An Afternoon Tea Party with English Scones

What better way to celebrate the upcoming arrival of your friend’s baby girl than to throw an afternoon tea party shower. Pretty flowers, little cups and saucers, small sandwiches and scones, great friends sitting around the table together laughing, and sharing in the wonder of new life. Some friends and I had the pleasure of arranging this intimate little gathering full of tiny pink frilly outfits and baby bows with bling. It was such great fun.

tea party

I absolutely love the collaborative efforts that go into this wonderful American tradition of helping to provide and prepare for a baby’s arrival. I am especially honoured to be surrounded by friends who go to such great lengths to take care of each other. This shower was just another example of how blessed John and I are to be here at Baylor.

Our tea party consisted of delicious fruit salad, classic cucumber sandwiches with the edges cut off

Cucumber Sandwiches

and English tea scones.

scones above

served with jam and lemon curd of course!

scones above with jam

(sadly I could not find any clotted cream but I have since found a recipe for homemade clotted cream that I will be trying very soon). This tea party made me rather homesick and triggered hours of nostalgically seeking out recipes for all the other British classic desserts like cherry bakewell tarts, hot cross buns, fondant fancies, and Eccles cakes. I am sure some of these will be turning up on The Grumbling Belly in the coming weeks and months!

English scones are not like the American ones you find at coffee shops. They lean slightly towards breakfast biscuits with some added sweetness.  Typically, scones are either plain or with raisins/currants. The ones I made for this shower are sort of an American-British marriage as I added dried cranberries with the raisins as well as a few other small modifications! If you want to make a classic recipe just omit the cranberries, zest and vanilla.

Tea Scones

English tea scones

1/2 cup of raisins

1/2 cup of dried cranberries

1 tsp orange zest

2 tbsp of sugar

4 cups of self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

2 eggs

dash of vanilla extract (optional)

1/2 cup of milk (plus a little extra for brushing)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Sift flower, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Cut butter into cubes and the rub into the flour mix until you have a breadcrumb texture. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, then add orange zest, vanilla if using, raisins and cranberries. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the milk-egg mix. Gently work the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated into a dough consistency. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut out scones circles. It is really important when cutting into the dough that you do not move the cutter around as this will prevent the scones from rising. Simply press straight down and release. Brush the top of the scones with milk and place on baking sheet with a little space between them. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown. You can freeze the scones as soon as they are cool in a ziplock bag to preserve their freshness. Or, serve them as soon as possible with jam, clotted cream or lemon curd.

scones close

(Thanks to Hannah King and Mike Trozzo for taking beautiful pictures)

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Pride and Prejudice Pasta!

Today, I am excited to share a story and delicious recipe from my dear friend Sodoulla in Cyprus. This story is actually about the both of us during my first stint on the island from 1993-1997  as a teenager. (I lived in Cyprus a second time from 2005-2007 after Grad school- yes it can be confusing!) We were both Greek- Cypriot kids who were born in London and whose parents had returned to live in Cyprus for various reasons. We were instant friends when we met in high school, sharing a common misunderstood dark British humour and dry wit as well as many other things. Needless to say she is still one of my best friends to this day even though there are so many miles between us and life is very different from those early days. I was absolutely thrilled when she wanted to contribute to The Grumbling Belly and I am sure you will enjoy this trip down memory lane with us.

Happy Mondays Pasta for Mr. Darcy

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

When Leia started her family and friends posts I couldn’t resist reminding her about our Monday night get togethers back in 1996. We were just out of school and I had moved from my parents house on the beach town of Larnaca to the central city of Nicosia for college. This meant I was closer to all my high school friends and in particular, Leia. Although she and I had our fair share of parties and going-out nights, Mondays were strictly reserved for our other two passions: English classics and food.

Much to mine and Leia’s delight the not-so-wonderful Cypriot Broadcast Corporation decided by some miracle (or perhaps someone on the board actually had good taste)  to show  the BBC’s six part series of Pride and Prejudice every Monday night, starring the original Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, and the under acclaimed Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet.

So I’d get over to Leia’s house a good couple of hours before the show would start and we would raise havoc in her mum’s huge kitchen (has she ever mentioned that her parent’s house in Cyprus is a parsonage that used to be a school? Thus you can imagine the size of each room, not to mention there are separate guest toilets for men and women!) We would chop up the garlic, mushrooms and onions while telling each other our sad love-life updates (or lack thereof!) and of course we’ll never know if we cried because of the onions or because of our tales. Then we would get out the pots and pans  and cook up our amazing signature dish that we were so proud of at the time. For us back then, diets started on Tuesdays…

ingredients

Finally, we would sit glued to the television and eat until bursting point while watching the courageous Elizabeth sticking to her guns and the quiet Mr Darcy falling frustratingly in love with her. If I remember correctly, (I did say this was back in 1996) we would finish off the evening with a quick game of scrabble.

