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roasted chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon

I’ve made some promises to you recently and thought with this post I might make good on a few of them at once. I’ve promised bright and fragrant dishes from sunny climates to chase the winter doldrums; I’ve promised a special Sunday dinner, and a wonderful recipe for roasted chicken.  And you clever readers might have guessed too that you’d be seeing still more of Ottolenghi here. And you are. And because we’ve talked so much of onions with the last couple spreenkles, we might as well throw them into the mix as well. This is a veritable shrmorgasbord (how in the world do you spell that word? I’ll google it!) a veritable  smörgâsbord  of promises kept.

I’ve spoken before (in the roasted eggplant with yogurt sauce and pomegranates recipe) of two spices essential in Middle Eastern cooking – you won’t find them at Safeway or Krogers. But I hope you won’t let that deter you! You can find them on line easily (google!) or at a Middle Eastern market if you have one near you. They are Sumac (powdered deep red, tart like a lemon, or cranberries, wonderful!) and a spice blend called za’atar, fragrant and delicious!  Neither is expensive at all and they’ll last you for some time. (You’ll be thinking of sending thank-you notes and possibly even flowers – I love tulips! – for suggesting you add them to your spice cupboard.)

More familiar though to your nose and palate are cinnamon and allspice. Those too become part of the amazing perfume of this dish.

I want you to know – just as an aside – that I never ever put him up to it, but sprees-grateful -guinea-pig may be chiming in on this dish. He’s positively wild for it.

The recipe is very straight-forward and simple to prepare (once you have the right ingredients.) The chicken (free-range, vegetarian-fed is best) will marinate for several hours to over-night. The flavors, other-worldly-good, and the onions, of my gosh, the onions! (You expect this from me now, right? If I love something, you won’t have a moment’s doubt about it.  I   l o v e    t h i s   d i s h !  It’s from Ottolenghi, and he’s an artist and a genius in the kitchen!  Cooking is all about a celebration of ingredients for Ottolenghi, and lucky for us, we’re invited to the party.)

Let’s start with just a little celebration of the red onion, so humble, so under-appreciated and so crazy good when prepared right…

This recipe calls for two red-onions, thinly sliced…

even their mess manages to be pretty...click on the image & you'll see

Roasted Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon

  • 1 large organic or free-range chicken, divided into quarters – breast & wing, and leg & thigh
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1½ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 200 ml (almost 7 ounces) chicken stock
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons za-atar
  • 1 generous Tablespoon (20 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1¾ ounces (50 grams) pine nuts – a generous ½ cup
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large bowl, or ceramic baking dish, mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices (except for za’atar), lemon slices, stock, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight. Read more

we google

we have a pressing question, don’t know how to proceed, need an expert’s advice, need it quick!

we google.

something that surprised me as a new blogger was the existence of  a whole behind-the-curtain world in which i could see all manner of things that the reader of my blog could not. one of the most fascinating details revealed in that hidden place was just how a person had found their way to my site. it never reveals WHO, only HOW. i can’t know your name or your address, your nickname, where you spend your money or what your so-called guilty pleasures are. i only know the street you took to get to my place…which is actually very little. i can understand if you don’t find it all that interesting. but read on. you may.

many such searches have resulted in a person landing at cooking-spree completely by accident. believe me, it’s obvious. and i presume they quickly move on.  some of those searches i’ve thought of sharing with you before because they’ve made me laugh out loud and i thought they might do the same for you. but today i came upon one that i simply couldn’t keep to myself. Read more

Spreenkle #3

While we’re on the subject of onions, and since there’s clearly so much more fun to be had with them…

Did you know that if you slice rings from an onion – red onions are especially good for this – and submerge them in a nice icy bath for maybe 10 – 15 minutes, they will have crisped up beautifully and lost the bite and bit of harshness  they have when eaten raw? (Drain them and dry with paper towels.) This works especially well when combining in a salad. I highly recommend it!

Did you know that if you submerge little pearl onions  in boiling water for a mere 30 seconds and then drop them into a colander, they’ll shed their skins with very little help from you? You can then go on to caramelize or saute them or whatever you fancy doing with your pearls.

By the way, I gathered up all the onion tips others so generously shared and dropped them into the “spreenkles” page above.

Sometimes when I go missing for a few days from here it’s because I had a plan…that plan began with a recipe, or merely a shopping list of ingredients…I proceeded to preparations and photos along the way…the final, loving attention given to the dish’s culmination…and then I move on to the part with the fork. Sometimes I’ve even started the writing before I’ve raised my fork. And then I  make a disappointing discovery at the table. It tastes fine — and fine just isn’t good enough to share with the lovely likes of you. And so I move on to another plan and go through a similar process, sometimes even trying to refine before finally  giving up, cutting losses and moving on once again. I may still come back to it later. But you only read about the success stories around here. I want to be sure you know though, just in the interest of full disclosure, that there are, at times, rather pathetic flops or meals just fine. So if you don’t hear from me for days, presume that I’m going through another one of those stretches. I like to play with food, as many of us do, and sometimes messes just happen. 

