The title might be misleading, making one imagine a table set on a paradisiac beach laden with jerk turkey, Cajun vegetables, pina coladas, and rum cake for dessert. I sure spent my Thanksgiving week in the Caribbean, but I certainly had a Thanksgiving meal in the most traditional of ways consisting of turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. How can I have anything else for my Thanksgiving meal? How can anyone? I would eat a Thanksgiving dinner everyday if I could.
I’ll be back with pictures of my very relaxing vacation as soon as I get a chance to unpack.
This is one of those dinners improvised and inspired by what’s on the end aisles of supermarkets this season. I had no idea what I was going to buy for dinner when I stepped inside the grocery store a few evenings ago. All I knew was that I wanted something quick and simple. I had had a long week and little energy left to invest in a meal or anything else. As soon as I passed the flower and balloon section, I headed toward the deli area, subconsciously contemplating getting rotisserie chicken or some other sort of ready-to-eat meal. Consciously though, I knew I wanted to make something for my family. Right where the imported cheeses and prepackaged salads are, I spotted whole grain naan, and immediately got the idea for making a pizza or flatbread of some sort. A few steps farther, there were hundreds of cans of cranberry sauce, prominently displayed and at a discounted price, begging to be picked up; and there I got the idea for the sauce. The rest was easy; I quickly grabbed some chicken, Feta cheese and asparagus.
The whole preparation took me a little less than 30 minutes. I loved the cranberry sauce on the naan. John was caught off guard at first, but loved it as soon as he was able to decipher the flavors.
The naan I bought had 2 breads about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and made two good size individual flatbreads.
Chicken Flatbread with Cranberry Sauce and Asparagus
1 pound chicken breast, cut into strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tandoori whole grain naan breads
8 tablespoons cranberry sauce
8 asparagus tenders, steamed until crisp-tender
4 ounces crumbled Feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium skillet, place the chicken, garlic and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Spread the cranberry sauce on the naan breads. Top with the chicken, asparagus and feta cheese.
Bake the flatbreads in the oven until crispy, about 10 minutes.
When I make ice cream at home, I like to use flavors that are not available at the store. Like the lemon basil or the honey and cinnamon ice cream in Marrakesh Express, this one is quite uncommon.
When I roasted the bananas with brown sugar until they were wilted and caramelized, they infused a very warm and musky aroma. I couldn’t help but think of bananas foster, one of my all-time favorite desserts. I just wanted to eat them right away. Then I reminded myself of how good they will taste in ice cream and refrained at the last minute, albeit I did steal a forkful or two after all.
According to ice cream pundit, David Lebovitz, adding alcohol to ice cream helps keep it soft. What better than dark rum to complement this bananza (banana bonanza)? Or even better: a mix of dark rum and banana liqueur. I suggest adding a tablespoon (or two) to prevent ice cream from becoming hard and sticky as well as for a wonderful bananas foster-like taste. I make mine virgin, and it is soft and delicious as it is, but adding a small amount of alcohol will only make it creamier and tastier.
When I have a copious meal, I often skip dessert to avoid feeling too full. However, when I eat ice cream for dessert, the opposite happens: it helps me feel better. It’s strange considering that ice cream is said to be one of the ten hardest foods to digest. Go figure!!
Roasted Banana Ice Cream
This preparation doesn’t require an ice cream machine. Churning your ice cream in a machine, however, will only yield better results.
6 to 8 servings
3 bananas, chopped
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the bananas with the brown sugar inside a baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until soft and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Blend the bananas in a food processor until very smooth.
Transfer the bananas into a large, lidded container. Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk until well blended.
In a separate bowl, beat the heavy whipping cream to soft peaks. Scrape it into the banana mixture and whisk until well blended. Cover with the lid and freeze.
Remove the ice cream from the freezer after one hour. Whisk energetically to aerate, cover, and put back in the freezer.
Remove the ice cream again after 2 to 3 hours. Whisk energetically, cover, and return to the freezer.
Remove from the freezer again after 4 to 5 hours. Whisk energetically one last time, cover, and place back in the freezer until firm.
I am not one of those people who can make a meal of a plain salad and be happy. Unless it’s loaded with filling and fulfilling ingredients, it will never make it to my table as a main dish. One should never say never; but I am confident when it comes to this matter.
I love restaurant salads that have more meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables than lettuce. It seems like those shrewd restaurant managers have figured out how to make people feel good about their food choices while still satisfying every one of their cravings. I think it’s a great thing for those of us who need to be encouraged with such additions to get a salad.