Needless to say the series finished after six weeks but we continued Monday evening pasta for quite a while. I can safely say that it was probably the only time in my life when I actually really looked forward to Mondays and I have my best friend Leia and, of course Mr Darcy, to thank for that.

Now to be totally honest, the recipe for our spinach pasta is a bit foggy (again, 1996) we were young and never really thought about writing it down. Being Cypriots we kind of just “played by ear” (my mum is an excellent Cypriot cook and she doesn’t have a single recipe written down, which I now find extremely frustrating, but I guess I’m like her in a lot of ways).

However the other day knowing I was going to write about it, I tested out our Monday Pasta and this is what I came up with:

Garlic Pesto Cream Pasta
(serves 2)
200g pasta (we used to use cheese tortellini or tagliatelle but use your favourite)
1 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
1 medium onion (or half a Spanish one), chopped
chopped fresh mushrooms (optional but strongly recommended, quantity is up to you)
2 cloves garlic, chopped or mashed
2 (ok, maybe 3!) heaped tablespoons of good pesto (I now would use homemade as my husband does the best pesto but back then we used store bought)
a drizzle of good olive oil (please don’t substitute with another oil)
250ml fresh cream
half a glass of white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to grate on top

Gently sweat the onion in a hot pan drizzled with olive oil and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes, making sure the mushrooms don’t produce too much water.

spinach-going-in

Add the spinach and wine stir until all the spinach is hot and starts to cook down, cover the pan and let the spinach cook until its tender and reduced.

spinach-wilted

Add the pesto, season with salt and pepper; stir well so that everything is covered in pesto. Finally, when the wine is reduced to a thick sauce,

cream-going-in

add the fresh cream and stir again, let it cook and thicken.

finished-sauce

Cook the pasta to your desired tendency and mix well into the sauce, grate cheese on top and serve with garlic bread.

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

We strongly recommend sharing this pasta dish with your best friend for added comfort.

Birthday Surprises in Austin

Last weekend, I turned 35! Hard to believe how quickly my 30s are moving along. It seemed that my 20s went on forever so I assumed the next decade would pass at the same pace. But, I was wrong! I’ve always heard that time speeds up the older you get and it appears to be true. GULP! I can’t say I am unhappy with the way my life is turning out. I lived up my 20s mostly as a single and free woman moving around and having great adventures and the last seven years as a married woman have been just as wonderful, fulfilling and adventurous but in a different way.

Part of this has been due to the incredible man I married. I had no idea when I met this silent, intelligent, introverted, tall American southern gentleman that he would capture my crazy, nomadic, impetuous heart in such a way to find roots and a home in him that I love. (I hope you will excuse the side-step into gushy territory but I can’t tell you the next foodie bit without explaining how we ended up at the places we visited last weekend.) Some of you may remember from a couple of months ago that John and I always try and plan cute fun birthday surprises for each other every year.  A budget is set and then the whole day is a complete mystery. But it’s not just about where we go or what we do, it’s also about the creativity involved! One year I made word-search and crossword puzzles that John had to solve to discover the next destination. On my 30 birthday, John hid 30 presents all round the house with no clues and I had to find them all just by frantically looking under mattresses and dishware!  This year was no exception. All I knew when we left the house on Saturday morning was that we would be spending the weekend in our favourite Texas city, Austin. Once we arrived, John gave me a clue sheet

photo (5)

(mastered from my favourite game Whirly Word!) to help me figure out the next step of the day. First up was :

photo (6)

can you see it? You can imagine my squealing delight when I realized I would be going for a MASSAGE! I can’t think of  a better way to soothe these aging muscles of this 35 year old body! After 30 minutes of complete serenity, we moved on to one of our favourite sunny day past times:

photo (4)

a SCENIC walk along Mount Bonnell; a beautiful small mountain overlooking the river. The trek up and down the trail helped prepare our appetite for lunch :

photo (3)

Not just any TACOS but we went to a great Austin trailer/restaurant called Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy's Tacos

where we had The Fried Avocado (hand battered avocado with pico, lettuce, cheese and Poblano sauce) and

Torchy's Tacos

the Mr. Pink (seared Ahi-Tuna, cabbage, cilantro, queso fresco, with lime and Chipotle sauce). Yum!

Torchy's Tacos

But for dessert, one more puzzle told me we would be leaving Torchy’s and venturing over to Buenes Aires Cafe

Buenos Aires CafeBuenos Aires Cafe

for my favourite kind of dessert: BRULEE

 However, this was no normal Brulee, this was their Dark and Spicy Chocolate Brulee which is exactly as it sounds. Rich with a lovely bite!

