murgh musallam

Inspired by a recipe I once cooked from in Tasting India by Christine Manfield, the method of cooking murgh musallam really stood out to me. She calls it a roast, but not once does it go in the oven. You are basically steaming a whole chicken in a spiced gravy, basting it quite a few times during it’s time in the pot, and the results are a tender, deeply flavorful “roast,” which, by the way, is stuffed with spiced whole eggs and nuts, sometimes minced meat.

Making this during a pandemic called for simplifying things. For instance, I don’t have saffron or nuts, and many of the other spices used. I added veggies instead and I loved it even more. Mom’s husband said it tasted like tikka masala but with whole pieces of chicken. I didn’t mind the comparison. You will need:

3 pound chicken seasoned with

-generous amount of salt
-a sprinkle of curry blend (optional)
-juice from half a small lemon

Egg Stuffing

-2 hardboiled eggs, shells off
-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
-tbs ghee
-40g (1/4 c) onion, diced
-40g (1/4 c) celery, diced
-40g (1/4 c) red bell pepper, diced
-1/4 tsp grated fresh turmeric or 1/2 tsp dry
-1/2 tsp red chili pepper or more

In a small pan, gently toast your cumin seeds then add everything else. Saute whole eggs til they turn a nice golden color and the veggies have softened slightly. Spoon the whole eggs into the cavity of the chicken with some of the vegetables. You will spoon the rest of the stuffing over the chicken once your gravy is ready.

Gravy time, made in a big enough pot or dutch oven

-3 tbs ghee
-about 3 tbs ginger garlic paste (about 3 cloves plus 1-inch piece of ginger pureed with a little bit of water)
-2 tbs onion paste (about half a small onion pureed with a little water)
-1 heaping tsp garam masala
-1/2 tsp cumin
-1/4 tsp turmeric
-couple of pinches of cinnamon and clove
-as much red chili pepper you’d like
-bay leaf
-1 heaping cup chopped tomatoes
-8 oz can tomato puree
-3/4 cup chicken stock
-few tbs butter (optional) or cream (also optional), for stirring in towards the end

Heat ghee and gently brown the pastes. Add everything else but the cream and butter and simmer about 10 minutes before adding your whole chicken. As soon as you place it in the middle of the pot, spoon the rest of the stuffing over it.

Then put a lid over it and allow it to steam under a low-medium flame. Every once in awhile you’ll baste the chicken with the gravy. It should be ready to serve within the hour.When cooked through, you can put it on a serving platter deep enough to hold the gravy as well, or cut the chicken into pieces and leave it in the same pot. Serve with basmati rice.

allspice chocolate cake with sesame seed crumble

allspice chocolate cake with sesame seed crumble

Pretty excited about this one, loves! The idea of sesame seeds in a buttery, sugary crumb-topping has been sitting with me for WEEKS, and adding allspice to the chocolate batter was literally a last second decision. And guess what? It works so beautifully I could cry.

Entirely inspired by a lot of my favorite middle eastern desserts, both savory and sweet. From savory ka’ak to sweet sesame cookies…to those rich with honey and rosewater and orange blossom…I am crazy about this.

AND THE EDGES ARE BROWNIE-LIKE.

allspice chocolate cake with sesame seed crumble

Preheat oven to 350.

sesame seed crumb topping:

-1 and 1/4 cup flour
-1 cup light brown sugar
-1/4 cup white sesame seeds, 1/2 ground and 1/2 kept whole
-pinch of allspice and salt
-8 tbs room-temp butter, cut into pieces
-1/2 tbs black sesame seed, for sprinkling

Whisk together the flour, sugar, sesame seeds and allspice. Add the butter, tossing the pieces into the dry mixture, and using your hands, start squeezing them together til big crumbs form. Leave it in the fridge as you work on the batter.

chocolate cake batter for 9 X 13 pan:

-1 cup flour
-1 cup granulated sugar
-1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 heaping tsp allspice plus a pinch more if you love allspice as much as I
-1/2 tsp kosher salt
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 baking soda
-1/3 cup half n half or buttermilk
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-1 egg, gently whisked
-1/3 cup boiling water

Whisk together the dry ingredients and then add the wet. Do not over mix (or burn yourself).

