Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Luscious Lemon Coconut Trifle

Sometimes a special occasion calls for something fancy and complicated. Other times it calls for something simple and delicious that just looks complicated.  If the later is your kind of dish then Trifle is the dessert for you. There are so many versions of Trifle but the basics are the same. you need some sort of cake, some sort of liquid and something squishy. Now typically you'll see recipes call for pound cake or lady fingers but I've made trifle with gingersnaps too. 

This particular concoction was for a Scentsy party where we all brought food inspired by the different wax scents. I'm a sucker for coconut and citrus so when that combo came my way I knew I had the perfect dessert. So here you have it, Lemon Coconut Trifle.

Lemon Coconut Trifle


3 Lemons
1 c sugar
12 oz whipped cream
5-8 oz lemon curd
1 cup of toasted coconut

1 recipe of Simple Sugar cake  made without the fruit but with the inclusion of 1 1/4 tsp coconut extract and 1/2 cup shredded coconut.


Start by making your cake. While it is baking spread your shredded coconut on a baking tray and just before the cake is done put the coconut in the oven to toast. Watch that it doesn't burn.

Juice the three lemons until you have 1 cup of lemon juice. Pour the lemon juice and zest of two lemons in a small pot on medium heat with one cup of sugar. stir until sugar dissolves. allow mixture to come to a boil and reduce the heat allowing it to simmer until thickened to the desired consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Make your whipped cream and lemon curd ahead of time or purchase your preferred store bought variety. Before assembling the trifle gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream being careful not to over mix.

Now for the assembly. Tear the cake into slightly larger than bite sized pieces. In a trifle dish or glass bowl of your choice begin with a layer of cake. Pour some of the lemon syrup over top (about a tablespoon or two) sprinkle some toasted coconut next and then top with a layer of the whipped cream lemon curd mixture. Continue to layer until your Trifle dish is full ending with a layer of the whipped cream and curd mixture. Garnish with toasted coconut and lemon zest. This desert is best served after being allowed to sit but the last whipped cream layer should not be added until just before serving.

I prefer to make all of my components from scratch as I think it yields a better taste. However with that said I promised easy and fuss free so you can make this with entirely store bought components with little effort. A regular pound cake or one made from a box mix would do for your base, you can buy lemon syrup in many liquor stores or where bar supplies are sold, whipped cream is readily available and lemon curd should be easy to find in your local grocery either with the jams and jellies or in the international food aisle (think England).

Once assembled it will hold for about a week in the fridge, but that's only if it lasts that long! Of course don't forget that this is just one of many versions. If lemon and coconut don't appeal to you change it up and try a chocolate orange trifle or make up your own combination of your favorite flavors. Whatever you do have fun and make it your own!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Handy Beef Hand Pies

While casseroles are a wonderful go to vessel for an easy evening meal, sometimes you just want a quick bite. Instead of choosing store bought microwavable pastries consider making your own easy tasty Hand Pies. Hand pies, pasties, samosas, pocket pies, whatever you call them these lovelies have been providing a quick, easy hearty lunch for ages. They are so simple to make once you've made a few you may find the more processed ones aren't so appealing anymore.

This recipe is ground beef and vegetables, very similar to what you would put in a cottage pie. In fact the main difference is that with the cottage pie you want a nice gravy where here you just want well spiced meat without the added moisture.

Handy Beef Hand Pies


1 lb ground beef
1 onion
1 14 oz bag of frozen vegetables
3 medium potatoes boiled and diced
1 tsp crushed bay leaves
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Pie dough for a two crust pie (you can make your own or buy pre made crust)


In a pan brown the ground beef draining off any excess fat. Add in diced onion and seasoning and saute gently until the onion is translucent. Remove from the heat, mix in the diced potatoes and mixed vegetables. Allow the mixture to cool.

Roll out your pie crust and cut into 8 equal portions. Fill each of the 8 pastry sections with a couple of tablespoons of the filling and seal each crimping the edges with a fork. Place the pies on a foil lined sheet and bake for 230 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until crust is flaky and golden brown. Remove the pies from the oven and allow to cool completely. Seal in freezer bags separated by a piece of wax paper to avoid sticking. When you are ready to reheat you can always pop them in the oven for a flakier crust or just pop them in the microwave for about 2 minutes or until heated through.