Buenos Aires Cafe

We also enjoyed a slice of real Lemon Meringue Pie

Buenos Aires Cafe

and a delightful cup of Turkish Mint Tea. hmmmmm relaxing!

Buenos Aires Cafe

After being full and happy, I unscrambled my next clue which led us to

photo (2)

lovely artist MARKETs around the city.  You can imagine we were pretty tired by the time we checked into our hotel. Fortunately we had plenty of time to relax before dinner.

And, now we come to the real jewel of the day (other than my Sweetie!)

photo (1)

I love sashimi, SUSHI and other Asian flavours so John hit one out of the park with his final surprise of the night. We went to Uchiko

Uchico

which is rated number 1 on TripAdvisor out of 2,300 restaurants in Austin and we knew from the arrival of our first plate that we were in for something very special. This is the kind of place where you can order lots of little dishes and sample so many wonderful flavours and concoctions without getting full and uncomfortable. We had 10 different dishes in total and each one was just as amazing as the next. Here is a small sampling of the descriptions:

Koviche: fresh diver scallop, tomatillo, kalamata, black lime. 

Yokai Berry: Atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian pear, yuzu

Hot Rock: “sear it yourself” wagyu beef, Japanese river rock. This was not only fun but delicious. The meat was so tender and cooking on the rock made it surprisingly taste like it had been perfectly flame grilled.

Hot Rock at Uchiko, Austin

Even the  Tobacco Cream dessert with chocolate sorbet, maple budino, huckleberry, scotch was strangely one of the most delicious I think I have ever had! (Sorry Brulee! We had a good run!). I wish I had taken pictures of all of these to share them with you but I was too busy staring lovingly over the table at my date and being wooed by all the wonderful dishes that kept arriving. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that this was one of the most amazing meals I have eaten on the planet! It’s up there with my other all time favourite in Cambridge, La Raza. A perfect day!

The next day we went to Round Rock for Outlet Mall Shopping but not before stopping at the famous Round Rock Donuts for a quick peak.

Round Rock DonutsRock Round Donuts

 They have been featured on several Travel Channel shows like Man Vs Food for their crazy Texas sized donut:

Round Rock Texas

We settled for a plain glazed non-giant sized donut and I can definitely see why they are a donut favourite. Soft, warm and melt in your mouth sweetness.

All in all it was a wonderful birthday and I am very blessed by my darling hubby who, not only treats me well all year round, but knows exactly how to make me feel extra cherished on my special day.

Kate’s Candy

Last week, I introduced a new series here at The Grumbling Belly called Family and Friends. I am inviting people from around the world and across the country who appreciate the connection food has with our lives and community to share their favourite recipes and stories. This week, I am excited to introduce you to Kate from North Carolina. We met while working as Hall Directors in Tennessee almost four years ago and, with our kindred passion for food and people (and other things of course), we soon became great friends. She is a talented cook and baker and this is a wonderful story that perfectly illustrates how food can be so meaningful as well as delicious.

 

My maternal Grandfather passed away a year before I was born.  He died far too early, when he was only 54.

I have heard stories about my Papa Mac nearly every day of my life.  I have been told how much he would’ve loved me, how much I look like him with my dark hair and eyes, how much of a gentleman he was, and how deeply he adored the women in his life (namely his wife and two daughters).

I grew up missing a man that I have never met.  I think about him often and look forward to the heavenly day when he and I will hug and smile at each other for the first time.  Oh, all that we have to look forward to!

My Papa Mac loved to cook.  He did most of the cooking and baking in the house, enjoying the act of spoiling his three ladies.  His specialties were meatloaf, beef stroganoff, fried fish (that he and his Brother-in-law caught on their beach trip the weekend before), and any food that provided comfort to friends and family.  We still use the recipes he left us, and my mouth waters each time we look through those cards.

Papa Mac had a bit of a sweet tooth as well.  He indulged those he loved (and himself) by making cakes, fudge, and candy.  There is a particular candy recipe that my Mother made often during my childhood.  The main ingredients were dates and rice krispies, which formed a bite-sized log.  Somehow, she lost the recipe and I hadn’t had this particular candy in many years.  A few years ago, I mentioned that this was my favorite “Papa Mac recipe” and I wondered what we could do to recreate an important-to-me childhood memory.  My Grandmother (Gran), Mom, and I started looking through an old tin box Gran kept with recipes from her early-adult life.  There were a few of Papa Mac’s mixed in, so we were hoping to find this particular one.