Pour into the pan making sure it is distributed evenly. Then break the crumbs over the batter. Bake for about 30 minutes.

And enjoy.

roasted garlic and carrot lentil soup with crispy brussels sprouts

roasted garlic and carrot lentil soup with crispy brussels sprouts

When I told Dan this is too simple to put on the blog, let’s just say he might’ve called me crazy. Yes, it’s simple. Ridiculously simple. But when he said “not everyone who roasts a whole head of garlic will think to turn it into a soup,” well, he makes a point.

Roast your garlic and a pound of carrots for 45 minutes to an hour, and you’ll have something so wonderfully flavorful you’ll want to do very little to it.

But maybe you’ll want to add shredded, crispy bits of brussels sprouts…which REALLY elevates this whole dang thing. I’m not even spreading lies. Just don’t buy an entire stalk of em along with other heavy things from a farm that doesn’t offer bags cause, that’s not so simple. (Totally worth it, though).

You will need:

-1 medium head of garlic
-pound of carrots, peeled or not
-1 cup red lentils
-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
-1 tsp ground cumin
-red pepper, as much as you’d like
-salt, to taste
-olive oil, for pan and roasting

-pound of Brussels sprouts, halved and sliced
-more olive oil

Can you believe that’s it?

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Laying the garlic flat on aluminum foil, cut the tops off the head and drizzle olive oil over it. Seal it shut.

Lay your carrots on a sheet pan and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper.

Put both the garlic and carrots in your oven. The carrots should take about 40-45 minutes to caramelize, and the garlic about an hour.

While that’s in the oven, drizzle olive oil into a preheated pan and add your shredded Brussels sprouts. Stir only occasionally, as you want most of them to be crispy.

When everything is out of the oven, carefully take the cloves out (you can wait about 15 minutes if you have the time) and add them to a blender along with the carrots and enough stock to make a nice puree.

In a pot, gently toast your ground cumin til well-scented. Add a drizzle of oil and your red pepper flakes. You want to infuse that oil with some heat. Then stir in the puree and the rest of the stock. Add the red lentils and simmer til they are cooked.

Pour into bowls and top them with the nutty goodness of Brussels sprouts. Let me know what you think!

mexican corn chowder

mexican corn chowder

Sitting at the corner table in Estia’s Little Kitchen with Connie, a spoonful of corn chowder in my mouth, I’m immediately taken back to my previous home in Queens. A burst of heat and plenty of cilantro in the broth is exactly how I enjoyed Momma Lupe’s soups. I called a gentleman over and asked in a single word, “tomatillos?” And in a single word returned,“poblanos.”Again I was back in a little kitchen of my own, in another time and place, where sounds of the blender filled the room as poblanos and cilantro became one, beautiful green.

Gratitude to this garden-to-table restaurant where everyone was friendly and most likely family, for allowing me a taste of memory. Our waiting area was the best wait I’ve ever experienced in my life. They serve iced coffee in a truck out back where they are currently growing many lettuce greens and herbs, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. Check out that dragonfly chillin’ on a garlic scape. We walked around til our names were called and we made sure we would return before heading back into the city.

Inspired by their chowder (I had never seen a green corn chowder, have you?), I made my own and I am loving every morning, afternoon, and night, with a bowl of this. It’s good hot and room temp, probably even cold. It goes perfectly with an egg, avocado, a sprinkle of cotija, crispy tortillas. To make it a bit light, I use coconut milk instead of cream and I leave out potatoes. I also grilled the ingredients to get that summer flavor I love.