But this time, it could be several days before you hear from me because family’s coming, and my arms and my heart will be fully occupied. And there just may be a few happy tears. Onions or no onions. 

Have a colorful & fun weekend! 

And maybe a few tulips on your table…

See you in a few days! 

love,

spree

p.s. I know JUST what I’m posting next and I think you’re going to LOVE it! I already used my fork on it!

Spreenkle #2

A few helpful things to know about onions and our tears.

a) cold onions won’t make you nearly so teary. Try refrigerating onions 30 minutes before you need to cut them.

b) onions cut with santoku knives (it is said) are less likely to make you cry because of the knife’s extra-fine edge. What does that have to do with the price of butter? A finer blade is more apt to slice between the onion cells as opposed to through them — and through them is what causes them to burst and release the chemical that makes us weep.

c) I’ve tried this, and it’s possible that placebo effect would account for some of its success, but I’ve found it helpful.  Try slicing an onion directly next to the sink, with the cold water running. Why this seems to work could have something to do with the negative ions released from the cascading water – much like what takes places (on a far grander scale of course) in waterfalls – the negative ions present in the area around a waterfall result in the peaceful sort of happiness we experience when we are too.

If spreenkles are entirely new to you, you can see where they were introduced here. You’ll see them accumulating in the page with the same name in the header above. 

french lemon tart

a sweet/tart tart for your sweetheart?

Sicily, the biggest of my littles, and I have been enjoying baking dates together since her birthday more than a year ago. We finished up our “series” last night with a lemon tart. Sicily’s pretty crazy about anything lemon, and so am I, which resulted in a pretty clear winner for our final project.

It all begins with the best of lemons. Carefully chosen organic lemons for this tart, especially since we’d be using some of the peel for zesting.

We start with a 9-inch tart pan, fill it with a very buttery cookie-like shell, bake it; pour in a glossy, lemony yellow, sweet-tart custard, spun through with spoonfuls of satiny crème fraîche. Can’t you just imagine? If you’re with me so far, top with a slightly sweetened dollop of freshly-whipped and vanillaed-cream…because sometimes that’s just the stuff love’s made of…

Pastry Shell

For this you’ll need a 9-inch tart pan and several cups of dried beans and parchment paper. The beans keep the shell stable during the initial baking time. I keep mine in a jar, mixed odds and ends of beans, reserved just for this purpose.

  • 1½ cups flour (185 g)
  • ½ cup (110 g) OR ¾ cup (170 g) cold butter, cut into pieces (see NOTE on the Pastry)
  • ¼ cup sugar (55 g)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla (optional)

NOTE on the Pastry: Two options are given for the quantity of butter to be used. The lesser amount will result in a shortbread-like pastry that rolls out cooperatively and forms nice smooth sides. The option using more butter results  in a much more fragile and delicate crust (one that absolutely melts in the mouth) but is more difficult to handle and will need to be patched in places and pressed into the pan.  (Sicily loves butter.) 🙂

Mix the flour and butter with your fingers, or in the food processor, until it resembles fine crumbs. Mix in the sugar. Using your fingers, now blend in the two egg yolks and vanilla (if using) just long enough for it to come together into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk about 5 or 6 inches across. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (If overnight, allow it to sit on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes before rolling.)

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Roll out on a floured surface. (A bench scrape or long off-set spatula will help you to “unlock” it from the board if it gets stuck.) Roll it to a diameter of 2½ inches beyond the size of your tart pan.

Gently fold in half, place in tart pan, then unfold and press in place. Trim the top “waste” and make repairs where necessary. Chill for 30 minutes. (Important to do this.) Then line the chilled crust with parchment paper cut to several inches larger than pan. Fill to brimming with dried beans. Read more

Unplugged

My blogging friend (I’m happy to call him that!) Nick over at FrugalFeeding has just asked me to participate in an “Unplugged” interview. Nick has such a gift with words, is very clever and is brilliant at saving dollars (pounds) on dinners. I enjoy following his blog so much. This is another one of those answer-a-slew-of-questions-and-then-pass-them-on to another 5 so that eventually, most of us bloggers will have been tagged and we can share the embarrassment of having revealed one or two too many details about our inner workings. I’ve discovered though that others really aren’t quite so bad at that as I am, so I’ll try to be a bit more discreet and veiled this time around. (like I know how to do that!)