These little darlings could easily be made with whatever filling you prefer and are a great way to use up leftovers. How about that Thanksgiving turkey, dice up your leftovers and voila turkey stuffing pockets, turkey cranberry and brie pockets or get some ham and make turkey ham and cheese pockets. The options are limitless so experiment and enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Carefree Chicken Pot Pie

There is something about fall that makes me long for comfort foods. As the chill begins to set in anything warm and familiar holds a particular charm for me. So as I began to plan some freezer meals for after our little one arrives one of my first thoughts was Chicken Pot Pie. What could be more comforting than tender chicken and vegetables in gravy tucked away in a lovely flaky crust. What's more it only takes minutes to throw together and it is so much healthier than the store bought variety.

Chicken Pot Pie


2-3 chicken breasts
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables or 1lb of your favorite veggies diced small
1 onion diced
1/4 c flour
8 oz chicken stock
2 tbsp garlic minced
1 tsp sage
1 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp rosemary
Salt and Pepper to taste
Crust for 2 crust pie


Cook the chicken breasts as desired. I poach mine but you could also roast them or dice and saute them in a pan. If you poach them place them in pan and just cover them with water then bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes then remove from the heat and cover. Allow chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes or until completely cooked through. Drain the chicken, allow it too cool and dice into bite sized pieces.

Prepare your pie crust. You can buy a crust ready made, use a box mix, or make your own. I will not lie I buy a ready made crust. In a bowl, combine your chicken and vegetables. (If you decide to use fresh vegetables hold off on this step.) Pour this mixture into your pie crust.

In a deep skillet saute your onion in a bit of butter. Just before the onion is translucent add the flour a bit at a time until you have enough to make a good rue. Add the chicken broth whisking constantly to avoid clumping. Once you have a consistently smooth gravy going add your seasonings and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove from the heat and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Top with your second pie crust and crimp edges. Allow to cool completely before freezing.

To prepare your pot pie from the freezer, shield pie crust edges with foil then place on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remember every oven is different so check your pie often after the first 45 minutes (through the window, don't open that door!) and don't forget to take the foil off the edges in the last 15 minutes. It could take a bit longer or be spot on. Either way allow the pie to rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Then just sit back and enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Terrific Thai Chicken and Rice Casserole

The next few weeks you will see a number of easy to prepare and freeze foods on the blog because my husband and I are expecting a very special delivery. Our first child is due this month so as the date gets closer I have been preparing some freezer meals to make dinner time easy once baby arrives. These meals aren't just great for soon to be parents though. These time savers can make sure your family, regardless it's size, has great homemade food any night of the week no matter how busy your schedules may get. So roll up those sleeves and get ready to cook. One day in the kitchen can mean a freezer full of easy to prepare treats!

My first freezer meal is an exotic twist on an old favorite. Look in any casserole book and you will find a chicken and rice bake. These are great and always good but I didn't want a freezer full of foods that all taste the same (think chicken pot pie, roast chicken, chicken noodle soup...). So when I got to this I decided some Asian flair was just the thing. So here is my recipe for  a chicken and rice casserole Thai style.

Terrific Thai Chicken and Rice Casserole


2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts poached and diced
1 large onion diced
1 red bell pepper
2 tbsp garlic minced
3 cups cooked rice
1 package of frozen vegetables (stir fry style)
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp lemongrass powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp parsley
1-2 tsp corriander
1 tsp garam massala
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne
8-24 oz chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste


Poach the chicken breasts by placing them in pan and just covering them with water then bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes then remove from the heat and cover. Allow chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes or until completely cooked through. Drain the chicken, allow it too cool and dice into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Prepare your rice according to package directions removing it from the heat just a few minutes before it is completely done.