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Mexican Corn Chowder, serves 4-5 (double up for more)

-1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
-4 ears of sweet corn
-2 big poblanos, deseeded if you like less heat
-1/2 tbs coconut oil
-1 small spanish onion, diced
-3 garlic cloves or scapes, chopped
-1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
-1 cup cilantro, tightly packed, stems okay
-1/2 cup basil
-13.5 oz can organic coconut milk
-3 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
-cotija, cilantro, avocado, egg (serving suggestions)

Spend about 12 minutes grilling your poblanos, 6 minutes a side.

Spend about 10 minutes grilling your corn, turning occasionally. I actually grilled 3 out of 4. The un-grilled one I cut into 1-inch pieces and put them directly into the pot. But feel free to grill ’em all!

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Once they’ve cooled down enough to handle, stand each ear of corn into a bowl and cut kernels off of them. Slice your poblanos.

Take about half of the kernels and put them into a food processor along with the poblanos.

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Blend for a few seconds then add your cilantro and basil. Continue to blend til it reaches desired consistency. I prefer mine not pureed.

In a pot, warm up your coconut oil and saute your onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin seeds for about a minute. Then add the green mixture along with the rest of the kernels and 1-inch pieces, saute for another minute. Stir in your coconut milk and stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long!

Enjoy ❤ Corn is making their summer appearance now but soon, it’ll be EV-ERY-WHERE.

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Miss-You-Spring Galette

Miss-You-Spring Galette

Are you over citrus season yet?

Not I.

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But I wanted my next recipe to lean into spring as if it were only 10 days away. (It is. It doesn’t feel like it, but I promise you, it is. My latest trip to the farmers market told me so!)

Some will say I jumped headfirst into our neighboring season with all these glorious yellows, oranges, and greens, but then that buttery, flaky, pie dough keeps things real cozy, just in time for that moment you realize it’s 23 degrees outside and not as sunny as what’s comin’ out the oven.

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I didn’t know what to name this! It’s basically one of my favorite salads nestled into pie dough. Roasted beets and oranges, topped with lots of spicy greens, and feta.

Cara Cara and Golden Beet Salad Galette AKA Miss-You-Spring Galette AKA Fav Salad Galette?

-2 small golden beets, peeled and sliced crosswise
-1/2 tbs blood orange olive oil (or regular olive oil)
-salt and pepper, to taste
-1 Cara Cara, peeled and sliced
-9 inch pie dough (homemade or store-bought)
-milk or eggwash
-pinches of spice blend (or cracked pepper, flaky salt)
-1/2 cup feta, or more!
-1 1/2 cup arugula or microgreens, dressed however you like, I used a citrus balsamic

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. In it’s own bowl, toss sliced golden beets in olive oil, salt and pepper.

2. Roll out your dough on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper and layer it’s center with beets and oranges. You’ll want enough room to fold in the edges. You can even add some crumbled feta at this point, reserving the rest for when it’s out of the oven.

3. Brush any exposed oranges with olive oil.

4. Brush milk or eggwash on the folded edges and sprinkle some seasoning. I added Aleppo pepper, salt, roasted garlic, parsley flakes.

5. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35-40 minutes. Let it cool down a little before piling on your greens and cheese.

I repeat: 10 more days!

Also, just for photographing purposes, I used way less greens and cheese so that you can see the oranges and beets. But please, pile everything on (and some), should you want to. I’ve even placed extra greens and cheese in bowls in case others wanted more. Maybe offer olives, too!

Blood Orange Z’hug

Blood Orange Z’hug

“…What is Z’hug!?” was a popular question I received last week when I shared the recipe to a Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego party-starter (and maybe ender. You decide). While it used a spice blend inspired by z’hug’s main ingredients, this is all fresh and seriously addictive.

It’s a gorgeous green sauce originating from Yemen that is delicately spiced with cardamom, cumin, coriander, and crushed red pepper. It also packs a punch from using fresh, hot chile peppers and garlic. What makes this z’hug (AKA zhoug) a bit less traditional is that I’ve added citrus flavors because, well, it’s still citrus season and I’m still celebrating. You’ll want to drizzle this onto everything, spoon it into anything, swirl it, plop it, drop it (like it’s hot). Okay, I’ll stop.

