I will use it in all of its forms, in every which way one can imagine, and then just as suddenly the fling will be over and I'll be hard pressed to use whatever it was that I loved for a very long time.

Past flings have included caramel, lemon, lime, pumpkin, and white chocolate. I will find a way to work that flavor into everything I make, sweet, savory, hot, cold, you name it I will put the current flame to work.

Current flame.

This romance with ginger began innocently enough with a cookie. But then again why are we surprised, cookies are a gateway drug.

It was this cookie, Triple Ginger Cookies  from Epicurious that lured me in. Then I found fresh ginger at the market and tried my hand at making my own crystallized ginger.  Then I used fresh ginger in a pumpkin soup, and then some crystallized ginger in a braised pork shoulder. Then. Well, then, I was hooked.

I think this ginger mania, has rubbed off on my oldest daughter. She has been craving Masala tea, that warmly spiced mix of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. I've been making this mix for her of late and she just can't get enough. Need to google "Can obsession be genetic".

Guru Brew aka Masala Tea Mix
5 cups Water
3 whole Cinnamon sticks
3 inch piece Fresh Ginger peeled and thinly sliced
7 whole Green Cardamom Pods
4 whole Star Anise Pods
13 whole Cloves
¼ teaspoons Freshly Ground Black Pepper
10 Tea Bags, black or green tea
½ cup organic cane sugar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla, optional

Bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile in a mortar and pestle bash the ginger, cardamom pods, star anise, and cloves a few times to release their oils. Don’t make a puree just a few good smacks. To a mixing bowl add the cinnamon sticks, the bashed ginger, cardamom, star anise, and cloves, the black pepper, tea bags, and sugar. Add water once it comes to a boil, stir until sugar dissolves and set aside to steep for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture, pressing on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and pour the liquid into a storage container. I use this one from Ikea.
To serve, mix one part of the concentrate with one part milk. Heat to serve hot or pour over ice.
If you like a stronger tea use two parts of concentrate to one part milk.
I am not sure how long this will last stored in the refrigerator. I haven't been able to keep it around longer than 3 days, 5 days tops.
I hate counting out cardamom pods and cloves. Once you get the hang of how much 13 cloves looks like, live dangerously and just dump in what looks to be the same amount. You'll be just fine.

Pink Cookies and Lists

I am a list maker.

I make lists on little sticky notes, on my hand, in my head, and on my favorite app on my iphone. I currently have 33 lists on my phone.

These are a few of my lists:
Things to do with my Brother in Law when he comes to visit
Things that make me laugh
Grocery list
Movie quotes
Days of the week in French
The address to our summer cabin, because I can never remember it.
Potential aliases
Wines to try
and finally.....things that I love.

There are lots of things on that list and since it is Valentine's Day I will give you a little peek.
Ginger. I am currently obsessed with ginger. I try to work it into everything I can think of. Soon I will grow tired of it, swear off it, and not use it again for a very long time.
The sound of waves crashing on the beach. It's like Xanax to me.
The smell of wet cedar. Instantly transports me home to Seattle.
OPI "I Pink I Love You" nail polish. Just because it's pretty.
My favorite book "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith.
Pink Cookies. Thick buttery cookies with piles of slightly crusted sugary frosting. Must be pink.

And don't even get me started on these people

Or this guy

Love them more than I have words to describe. Needless to say they are at the top of every list.

Yesterday the girls and I made a batch, or two, of sugar cookies, frosted them (pink of course) and handed them out to friends at school today. It was fun, and sweet, and I have to go now. I've eaten a few too many of them today and my sugar buzz has turned into the need for a nap.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sugar Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon of milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then set aside.
Beat together the butter and sugar in large bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add egg, milk, and extracts and beat well to combine. The mixture may look a little curdled at this point but don’t worry.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, and beat until the cookie dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
The dough may be a little crumbly, if so, knead it a bit and then divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough and rolling pin with powdered sugar. Remove 1 portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, place at least 1-inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Crusting Buttercream Frosting
8 cups Icing Sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (If you want a pure white frosting use original Crisco)
Generous pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (use clear if you want white frosting)
½ cup – ¾ cup milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl about 3 times.
With the mixer on low, add in the powder sugar, one cup at a time. When you find your mixture getting very thick and the mixer has a hard time incorporating the icing sugar, slowly add in some milk. The amount of milk you use will depend on how thick you want your frosting. For a creamy frosting use the greater quantity of milk, for a stiffer frosting, use the lesser quantity.
Tint the frosting as desired. This pipes like a dream. Allow the cookie or cake to sit uncovered to allow the frosting to set and crust. This will allow your decorations to hold up and transport easier.
Or, if you’re like me, eat the cookies right away.