Dice your onion and add it to a pan with some butter. Saute over medium low heat until softened, add the red pepper, continue to saute until onions are clear and pepper is tender but not mushy. Add your spices and minced garlic. Next add in your coconut milk and chicken stock. I used a coconut paste when making this dish so you may need less stock to get a good gravy. Taste as you go and adjust as necessary. You will want the sauce to be creamy and fragrant but not too thick and remember that the rice will soak it up so don't skimp on the liquid unless it affects the taste too much.  Bring the mixture to a boil and, stirring regularly, allow to reduce until it reaches your desired consistency (about 3-5 minutes).

In the pan you will be freezing this dish in combine the rice and frozen mixed vegetables, mix well. When sauce is complete remove from the heat and pour over rice and vegetable mixture. Mix thoroughly and smooth out in pan. Now you are ready to freeze or bake as you choose.If you are preparing this from frozen place, covered, in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes or until heated through.  If baking it fresh you should be able to cut the temperature to 350 for 30-45 minutes but keep a cover on it or your rice will get crunchy. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tasty Tomato Jam

This summer I had my first truly successful garden and surprisingly, since we recently moved to the Pacific northwest, my tomatoes were my best crop. So as the summer came to an end I found myself with a large crop of ripe tomatoes. Large enough that I couldn't quite eat all of them by myself. Luckily I was pointed to this recipe for Tomato Jam by a group page I follow on Facebook called "Canning Granny". The initial recipe came from the blog  "Food in Jars" and you can find it here:

As I have said many times I rarely follow a recipe exactly. So I did make a few adjustments though mostly only to accommodate what supplies I had on hand. I will say at first I was a bit skeptical of this jam and couldn't imagine what it might taste like but the end result is delightful and I keep thinking of new ways I would like to try it. Give it a shot and see for yourself what delicious concoctions might be in store!

Tomato Jam 


2 1/2 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped (skins and seeds included)
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes


Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for ten minutes before reducing the heat to a simmer. Simmer for an additional 45 minutes to an hour stirring regularly. The mixture will reduce and begin to thicken. Remove from the heat when jam reaches desired consistency.  (It should "sheet" off the spoon in one big drop instead of many little ones)

While your jam is cooking you should have the jars sterilizing in your processing pot. After removing the jam from the heat fill jars to within 1/4 inch of the top and seal with lids. Process in boiling for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes remove the jars from the water bath and allow to cool. Label and store in a cool dark place.

There are a couple things I will likely change next time. I would like to have gotten more of the spices particularly the red pepper flakes so I think I will double that (I like some bite!) or maybe add some cayenne. Additionally I think using fresh ginger, as recommended in the initial recipe, would have made a world of difference so I intend to make sure I have that on hand next time.

This jam is unusual but fantastic. Just think a little outside the box and you will find all sorts of places to use it. I like it with some sharp cheddar cheese, on a BLT or a turkey and bacon sandwich. The only limit is your imagination so cook it up and have fun with it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gratifying Guinness Stew

As the leaves change and autumn approaches I find myself craving warm hearty comfort foods. Nothing fits the bill better than a hearty stew full of delicious root vegetables and tender meat. So when I recently hosted a dinner night for friends my choice for the main dish was this gratifying Guinness Stew. 

Guinness stout forms the base for your flavor pallet in this stew and it's rich deep roasted barley flavor is perfect for a comfort food dish. Add to that a rich beef broth and sweet carrots and parsnips and you are well on your way. You do need to be careful though because Guinness has a touch of bitterness that balances it's hearty richness and with cooking this can dominate so a touch of extra sweetness is necessary. You can adjust the spices to your taste but I have found the recipe below, my own compilation, to produce consistently delicious results!


Gratifying Guinness Stew

(Makes approximately 12qts)

1 bottle of Guinness stout (1pint 6 oz)
3 lbs beef cubed (chuck roast or similar cut appropriate for stewing)
3 parsnips (about 2 lbs) chopped
4 medium carrots chopped
2 large yellow onions diced
4 ribs celery diced
2 cans of beef broth (14.5oz ea)
1 can diced tomato (14.5oz)
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp bay leaf crushed
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4-1/3 cup flour (for thickening)


Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Toss the cubed beef with some flour and add to the pan browning slightly on all sides. Remove meat from heat and deg-laze the pan with some of the beef broth or a small amount of the beer. Prepare all the vegetables and add to your slow cooker. Add the meat, seasonings and liquid but not the flour. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. In the last hour taste for seasoning and adjust as needed also add the flour slowly by sifting small amounts into the pot and stirring until you reach the desired consistency. ( I found just under a 1/4 cup of flour was enough and you do have to let it cook a bit before you can tell if it needs more so add with a light touch and be careful not to over do it.)