Need some ideas?

It goes with ANYTHING tomato. Fresh or roasted or even sauce!

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I made a pumpkin cannellini bean stew and swirled green right into it. You can add this to any stew, soup, spread. It’ll also make a nice addition to your next cheeseboard.

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Use it as a quick marinade by adding some more fresh juice to it. I’ve rubbed a fair amount of blood orange z’hug onto a whole chicken, veggies, and even a tenderloin, which roasted so nicely in the oven. It’d be perfect for grilling season.

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It shares a similarity to my other favorite green sauces: chimichurri, sofrito. But it’s my go-to now because it contains the spices I love most. Try to only use freshly ground spices or high quality bottled up ones. This sauce is as much about the spice as it is the green. You can use plain (but very good) olive oil, and any hot pepper you adore. Play with the greens, too. Some recipes use all parsley or all cilantro. Some add mint. Sky’s the limit on which citrus you’d like to use. I hear Sumos hit the markets very recently and everyone’s going crazy for them.

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Blood Orange Z’hug (Yeminite Green Sauce), small batch

– 1 cup fresh cilantro with small stems, tightly packed
– half cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
– 2 garlic cloves
– 1-2 jalapeños, sliced (or other pepper variety)
– 1 tsp freshly ground cumin, toasted
– 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
– 1/2 tsp ground coriander, toasted
– 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (I use Aleppo), or more to taste
– 1/4 cup plus 1 tbs Blood Orange Olive Oil
– juice from 1 small blood orange, or other orange variety
– small squeeze of fresh lemon
– zest from orange
– salt, to taste

Directions: Add everything to your food processor and blend til thoroughly combined. Feel free to add more olive oil and fresh juice if you’d like a looser consistency. Use z’hug for all the things.

Let me know how you end up using it!

This is what z’hug looks like when you use a blender instead of a food processor BTW:

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Still edible. And pretty.

You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

During our winter visit in 2017, I remember we quickly drove past a shop in town that had the word CHEESE in it’s name. That’s all I saw. Cheese. We didn’t have time to check it out (every shop closes by 6PM!) but for the next six months, I knew it’d be a priority visit for me if I had a chance to return. Well, a few weeks ago, we walked a couple of miles into town, hangry, and I asked, “Where’s the cheese!? I don’t see the cheese!” Then I remembered all trees were bare the last time we were here. I spotted the only tree-lined block to our right and told Dan it had to be behind them. And there it was, a cheese shop with two entrances, held in what seemed to be a secret block of independent shops.

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At first, I thought it would be similar to World of Cheese in Forest Hills, where, simply put, they sell cheese. But since they’re called The Cheese Plate, I am happy to announce that they sell cheese, but with a cheese-mongers excitement, will put together a cheese board for you to enjoy inside, or outside, their shop. This would be our first meal of day 4. I told them Dan and I enjoy firm cheeses, and we settled on an Italian variety called Piave Vecchio, and Jake’s Aged Gouda. A cross between Parmesan and Asiago, Piave Vecchio crumbled onto the wood. Jake’s was firm and nutty, cut into hearty strips. Then quince paste was added to the board along with pistachios and almonds, olives, slices of apple, and soppressata. They gave us a generous amount of cheese for two people. I’m not complaining.

THEY ALSO SERVE ICE CREAM. And after a walk around town, we decided to return to go get some. We got chocolate, coconut, and blackberry. But alas, this isn’t about the wonderful way we started our 4th day, is it? But look how cute that guy is, handing me creamy blackberry amazingness.

Now, there are many places to eat around here, but when you know you only have 5 days in New Paltz, you eat at the one and only locally sourced Indian restaurant that you fell in love with during your first visit. And you don’t eat there once. If you’re anything like Dan and I, you eat there 3 very magical times and wish you ordered Chicken Masala to take back with you to Brooklyn. This is because every vegetable, cream and butter, is farm fresh. You can TASTE the difference. Coconut samosas? Such a wonderfully sweet departure from the savory potato or meat one we’re used to. The naan? Just look at it.