I so don’t want to bore you. Move along if you’ve got better things to do with your time…and really, who doesn’t? : )   My next post (today I think) will have real food in it!

But because Nick is a jolly good fellow and an all-around nice guy and a good cook besides, and because he kindly asked me to…

here we go, this is………….

(because I cut and pasted the questions from Frugal Feeding, I have some sort of formatting error that I can’t seem to correct.

That problem’s completely resolved if you just click on the “unplugged” title of the post.)

Who or what inspired you to start your blog?

I found I was fixing dinner and snapping photos with my phone and emailing them to my daughters or friends and sharing recipes for things I’d discovered and loved. It seemed like a natural progression to take it to the inter-web.  (Though don’t for a minute think that I did that without being, first of all, scared to death, and second of all, scared to death.)

Who is your foodie inspiration?

This is a cop-out, right? I haven’t one. I have more like dozens. But they’re constantly trading places…this is like a game of musical chairs. I can’t keep track.  But in all honesty, I think food is my #1 inspiration.

Your greasiest most batter splattered cook book is?

So you think from the answer to that question that you’ll know my favorite cookbook? Oh no, not so. I have a weird thing about books. I kind of love them. And I take very good care of them. And my very favorite cookbooks, I shield from my greasy fingers and flying food, under plastic. I know, really anal. So there you have it already, embarrassing detail #1. Embarrassing detail #2 – despite the care I take of my cookbooks, I can (and often do) make a tremendous mess in the kitchen! Read more

where do you look for sunshine?

When rain in Seattle or Portland makes national news, you know things are about as bad as they get here. Standing water on freeways, drains unable to keep pace with the deluge,  stretches of highway closed, even a few small towns along rivers evacuated. We get grey days, and mostly gentle (and occasionally incessant) rain here, but not monsoons that turn umbrellas inside out and flood boots with the rain that falls fast down our jackets.  I was hydroplaning down the freeway about 10 miles an hour below speed limit, heading toward a long (and long-overdue) coffee date with a dear friend. Carolyn had been out of town for more than a month and I’d missed her. I was thinking of her sunny self as I tried to see through the waterfall that was my windshield. I was thinking too about where it is we go looking for sunshine when our eyes and skin are hungry for it.

Carolyn and I sat drinking our large steamy cups of chai, catching up with the parts of each other’s lives we’d missed. And then, from beneath the table she brought out a canvas banana with a zipper along one side. “Bananagrams,” she said. “You’re going to love it!” She spilled the tiles onto the table, and we turned them over, letters face-down,  as she explained how the game is played. Carolyn was right of course, my friend knows me. From here on out, along with my camera, Bananagrams go where I go.

~ ~ ~

Not long ago I’d visited a fellow-blogger  – Violets and Cardamom – and was struck by her pretty mango lassi.  It was lovely.

Today, I winged my own with several changes. Knowing the deliciousness of the pairing of mango, coconut, ginger, lime, cardamom and banana, it was a simple matter to drop them into a blender, whir them up, pour them out, and stick a straw into a glass of gleaming sunshine.

Read more

Spreenkle #1

It was pointed out in a recent post on kitchen scales that a cup of flour should weigh 5 ounces…that takes all the guess work out of measuring your flour and a good part of the mess out of baking. But how about sugar? Brown sugar, light or dark, should weigh 7 ounces. Same as white sugar! Kind of cool if you’ve ever wondered how tightly to pack your sugar.

Two spreenkles for the price of one today – did you know you can make your own brown sugar? For light brown sugar, add 1 Tablespoon molasses. For dark brown sugar, add 2. Mix well, store air-tight.

2 bites of business…

1) Just a very quick word to let you know the process has finally begun. One by one I’m going through the recipes previously posted here and condensing them for print. (I do tend to get a bit wordy – ohhhh…you’ve noticed? I’m hurt! – so hopefully this will make the process of using them in your kitchen a bit friendlier.) I’ve set up a new blog site called sprees-recipe-box where they’ll all be housed. A link will be provided at the bottom of each post (once I have them linked.) It’ll take me a bit of time to get them all up, but by March I expect they’ll each be ready.

2) Also, there’s going to be a new feature here. Do have any idea how many times while whiling away the day in the kitchen I think of little things I’d love to share with you? (plenty!) Sometimes, just a little happy-ending tweak to a recipe already posted here; sometimes a neat little trick, or maybe an inexpensive little gadget, or new tricks with an old one; a bit of kitchen trivia that spree finds amusing. You get the picture: too small for their own post, too kind-of-cool not to mention. Little tidbits, pinches of spice, little sprinkles of something sweet. That’s it!

S p r e e n k l e s!