The great thing about homemade salads is that we can combine all of our favorite foods in one dish—there are no limits to the combinations we can make. I especially love chopped salads because all the ingredients are bite-sized and only require a fork to be enjoyed—economizing utensils equates to saving soap, water and electricity in these tough economic times. Every little bit counts these days.
My salad tonight has a balanced amount of lettuce, mozzarella, salmon, crab and chickpeas. The basil offers a fragrant surprise with every other bite and the garlic-spiked vinaigrette complements the other flavors really well.
Chopped Seafood Salad with Garlic Vinaigrette
10 ounces romaine, chopped
8 ounces imitation crab meat, chopped
8 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
4 ounces smoked mozzarella, diced
½ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup chopped basil leaves
1 garlic clove, finely minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the romaine, crab, salmon, mozzarella, chickpeas and basil in a large bowl and toss gently to mix. In a smaller bowl, combine the garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and whisk well to combine. Pour over the salad, toss and serve immediately.
As I wrote in my previous post, I sometimes shy away from buying pumpkin and butternut squash because of the effort involved in peeling, seeding and cutting them. The flesh can be very tough and the seeds sticky; it sometimes takes me quite a while to finish. I have figured out how to easily cut a butternut squash, but I still find pumpkins challenging and often “outsource” the task to someone stronger, more patient and less maladroit whenever I can. That’s why I left out the pumpkin when I went shopping for some fall vegetables to make my tagine yesterday, even though there were some really beautiful ones.
I loved being able to buy a slice or wedge of pumpkin in Morocco. The grocer would have a huge 20- or 30-pound pumpkin, and cut me a piece any thickness I wanted. I often took advantage of his kindness and specified the shape too. Moroccan pumpkins have medium to dark green skin and look a little bit like watermelons from the outside.
Even though I left out the pumpkin, I am pleased with the vegetables I bought: strikingly fresh parsnips, organic carrots—the only organic vegetable I can afford—and the smallest butternut squash I could find, which weighed close to 2 pounds after all. Then I stopped at the butcher’s aisle, grabbed some meat and off to my kitchen I headed to make dinner.
As soon as my tagine started sizzling, the harissa filled my whole house with its appetizing aroma. I checked my tagine every 10 minutes, hoping it would be done.
Tagine of Beef with Fall Vegetables and Harissa
1 pound stew beef, cut into 4 pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch saffron threads
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons harissa
3 cups vegetable broth
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
2 parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Parsley for garnish (optional)
Place the beef in a large pot with the garlic, sea salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, and saffron. Add the olive oil and sauté over medium heat, turning the beef occasionally, until browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the harissa and cook, 3 minutes. Incorporate the vegetable broth, cover and cook, 50 to 60 minutes.
Add the carrots, zucchini, parsnips and butternut squash and cook, covered, until the vegetables and beef are done, 20 to 30 minutes. Plate and garnish with parsley.
I’m not claiming to be an expert at cutting butternut squash, and certainly not at carving pumpkin and other vegetables as hard and stubborn as my head—as my mom would say—without cutting myself. However, I have—through trial and error—figured out an easy way to cut a butternut squash. I have found out that the easiest way is to cut off about an inch from the top and bottom of the squash to make it stand straight on a cutting board, peel off the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler, cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, seed it using a spoon or melon baller, and finally cut it into cubes. It sounds simple, but I’ve done these steps in many different orders before I got them right. I could have googled the method and saved myself the trouble, but I seem to enjoy learning from my mistakes and reinventing the wheel.
P.S. Blogger is not letting me upload more photos. I shall figure out what the problem is and post more pictures of how I masterfully handled the butternut squash.
A day later:
Well, I am happy to announce that Blogger has come back to its senses. Below is undeniable proof of my newly gained expertise:
I remember my first kiss, experienced at an embarrassingly young age. I remember my graduation day and how my mother’s eyes sparkled with tears of joy. I remember many of the intense moments in my life. And I remember my first spicy food; it must have been an intense moment as well.
Harissa, the chili pepper paste trendy nowadays among chefs on Food Network and everywhere, was how I had my baptism of the heat. Compared to the feisty Thai green curry I had a few weeks ago (which the waiter described as mild–LOL), harissa is lukewarm at best. Moroccan spicy is more flavorful spicy than hot spicy; and harissa is just that: a very flavorful condiment with a bit of a kick. I have always considered harissa spicy; but spicy can be very relative, as I discovered when I first moved to the US and swallowed a spoonful of wasabi that I mistook for avocado puree at a Japanese restaurant. I nearly lost my breath from that. Spicy took a whole new meaning for me that day and I never ceased to discover how relative spicy can be.