When we overheard that they serve a buffet on Tuesdays, we changed our plans to accommodate this feast.  Dan truly stuck to his favorite masala and I can’t say I blame him. Tomato and cream have never tasted so rich. We almost thought it was butter.

It was on Tuesday, day 3, that I fell in love with a soup. A thin, extremely fresh-tasting broth, heavy on the cilantro, mildly spiced, reminded me of a cross between my tomato soup and my carrot masoor dal. I kept eating small spoonfuls just to identify everything I could. I gave in and asked them about it, and was told it’s their vegetable soup, pureed with red lentils, and that if I return on a regular day when it’s made to order, it’ll be even better.

IHEARYOU.

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On the 5th day, the day we were set out to leave, I discovered it was their South Indian Mulligatwany. Guys. I’ve had mulligatawny many, many times. But never like this. I am convinced it has to do with the very ingredients they use, and how they use them. When we returned, with our suitcases in tow, needing to catch a train 2 hours from when we sat, I ordered this again. It was thicker. Richer. I think coconut milk was present. I loved it. But is it strange that I love their thinly-brothed version even more? It holds true to what Mulligatawny means: pepper water.

In my version, I use everything I thought I had tasted, and I came so very close to how it actually tasted. And yes, every single veggie and fruit came from the farmers market. I seriously encourage this. Heirloom tomatoes are IN and if I find out you store-bought yours, I already know you will not be able to experience this soup the way I swooningly did.

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A variety of carrots and onions are everywhere. Fresh herbs a must. Fresh spices, yes please. Peppers! Oh my goodness the peppers. Use sweet and ones with heat. You won’t regret it. The color of the soup will also depend on the color of the tomatoes and sorts of peppers you used. Mine were a variety of yellows and reds. It’s lighter-looking than what I had in New Paltz, but that’s also because sunshine lit this bowl up.

 

A Summer Mulligatawny

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • long drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • an inch knob of ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, diced (a pound and a half)
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, diced
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp garam masala or maharajah curry
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 cardamom pods, gently cracked open
  • 1/2 cup dried red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4th cup coconut cream
  • cilantro, chopped

Directions

Gently toast cumin seeds in pot, about 30 secs, then semi-coat with olive oil. Add your onion, garlic, and ginger. Saute for a couple of minutes then add tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and spices. Let the spices perfume your kitchen and then stir in your lentils, add your stock, bring to a boil then simmer for about a 1/2 hr, stirring occasionally. Add coconut cream. Puree with an immersion blender or whatever blender you have. Serve with cilantro. For a heartier meal, also serve with basmati.

Variations
For a thicker soup, add more of the veggies you love, and/or add another half cup of red lentils. Some recipes call for an apple. Why not? You could also use coconut milk instead of cream, I was just aiming for richness here. I welcome any herb you’re growing here, too. Add a dried pepper for extra heat! I ran out of em. OH, and try grilling your tomatoes for a few minutes before adding it into the pot. I know that’s exactly what I’m going to do the next time I make this!

Okay. We didn’t just eat 5 days straight. We walked in the rain, too. We walked A LOT.

And in the walks, there was a heart.

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cooking with oranges

cooking with oranges

Why an orange in all the things? Since I was young, one sip of orange juice would upset my stomach. I loved the taste, but I have never been able to enjoy an orange and for years I never bothered going anywhere near one. That is, until I began cooking and baking with them. It turns out, I love oranges better when paired with salty, savory flavors. Hard cheeses. As a marinade for chicken or pork. Marmalade. But marmalade-as-BBQ sauce WHAT!? I’ll get to that later.

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I am definitely in love with oranges when fresh thyme, rosemary, and cumin are present. Any fresh herb, really. I once had mussels in a Harlem restaurant with Connie and I kept asking myself, what is this amazingness I am tasting? Orange zest in a spicy broth. Mind blown.