This dish is fantastic served with mashed potatoes, col cannon, yorkshire pudding soda bread or any other delightful starchy goodness you have on hand. Sometimes I put potatoes in it but I like having them mashed on the side a bit better because then you still have the chunky root veg in the stew but you can pour it over a nice bowl of buttery mashed potatoes for extra richness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spice Up Your Weeknight

This week most of the kids in my neighborhood started back to school and I thought what better blog topic than a healthy, easy and delicious weeknight dinner. For inspiration I turned to a relative newcomer on the foodie scene Aarti Sequeira, the winner of Food Network Star season 6. She not only has a delightfully bubbly personality but the girl is not shy with her spices! Aarti takes every opportunity to bring here Indian roots into easy dishes anyone can tackle and this one makes plain old ground beef really come to life. 

This week I made Kheema, which is Indian Ground Beef with Peas. You can find Aarti Sequeira's original recipe here:
I highly suggest following her exact recipe. However I am an opportunist and sometimes that means I have to adjust recipes to reflect what I have on hand. So, below you'll find that I did make a few changes. For one I like the flavor of onions sauteed in butter so I switched that out, then I didn't have fresh ginger on hand and I had to rely on tinned tomatoes. I must say I actually prefer the tinned tomatoes since they come packed in juice that lends itself toward a great sauce. Additionally I didn't have fresh Cilantro as mine has gone to seed. I substituted Parsley but the Cilantro would have been much better. It has a particularly beautiful flavor that goes so well with these spices. Finally I didn't have any pita bread on hand so I served this over pasta but I also thought macaroni would be a great way to get kids to try something new!

So here is a slightly altered version of Aarti Sequeira's Kheema recipe. Please enjoy and of course take time to try the original as well!


Kheema: Indian Ground Beef with Peas 



1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon store-bought or homemade garam masala, (a recipe can be found by following the link to Aarti's original recipe)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, (Aarti lists this as optional, I used the 1/2 tsp and would suggest less to anyone who doesn't tolerate spice well)
1 pound ground beef
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons of your favorite vinegar (I used Basil)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, plus a few extra leaves for garnish
1/2 package macaroni


In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the beef, and saute until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin, cayenne and tomatoes, including the juice. Stir well making sure the spices are well incorporated.Add the peas and simmer until softened but still bright in color, 5-10 minutes approximately. Stir in the vinegar and chopped parsley. Garnish with more parsley leaves and serve over plain macaroni.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Simple Sugar Cake


As I said in last weeks blog I had a plan for my beautiful bounty of berries and here is part two, a delicious and simple cake from the Finnish coffee table. Let me explain a bit before I go forward. In Finland taking coffee with a friend is nothing like stopping by your local coffee joint and grabbing a cup of joe to go. It's much more personal. When someone comes for coffee you lay the table with good cups and saucers, prettily folded napkins, plates, spoons and platters of goodies. Even at it's least formal "coffee" is a sit down affair. I remember my host mother's friend coming to coffee many times and she never arrived empty handed. She always brought a little something for her hostess and my host mother always had a table laid out with cookies or pulla or some other treat to enjoy with their coffee and conversation. Beatrice Ojakangas explains it beautifully in her book "The Finnish Cookbook" and it is from that same book that today's recipe harkens.

The first time I had this mildly sweet baked good I wasn't sure what to make of it. It looked more like blondies than cake to me and it wasn't nearly as sweet. However I was won over after the first bite. The simple "Sokerikakku" or "Sugar Cake" batter can be paired with any fruit making it the star and providing a delicious and unobtrusive backdrop. Since I have an abundance of blackberries I altered Ojakangas's recipe for Apple Sugar Cake or Omena Sokerikakku (found on p. 55 of "The Finnish Cookbook") to fit my needs. So here you have it Berry Sugar Cake or Marja Sokerikakku!