Then it’s settled.

They’ll begin today.

I’ll identify them in the post name so subscribers who don’t want to make the trip for crumbs (even sweet ones) won’t need to. You can catch it the next time you happen back. I’ll keep a running list of them in their own page in the header space above. And by all means, if there’s something YOU want to share with the rest of us, now might be a good time! I’ll be happy to post it (and give full credit of course!) Now, I need to say one more thing on the subject. My husband donated the name of hoodathunkits? If you prefer that name to spreenkles, now’s the time to cast your ballot. Leave word in comments.

a fork with a taste for adventure

When I was a newly-turned teen, my mother suddenly (and inexplicably) turned adventuresome in the kitchen. She’d always been a good cook, and our meals never lacked for flavor, but they never ventured beyond our borders either (unless you count England, and I’m sorry, I just can’t. Meaning no disrespect at all!) Meals at our house had followed along very traditional lines, until…around the time she married the man who was to become Dad to us.

Dad was Greek and maybe it was just his colorful character alone, or the foods he’d bring home from Foti’s (very Greek) deli; or the influence of Dad’s mom Yaya, who’d make us Sunday dinners of Greek roasted chicken doused in fresh lemon and filled with whole heads of garlic and her plump handful of oregano from the garden, and her zucchini and okra in a skillet, and her brilliant yellow-orange zucchini blossoms, dipped in egg batter and fried. Or maybe too, it was that Dad insisted for special outings we drop into Poncho’s Mexican restaurant, which was, strange to say, our family’s first introduction to south of the border. Maybe it was a combination of these things – or maybe it was that Mom enrolled in college for the first time  – Mom was herself becoming more adventuresome and her new spirit found its way onto our table.

In any event, whatever the cause, dinner became, more and more, an exotic experience. That’s not to say it became the norm for us to eat things beyond the familiar, or that we came to the table dressed in saris.  Just that we gradually came to be more curious, more daring, more open to new things, until gradually we’d developed a real appetite for the gorgeously exotic on our plates, a hunger for something not yet tasted.

I don’t eat many “meats”. Poultry and seafood’s about it for me. But vegetables, and fruits, and grains and beans and spices from all over the planet, those I find endlessly enticing. And so it is, that when I first set eyes on Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest book Plenty, I was smitten! This dish that I’m about to fix and share is the very dish that graces the cover. It sucked me in with a rush like a door just opened onto a wind storm. I was a goner.

Ottolenghi, chef and co-owner of several restaurants called by his name (including one in London) writes a weekly column for the London Guardian on vegetarian cooking, though he himself is not vegetarian. From Israel, he draws on a wealth of culinary traditions, with a strong focus on the Mediterranean basin. His dishes may very well scratch every culinary itch I have, one by one.

So here – with a thankful nod to my mom who grew this wild love of food in me, and to my Dad who might have grown it in her –

from the cover of Plenty

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

(serves 4 as starter – or 2 for dinner with a salad & bread) large and long eggplants

  • 2 large and long eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
  • Maldon sea salt (or any flaky sea salt) and black pepper
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar (see NOTE)

Sauce

  • 9 Tablespoons buttermilk (just over ½ cup)
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1½ Tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • pinch of salt

NOTE: Za’atar – here is one thing that may be a bit of an obstacle in Ottolenghi’s book(s)…because he’s drawing on his (and other) heritages, some ingredients – in particular the spices and spice blends – will be very unfamiliar, and not always easily obtained. I ordered my little bottle of za’atar from the Spice House on-line. $4.99. Za’atar is a spice blend, and like others, the ingredient list and proportions can vary. One recipe for it that I found on-line included sumac, thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt. Sumac is acidic, quite tart, much like a lemon, and is considered an essential culinary ingredient in much of the Middle East. It’s by far the predominant  ingredient in this blend. Since sumac isn’t on my grocery shelf either, I decided just to go ahead and order the za’atar on line. You could read more on sumac or order it, here. If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, simply add the herbs called for in the za’atar ingredient list along with lemon for something approximating this dish. Or wait, as I did, for the za’atar to arrive on your welcome mat.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk – which stays intact just for the looks of it. Using a small sharp knife, make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half as deeply as possible but being careful not to cut through to the skin. Repeat at a 45° angle to create a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil and continue brushing until all the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Roast for 45 minutes up to an hour, depending on size of eggplant. The flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Removing pomegranate seeds: While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontal halves. Holding one half, cut side down, in the palm of your hand, place over a deep bowl and begin smacking the top-side of the fruit with a wooden spoon. Smack harder as you go to release the deepest of the pomegranate seeds into the bowl. Remove any white pitch that fell in along with. (Illustrated here.) Read more