You can freeze this frosting in an airtight container for 3 months. Defrost at room temperature, the whisk it a bit to fluff it up again.

Mmm, Mmm, Good

I have a thing for soup. I eat it nearly every day and never tire of it. I don't care what kind of soup it is either.  I will eat any kind of soup except mushroom. Or Birds Nest soup. I think that's it, no mushrooms or birds nests for me thank you.

I'm all set to be an old person with no teeth.  Actually I think my love of soup began in first grade when I had very few teeth. It all started with Rita, the girl in my class who was a little naughty. The teacher would not allow Rita to go to the bathroom by herself, another student needed go with her. On this particular day it was my turn to chaperone. As we entered the bathroom Rita casually turned to me and asked, "Hey, do you want to see who can hold their breath the longest".

The gauntlet was thrown down in my 6 year old heart. I'm just a wee bit competitive.

It's important to remember through the rest of this story that I won. Remember that.

Well one thing led to another and before I knew it, I passed out. Cold. On my way down I hit the mirror, the stainless steel sink, and then the tile floor. In my defense I didn't know that such a thing could happen to a person.  It's not like Mrs. Hurlbut thought to pass on this information as I left the class with Rita the hooligan, "Now girls, don't hold your breath, it might cause you to pass out".

This is the part where my parents just shake their heads. I knocked most of my teeth out. Thankfully they were baby teeth. For many years I was very close friends with my dentist and orthodontist.

But I won, so I had that going for me.

Anyway, without teeth there isn't much you can eat. I became a huge fan of Campbells anything. Cream of Tomato, Chicken Noodle, Chicken and Rice, even split pea. I had a thermos in my lunch box that my mom filled with soup. For some reason I also remember her putting in a few pieces of Almond Roca toffee. I think she was trying to give me a treat but didn't fully think that one through.

Flash forward to now, I am still a soup fan but I lean more toward homemade soups. I make one or two pots of soup every Sunday to have on hand for lunches throughout the week.

One of my favorite soups is creamy broccoli soup from the Rebar Modern Food cookbook. I was first introduced to this soup by my friend Becky. If you make it, you simply must make the almond pesto as well. It elevates an ordinary broccoli soup to another level. And, if you're feeling a little naughty you could also serve the soup with some crumbled bacon and grated cheddar cheese.

I bet Rita would.

Creamy Broccoli Soup with Almond Pesto
Adapted from Rebar Modern Food
8 Cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion chopped
6 garlic cloves chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 ½ tsp dried
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground red pepper
1 large potato peeled and diced
4 heads of broccoli, stems peeled and broccoli chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves washed and dried
1 C half and half
½ tsp cracked black pepper

Heat oil in stock pot, add onion and sauté until wilted and lightly browned.  Add garlic, salt, thyme, and ground red pepper.  Sauté until garlic is lightly golden, do not burn the garlic.  Stir in the broccoli, potato and stock.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the broccoli and potato are very tender.

Puree the broccoli and broth in batches until smooth. If using a blender, remove the center of the lid as hot liquids will explode in a blender. Cover the hole in the lid with a clean dish cloth.

Reheat the puree and add the half and half.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (last time I made this it needed an additional 1 tsp of salt)

Almond Pesto
½ bunch of Italian parsley stemmed and chopped
½ C toasted sliced almonds chopped finely
2 cloves garlic minced
½ C grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 C olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare pesto, place olive oil in blender, add remaining ingredients on top of oil and process until combined well. The pesto should not be completely smooth but should also not be really chunky.

Serve soup with the almond pesto, grated Cheddar or Colby cheese, and diced crispy bacon.

Getting Ready

Ah, coming home from a day at work, getting a load of laundry in the wash, dinner on the table, and lunches ready for the next day. I am constantly looking for ways to streamline this process. Or pawn it off on someone else.