Berry Sugar Cake - Marja Sokerikakku


1/4 c butter (at room temperature)
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
dash salt
3/4 cup light cream (milk will do if you don't have cream on hand)
1 tbsp vanilla
2 c fresh berries of your choice


Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs and combine well. Sift the dry ingredients and add alternately with the cream. Add the vanilla. Mix well until the batter is smooth. Pour into a well greased 9x13 pan and top with the fruit spreading it as evenly as possible over the batter. Bake in a 350 degree (F) oven for 50 minutes or until top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Make sure to not stick it in an area with lots of berries.) Allow to cool before serving.

This is wonderful served with vanilla cream which is not easily found in the states to my knowledge. Basically it is heavy cream infused with vanilla and sweetened. I have not, but I imagine you could make this by warming some heavy cream on the stove with part of a vanilla pod or just some good vanilla in it and some sugar. Heat the cream until the sugar dissolves and remove it from the heat. Then serve chilled over the cake. You could also make whipped cream and of course that would be fantastic as well.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Basic Blackberry Jam

As the summer begins to turn toward fall, the limbs of fruit trees and vines are heavy laden with rich ripe fruits. It takes me back to days of picking blackberries and raspberries behind my grandparents house and trips to a local orchard to pick apples and sip fresh cider. This summer, I got to revisit some of those memories by picking blackberries with a friend and as when I was younger I ended up with more than I knew what to do with. I had however gone into the endeavor with a plan. A plan for jam.

I am relatively inexperienced in food preservation, what you might call a dabbler. This means you won't see recipes for canned meat or soup or salsa but if it can be pickled or jellied or made into jam I'm your girl! So with my plethora of delicious ripe fruit I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to encourage others to answer the call of home canning as well.

Many call this a dying art but I think it has a niche and it's slowly catching on in a more mainstream way. It may not be canning as your grandmother did it but with easy recipes, plastic freezer jars and simple kits it isn't all hours of sweating over a hot stove in midsummer either. This recipe is the "Berry Jams Without Added Pectin" from the National Center for Home Food Preservation which offers a wealth of information on how to can, safety guidelines and recipes. Once you get a handle on the basics you can let your imagination run wild and oh the fun you will have.

Blackberry Jam


9 cups berries
6 cups sugar

This recipe makes 7-8 half pints or 4-5 pints. (I got approximately 4 1/2 pints)


Canning jars of your choice with lids
2 large non reactive pots
Canning tongs (Preferred but regular tongs will do in a pinch)
Wooden spoon
Funnel (make sure it fits your jars)


Start by washing your berries. I washed mine in a sink full of cool water spiked with some white vinegar (to kill anything that might have hijacked a ride home, these are fresh berries after all) about 1/4 cup. I let the berries sink and skimmed off anything that floated to the top then added more water for a rinse and scooped them out gently with a spider (wire cooking tool - a slotted spoon would also work but remember to be gentle and not to crush the berries) and laid them on paper towels to dry.

While you are doing this it would be a good idea to set your jars on the stove to sterilize. You need to have them ready and still hot when your jam is done so timing is important. I suggest you read the section on sterilization here but the basic are as follows.

To sterilize empty jars put them right side up in the bottom of a pot large enough that you will be able to completely submerge them in water. Fill the pot and jars with hot but not boiling water to about an inch above the tops of the jars. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. There are adjustments to be made for different altitudes so please follow the link if you live more than 1000ft above sea level.

Now to the jam. In your other large pot combine the fruit and sugar over a medium to medium low heat slowly bringing it to a boil. (Adjust the heat as necessary but do not put it on high it can get out of control quickly.) Stir often and once the sugar has dissolved cook to the jellying point. This should take about ten minutes. Stir constantly during this time and do not leave your jam unattended. The jellying point is when the jam has reached a consistency where it sheets (instead of dripping) off a spoon dipped in the hot mixture or a temperature of approximately 220 degrees F. You can see more here