I use harissa to spike my tagines, marinades or as a spread on sandwiches, alone or mixed with mayo. I usually buy it at the local Middle Eastern market; but when they don’t have it, I prefer to make it at home rather than drive to the market on the other end of town or wait a couple of days for it to be shipped from Amazon. It is worth the drive and deserving of the wait, but I can’t wait for the day when it is carried by mainstream grocery stores alongside ketchup and mustard. I know that day will come. Until then, I shall continue making mine.
12 fresh red chili peppers, stems and seeds removed (or 24 dried ones, presoaked in hot water for 1 hour and drained)
5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Blend the chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor until smooth.
Season the harissa paste with salt, cumin, and coriander. Transfer to a jar and top with a layer of olive oil. Close the jar tightly and refrigerate. It will keep for up to 6 weeks.
You’ll laugh—or at least smile—if I told you I have always called this drink jus d’avocat (avocado juice). I only started officially calling it a smoothie after a coworker ingenuously thought I had passed the avocado through a juicer to extract a few drops, when I told her I had it for breakfast. I was amused by her almost stunned look when she asked me how many pounds of avocado I had used.
The fact of the matter is that in many ways the English language is richer, especially when it comes to relatively new terms, and has different names for various things that may be closely related. It is not always the case for other languages, in which such terms are often borrowed or lamely translated from English. Yes, you guessed it right: in French it is now trendily called un smoothie, with the th sounding like a z.
But this smoothie is nothing to laugh about; it is silky and rich, with a fantastic taste. I know it is hard to imagine avocado as a sweet drink, but it is surprisingly good. Avocado is not exactly what most people would claim as a favorite fruit, and I never particularly daydream about avocado either—except as a smoothie.
This delicious and amazingly nutritious concoction calls for only 3 ingredients and a few blender pulses. Enjoy it any time of day, and call it a juice, just for fun!
Avocado Smoothie Recipe
1 1/2 cups milk
1 small avocado, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons sugar
Using an electric blender, blend the milk, avocado, and sugar until smooth and creamy. If it is too thick, add a little more milk and sugar. Serve immediately.
How I love a slow-cooked tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives. I have always loved the earthy flavors a tagine lends to anything cooked within its confines. For those unfamiliar, a tagine is a clay cooking vessel with a dome-shaped lid used in Morocco for hundreds of years. Nothing spells terroir better than a tagine and fresh local produce, in my opinion.
Even though, today, a tagine refers to any kind of Moroccan stew whether cooked in a tagine or not—and whether on a charcoal brazier or a stovetop—the authentic method, still religiously observed by villagers throughout Morocco, remains unsurpassed. Because of the time constraints of modern life, my mother as well as most people I know cook their tagine on a stovetop. The rustic method is nowadays a treat reserved for holidays and other special occasions.
Whenever possible, I make time for a tagine slowly cooked on a brazier. The preparation of a tagine is simple—all it takes is a little bit of planning ahead. I place all the ingredients together in my tagine at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon and let the flavors slowly develop while that wonderful piece of art and history called a tagine permeates its unique flavor to the food over a small open flame for several hours. It’s ready just in time for dinner. I usually make it on a Sunday afternoon, when I’m enjoying the comforts of home and taking care of routinely things such as laundry, repainting my nails, straightening my hair, waxing and the sort. You could do the same while watching football or doing some bricolage (DIY work) around the house. You will have something to look forward to. I know I will.
The next best utensil to use—if you don’t own a tagine—is a Dutch oven, followed by the mighty popular Crock-Pot. If you decide to buy a tagine; I would like to congratulate you on making one of the wisest culinary decisions of your life. Amazon has some great ones—Emile Henry’s is my number one pick.
Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives Recipe
The cooking time for this recipe is based on cooking the chicken in a pot on the stove over medium heat. If using a tagine, cut your chicken into 4 to 6 pieces, lower the heat and cook for 3 to 4 hours.
4 to 6 servings
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3 pinches saffron
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 whole large chicken (3 to 4 pounds), cut into 4 to 6 pieces
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 cup pitted green or red olives
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 preserved lemon without pulp, cut into strips
In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, saffron, turmeric, and ginger. Rub all sides of the chicken with the mixture. Pour the remaining mixture into a large pot, add the onions, and place the chicken on top. Simmer over medium heat, turning occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the water and cook, covered, 45 to 50 minutes, turning the chicken halfway through the cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chicken from the cooking pot and place it on a cookie sheet. Brush the chicken with melted butter and bake until golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes.
Continue cooking the sauce. Add the parsley, cilantro, olives, raisins and preserved lemons and let cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened, 10 to 12 minutes.
Garnish the chicken with olives, preserved lemons, and sauce. Serve hot.