I have developed a little strategy that works for me. I find that the more I get done on the weekend, the easier the week goes. That means after I go to the market, I come home and prep all the vegetables for the week. They are all washed and bagged and waiting in the crisper. Same goes with herbs. I make marinades, throw the meat in, and then freeze them flat in zip lock bags. I can take them out of the freezer the night before and as they thaw the marinade flavors them through saving me time. I make a big batch of granola and muffins for breakfasts and for snacking, a pot of soup to take for lunches, and lastly I soak and cook some beans to use throughout the week.

Here's a little peek into things I made this weekend.

Zucchini, Carrot,, and Ginger Muffins

Maple and Olive Oil Granola with Dried Cranberries and Pecans from Orangette. This recipe now replaces what used to be my favorite granola recipe. Make it today, your family will thank you.

Red Bell Peppers were at the market and so I roasted 4 of them, sliced them thinly, zipped them up in bags and stored them in the freezer to add to sauces and soups. Click here if you aren't sure how to roast your own. I also have small frozen bags of caramelized onions, extra chopped onions, citrus zest, stocks, and pestos to add flavor to what ever I am cooking. When the mood strikes I'll chop extra, cook extra etc. so that I can have things on hand for later. I use a zip top bag, remove all the air, flatten the contents and then stack them in the freezer to take up less space.

Black Beans to serve over rice later in the week

Onion Bisque, and Broccoli Soup with Almond Pesto

It seems like a lot of work but it pays off in the end. I like that I can portion the soups out into containers and then grab them in the morning to throw into my lunch. Evening meal times are less chaotic if the meat has already had a chance to marinate, the vegetables are already washed and chopped, and beans have already been soaked and cooked.

Zucchini, Carrot, and Ginger Muffins
Adapted from Epicurious
1/3 cup crystallized ginger coarsely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1 cups coarsely grated carrot
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Coarse sugar for topping. Optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin pan with liners.
Place a tablespoon or two of sugar on a cutting board, slice the crystallized ginger and toss with the sugar then proceed to chop it coarsely tossing again in the sugar to make it less sticky to chop. In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, zest, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the chopped ginger to the dry ingredients and stir well.
In a separate medium size mixing bowl stir together the zucchini, carrot, oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla. Then blend in the dry ingredients until just combined.
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar, and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes.
Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan and cool completely, 1 hour.

Preserved Lemons

Andy and I were up and out the door early this morning. Saturday is market day and I haven't visited the market in La Marsa for a few weeks. I was excited to see if there was anything new, but I was really after a big bag of fresh lemons.  I decided that today I was going to try my hand at making preserved lemons. I have been putting it off because it's just really easy to buy them at the grocery store. Actually that's not entirely the case. The real reason is because I'm impatient, and I don't want to wait a month before I can use them. But as is the case for most things I just knew that homemade had to be better than store bought.

For me just the thought of preserved lemons evokes images of foreign places, exotic spices, minarets, tagines, spice markets, and couscous. Oh hey! I live in that place.....I keep forgetting that.

Preserving citrus isn't unique to North Africa. Preserving citrus, preserving any food for that matter, is a practical and affordable way to keep food long after it's season has passed. Many cultures have their own versions for preserved lemons and limes. Some older English recipes add cinnamon and ginger or bay leaves and juniper berries. In parts of Asia the lemons are boiled until they split open then they are packed with salt and brined in vinegar.

However you choose to make them, preserved lemons have a very bright lemon flavor, they can also be powerfully acidic and very salty. I use them wherever I would use a fresh lemon. A little bit goes a long way.

Preserved lemons are not technically difficult to make, just good fruit and salt. Well, that and patience.

North African Preserved Lemons

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
First things first, clean the lemons really well. Use a vegetable brush to give them a good scrub, and then dry them thoroughly.
Cut a little bit off from each end of the lemon, and then cut the lemons into quarters, stopping about ½ inch from the bottom.

Pack coarse salt, about a tablespoon, into the center of the cut lemon. Don’t be shy with the salt.

Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, pressing the lemons very firmly into the jar to get the juices flowing.
If your lemons don’t give off much juice you’ll need to juice a few lemons to make sure that the lemons in the jar are covered with lemon juice, leaving ½ inch head space.
Make sure there are no air bubbles in your jar, wipe the rim of the jar clean and seal tightly.
Place the lemons in a cool dark place and turn them daily for 4 weeks. After this the lemons will be soft and ready to use. Store them after opening in the refrigerator for 6 months.
Before using them rinse well to remove the salt and with a spoon scrape out the pulp.