Remove the jam from the heat and the sterilized jars and lids from the water bath. (This is where you'll want the tongs for the jars.) Drain the water from the jars (down the sink) and fill them with the hot jam using the funnel. You will want to leave "head space", about 1/4 inch of clear space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar. Make sure to wipe the rim of the jar with a clean damp paper towel and place lid and ring on top. Repeat till all jars are filled. Tighten the rings and carefully lower them into the still boiling hot water bath. make sure the water still covers the jars.  This step is called processing. Leave the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Then remove carefully and wait. The jars should seal with a pop in short order as they cool. If you use jars larger than a pint or smaller than a half pint the processing time may be different again please refer to the NCHFP website for more information or guidance on the subject. They have a chart along with the original recipe for this jam here

I highly recommend reading the various articles offered on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website before jumping into canning for the first time. There is specialized equipment available if you want it but you can also do some basics with a couple of good heavy non-reactive pots. So look around and decide what is best for you. I do recommend a basic canning utensil kit that you can find at your local grocery or big box store. It has a jar lifter, a lid lifter, a funnel, a bubble remover, and a headspace tool. They aren't expensive and it's better to have the right tools than to drop a hot jar of hot water on yourself or the floor while trying to use regular kitchen tongs. It can be done but at your own risk.

I hope this is inspiration enough to do a bit more research and to try your hand at canning. Don't let it intimidate you, it isn't as hard as it seems at first and there are some great sites out there where you can ask all sorts of questions from experienced canners if you are unsure about something or if things don't turn out as planned. The results are worth it as is the fantastic sense of accomplishment you will feel when you hear those seals ping!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Marvelous Moroccan Inspired Chicken

 So now that you know how to make Peerless Preserved Lemons, what do you do with them?  Well as I said there are dishes from around the world that call for them but my favorite is this Moroccan Inspired Chicken hotpot. A hotpot is basically an all in one dish where the flavors blend and meld in one big pot which is perfect for when you want something you can throw in the crockpot and forget about until dinner. The bonus with this dish is that it tastes exotic enough that people might believe you spent the day slaving over a hot stove to make it!

Now you may ask why I call it Moroccan Inspired and not just straight Moroccan chicken. Simply put I didn't follow a recipe exactly but I was inspired by a few. It started with Dorrie Greenspan's book "Around My French Table". I had received the book as a Christmas gift from my husband and I was dying to try some of the recipes. One in particular caught me eye and sounded divine, "Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes." I could taste it in my mind the sweetness of the potatoes and the prunes with the warmth of the spices, it spoke to me. You might wonder what this has to do with preserved lemons, but I'm coming to that. You see as simple as the recipe was, I didn't have a number of the ingredients. However they put me in mind of the many recipes I had seen online for Moroccan Chicken. the spices were similar as was the cooking method and the general flavor profile wasn't far off. So I scanned dozens of recipes online and took bits and pieces from different ones that I liked until I had an ingredient list that I liked and had on hand. I decided also that this would work well in a crockpot so in it all went and a new household favorite was born. 

As I said I sort of threw this together the first time so feel free to adjust the seasoning to suit. This recipe serves 4.

Moroccan Inspired Chicken


4 Chicken thighs browned (bone in)
3 Cloves garlic crushed and roughly chopped
1 Preserved lemon roughly chopped
2 Medium onions roughly chopped
4 Carrots chopped (1/2 in pieces)
1 Orange peeled, sectioned and chopped
1 12oz can Low Sodium Chicken broth
1 Star Anise (remove before serving)
2 Bay leaves (remove before serving)
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Cayanne
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Cinnimon
1-2 tbsp Honey
4-6 Prunes quartered


In a pan brown the chicken, skin side down, in a small amount of butter or oil. Add the carrots and onions to the Crock Pot. Next add the chicken and the rest of the ingredients. Ideally you want the liquid to just cover everything in the pot. If it doesn't at first, check back later and as things start to release their own juices you will be able to press anything above the surface down a bit deeper. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken comes away easily from the bone.

This is delightful served with rice or couscous or even a nice crusty bread. The chicken will melt in your mouth and you will want to sop up every last drop of the delicious rich broth. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peerless Preserved Lemons

One of my foodie weaknesses are the delicious flavors of the East. The rich sweetness of dried fruits, the warm sensuality of the various spices and the bright punch of citrus and fresh herbs. One of my favorite ingredients are the beautiful and opulent citrons confits or preserved lemons.