Let’s just say I went a little orange-crazy for Jen’s birthday dinner. Even one of her gifts from me–a latin seasoning packet–had bitter orange peels in it.

The night before, I sleepily baked an Orange Bundt Cake, using cara cara oranges. I did not follow any of the instructions for the wet ingredients because a part of me did not agree with them. It only called for oil? No butter? I threw 2 sticks of room-temp butter in there, no oil, and hoped for the best. And you know what? It was perfectly orange. Soft and moist. I made an icing out of a couple of squeezes of fresh orange juice and its zest, vanilla extract. Served it with fig and orange jam for breakfast after I gently toasted a slice. I’m calling this a Birthday Bundt for Breakfast. I made it again for Tory, using cake flour and way more zest. I drizzled white and chocolate icing over it. It came out even better, I think.

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In the morning, it was time to stew the beans. Remember the recipe for my stewed beans I shared with you some time ago? I have been throwing a few orange peels into the pot ever since I did so in Florida. For Jen’s birthday feast, I even threw in a half of rotisserie chicken which fell apart in the pot and gave it an extra salty something. I’ve done this once before, about two years ago. Not sure why it’s taken me two years to do it again. I remember Dan and I thinking it was a fantastic idea. Perfect for when you have leftover chicken and not sure what to do with it.

Stewed Beans & Chicken with Orange Peels

  • Servings: about 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • drizzle of olive oil
  • couple of thyme sprigs
  • tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • few medium-sized orange peels
  • 2 16 oz cans cannellini beans
  • 1 16 oz tomato sauce
  • 16 oz water
  • half (leftover) chicken, dark meat, bone-in
  • salt n pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil in dutch oven or pot and add thyme, cumin seeds, onion, and jalapeños. Saute for a few minutes. Add everything else and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Take out chicken (which is probably super tender by now), shred, and put back into the pot. Serve with basmati rice.

Note: I used canned beans for this recipe because I didn’t have dried on hand, but by all means, if you have them, use them instead. Soak over night.

Variations

I’ve made this recipe using small red beans, and pinto beans. They work very well, I just really love cannellini! Want to use other herbs? Cilantro was the only green my mom used for these beans for years. If you have them, definitely use them. Sometimes I find myself adding dried oregano as well. As for an added richness, sub some water for chicken stock.

If you’re looking for meatless stewed beans, which is what I usually make, I add potatoes and carrots, even olives, or nothing at all! Sometimes, I just want BEANS.

Here is the original stewed beans recipe.


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As a fresh side made with my farmers market haul, this salad was served: mixed greens with baby arugula, purple cabbage, roasted beets, cara cara oranges (yes, the peels went into the beans), and rupert cheese from Scarbourough Fare farms.

Expect way more orange-inspired dishes on this blog! I believe blood orange and meyer lemon marmalade is next–but smothered all over spicy ribs and used in replacement of BBQ sauce. NBD.

ode to the wooden spoon

ode to the wooden spoon

I am enamored by the deep quiet of a wooden spoon. It holds like a tongue some keep-it-on-a-hush family recipe. It doesn’t matter where I am. At home. In my love’s home. At mom’s. In Englewood, Florida (where I started writing this, having put his parents’ spoon down which has stirred a pot of my famous beans. It may live on with the stain or scent of cumin and oranges.) Also, this was the first time I ever put orange peels into a pot of my beans and I had a serious OH WOW moment right in their kitchen that I will never forget.

I went orange-crazy here in Florida. I marinated chicken breasts with freshly squeezed oranges, olive oil, garlic, cumin, fresh thyme and basil. The heirloom tomato salad with feta had a light orange-basil dressing. The beans the beans the beans! Dan made his fried shrimp and it completed the small feast. A dinner to show my gratitude for this 10-day vacation with my love and his family, two days which were spent in Orlando celebrating my inner-child (and challenging my fear of heights, y’all.) The view from our balcony was so very beautiful. Everything was magic.