These delicious beauties are lemons picked at their peak and preserved in salt and their own juices. They are used in dishes all over the world but most often are linked to Indian, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisine. In Cambodia there is an entire dish centered around these golden gems called Ngam nguv. It is a chicken soup using the whole preserved lemon, kafir lime leaves, cilantro, garlic and chili. It looks delicious and I hope some day to try it. Until then I have to settle with the hundreds of other delicious recipes that call for this beautiful and simple ingredient.

Now if you go to your local specialty food market you will find citrons confits will cost you a pretty penny and you won't get a lot for your money. Truthfully this is strange as the method of preservation is one of the simplest and oldest known to man. Preserved lemons are basically just lemons packed in salt.

What you will need:

2 - 1qt sterilized canning jars (or more of a smaller size jar if you prefer)
12-14 fresh medium lemons (I used about 6 per jar)
non-iodized salt, (I used Kosher) about 1/2 cup

To get started you will want to find the best quality lemons available to you.  If that means just what the grocery store has on hand so be it but the better the quality of the lemon the better the quality of your end product. Make sure to wash them well but don't scrub hard enough that you loose the essential oils in the skin. 

Next cut 10 of the lemons almost into quarters leaving just a bit of rind to hold them together. Spread each lemon open and generously coat with salt before packing into the sterilized canning jar. Repeat until you have just a half inch of head space left in the jar. I layer the jars like a trifle. Lemons, salt, more lemons and so on. Press the lemons down to release their own juices. If there is not enough juice to cover them completely juice one of the remaining lemons and ad the juice to the jar. Repeat with the second jar and remaining lemons.

Now comes the hard part. Set the jars in a window and wait. The jars should be rotated daily and given an occasional shake but they need to sit for a month before they are ready to use. These can be stored in your refrigerator for about six months.

It's as simple as that to have this delicious condiment to hand whenever you want it. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Almost Aloof Apple Cake

When I think of fine dining images of fancy French cuisine come to mind, Souffle, Beef Tartar e, and Foie Gras. The reality is that while the French have some of the most exquisite cuisine it is not all fancy, or difficult to master at that. A prime example is Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake from Dori Greenspan's book "Around My French Table". Greenspan masterfully describes each dish and makes it completely approachable to any home cook by keeping her writing casual. It's as though you were literally sitting around her kitchen table sipping coffee and swapping favorite recipes. Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake is in fact just that, a recipe she got from a friend. Keeping with the spirit of sharing here is my adaptation of Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake from Dori Greenspan's book "Around My French Table".

The best part about this cake is that it will look like you spent hours on it but it takes just a few minutes to throw together.  Happy Baking!

Almost Aloof Apple Cake


3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (the original recipe calls for four different kinds if possible, mine were all Gala)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract*
1 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon orange juice*
8 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled

* Note: The original recipe calls for 3 tablespoons dark rum and 1/2 teaspoon  of vanilla. Since I didn't have any rum on hand I used more vanilla and the orange juice though I would like to try it with the rum next time for a more complex flavor.


Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously butter an 8 inch springform pan and place in on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. In a small bowl combine the Flour, baking powder and salt. Core the apples and cut into 1-2 inch chunks (Greenspan calls for peeling the apples but I like to leave the skins on, it's your choice). In a medium bowl combine the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients to make a smooth thick batter. Fold in the apple chunks and transfer the batter to the pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rake for 5 minutes. Run a blunt knife around the sides of the cake before releasing the springform and removing the pan. Allow the cake to finish cooling on the pan bottom then transfer to a plate or piece of wax paper to remove the bottom before finally transferring it to a pretty cake stand for serving.

This cake is delicious. The outside edges are gloriously golden and slightly caramelized and the center is smooth and almost custardy with lovely chunks of sweet apple that burst on your tongue like little bits of summer. It's the perfect dish to serve with coffee or as dessert after a light supper. I can see it also working very well with summer berries and it would be delightful topped with a vanilla cream sauce.

 Whatever you do, don't forget to make it your own and enjoy!