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I come from a Russian Puerto Rican household, and wood wasn’t a thing for cooking. Mom loved her rubber and plastic spatulas up until maybe a few years ago when wood entered our lives. When I told Danny this, he said, “I don’t get it. A wooden spoon is everything.” I’ve come to learn that a wooden spoon is story, is history, is amazing love. It is all-around gentle. Kind to your pots and pans as well as to what’s simmering long inside.

I learned a lot from his Italian-Syrian family. For instance, you’re supposed to be woken up not by the smell of coffee (okay, sometimes by the smell of coffee), but by tomato sauce simmering in a pot, stuffed artichokes in the oven, maybe baked meatballs, quite possibly Lori’s famous pecan pie or pinwheel knishes, rose-scented baklava or spinach pies, whole roasted chicken, the sweet and sour of yebre–stuffed grape leaves I plan on making very soon, and usually soups like split pea made with leftover ham, chicken with rice, and my favorite of hers: Italian Wedding. It’s never one of these things. It’s about two and something different, and always of course, seasonal. Right now it’s all about working meals around Danny’s garden. The best eggplant parmesan comes out of their kitchen during this time. Everything I love about summer comes from the garden.

While here in Englewood, Florida, after closely inspecting the wooden spoons I found in a drawer, I grew very comfortable in the kitchen. Knowing that everything in the fridge would have to go before we leave, we wanted to use up everything we had, especially the beautiful produce from Sunfresh!

Many cheese plates were made. All the fruit was cut up. I used their local butter for bread and lemon chicken. I made a watermelon salad with feta, thinking about the very one Tory made me recently, scattered lovingly with mint. Dan requested my guacamole and I requested his garlic bread for summery bruschetta. The peaches were so sweet. The hot capicola was beautiful, and hot. My view from a cheese plate? Even more beautiful, and hot.

I thought I hated beaches. For 28 years I did not care for them. Turns out I’m not into the ones found in NY, as they are cold and mostly dirty. But this beach? I never felt water so warm, waves so gentle, sand so clean. Dan and I watched the sun set together and I never wanted to leave. Thankfully we had this chance, as it rained heavily the next 3 days and the waves grew wicked due to Hurricane Harvey’s wind.

I had ice cream BTW that blew my mind. I think it was the first time I tasted ice cream the way it should be tasted and I easily became obsessed. I liked it so much I told everyone that we’re going back to A Better Scoop Ice Cream Shoppe the next day–my treat. Their Dark Cherry was everything dark cherry should be. Simple. I’ve had this flavor at other places and it always came with chocolate, but it’s not even necessary when it’s this creamy and rich.

One afternoon, while browsing their local supermarket (Publix), they were giving out samples of lemon chicken made on the premises. Everyone loved it, so I decided to make this for our next dinner. It was my first time ever making it and loved it as much as I love chicken marsala. The white wine, chicken broth, lemon, capers, thyme, cream…so so good. Always serve this with any kind of broccoli you love. It’s the perfect green.

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It took me awhile to get back to writing this post. Hurricane Irma threatened their home, a home I quickly fell in love with. I became on edge for them, having been around when superstorm Sandy hit them in Brooklyn. I am relieved very minor damage was done by Irma but I feel horrible about the damage being done by all these recent hurricanes and earthquakes. I may no longer have a home to visit in Puerto Rico and many do not have one to live in. The writing stopped when the storms started but I felt like I wanted to say so much. Earth is saying so much. While we were in Florida, we were getting rains and wind from Hurricane Harvey and already witnessed the sort of potential flooding if it had hit us directly. Trees were trees in a foot of water. Most of their seeds on the ground.

I can’t say why I felt the need to write about my love of wooden spoons, only that I feel most comfortable with one in my hand. If you find yourself in a kitchen you’ve never been in, spot the wooden spoon and you’ll immediately know what to do. These ten days brought me so much peace. To wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with this view, with people I love, is nothing short of amazing.