I’ll never forget the moment she held up the card with my favorite recipe scribbled on it, as all three of us were baffled by its title…

The top of the card read, “Kate’s Candy”.

My Papa Mac named his Granddaughter Kate’s favorite candy recipe after her – before he even knew of her existence!  We tried to explain it away at the time, figuring that there must have been a friend of the family he named it for.  But, I’ve decided to always believe that Papa Mac named it just for me, his Granddaughter that he’ll meet one day in Heaven.

And so, I share with you my favorite recipe, one that my family holds so incredibly dear:

Kate’s candy

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter

1 egg well beaten

before cooking

Combine all ingredients in a pan and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly.
after cooking 10 minutes
Then add:
2 cups rice krispies
1 cup chopped pecans
When cool enough to handle, make into bite-sized logs and roll in flaked coconut. 

Take some butter and spread on your hands to form candy and roll in coconut.  This is helpful as the candy is very sticky.

Kate's Candy

Set on parchment paper until fully cooled and then serve.

finished product

Making Kate’s Candy with my grandmother and mother

Kate's Candy


Food and Friends- Halloumi Cheese Muffins

One of the key ideas behind The Grumbling Belly is that food is not just about great flavour and yummy recipes but  that food can be an integral part of community and culture. It brings people together, marks occasions, enriches our personal and communal history, introduces us to different places around the world, and it fuels creativity. I am blessed to know many wonderful people who inspire me to continue this Grumbling Belly mission and I have decided to start inviting them to share their stories and their food with you.

It seems only fitting then that I begin with a submission from the woman who began my journey in the kitchen, my mum. The very first thing she taught me to make was her famous Apple Crumble. We had a Bramley Apple tree in our garden and every season, mum would collect the apples and cook them up for the filling. I would be in charge of the crumble and would sit at the kitchen table, happily working the butter into the flour and sugar to make bread crumbs. I felt so proud of myself when she would present the dessert at our next dinner party and tell everyone I helped make it. She then moved me up to filling Cannelloni shells with her spinach and ricotta mix, and buttering layers of phyllo dough ready for all manner of Greek syrupy desserts. Soon I graduated to wrapping the dolmades filling with grape leaves and then on to stirring the bechamel sauce at its most crucial stage to avoid lumps.  I loved working in the kitchen so much that it didn’t take long for me to start looking up new recipes in Mum’s cookbooks to make with her or by myself.

All these years later and she is still teaching me family recipes and giving me baking/cooking tips. Here is the one she most recently sent me for her Halloumi Cheese Muffins. Mum and Dad have always opened up their home (and their dining table) to bring so many people together and this is one of my fondest memories from my time living with them. Our house was always bustling with guests for Sunday lunches, celebrations, or welcoming out of town visitors. She started making these Halloumi Cheese Muffins as a feature in her great buffet party spreads, or sometimes to help with a charity bake sale. They are  moreish warm yummy delights for any occasion!

Halloumi Cheese Muffins

(Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese that has a very unique texture ensuring it keeps its shape in cooking and baking. However, Mum says if you can’t find halloumi, these are still tasty using all cheddar cheese)

Cheese and Halloumi Muffins

5 eggs
1 cup corn oil
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar)
1 cup grated halloumi
2 1/2 cups self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sultanas
2 tsp dry mint
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180 c (350 F). Whisk eggs well then add the oil and beat until well combined. Mix in milk and sugar. In a separate bowl combine the two cheeses and then add to the egg milk mix. Next, add the flour and baking powder and stir well. Pour in the sultanas and salt and mix until everything is combined. Divide mixture into 24 muffin cases in muffin pans and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown.

The Only Way to Eat Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are a staple at my family’s Christmas Dinner table. Those little green bundles have been passed right under my (reluctant up-turned) nose for the past 30 something years and I had all but given up on them until recently when I was in a restaurant ordering conundrum. While dining out for the Hubby’s birthday at South Congress Cafe in Austin (for more about that day read here), I was really craving scallops but the ones on the menu were being served on a bed of my holiday nemesis. The description read ‘crispy Brussels Sprouts’ (not boiled and mushy) and I was desperate enough that I looked at the server (probably with pleading in my watery eyes) asking him if these green buggers were really worth the rest of the dish. He assured me that they bore no comparison to my idea of sprouts and that the scallops were amazing…..so (after taking a deep breath) I couldn’t resist and went for it. One of the best restaurant decisions I have made! They were completely delicious and I kept talking about  them to John for days so it is no wonder that they ended up on  the menu for our Easter Sunday dinner. I couldn’t really find an exact recipe so I decided to just try and recapture the magic from the original description at South Congress (‘crispy brussels sprouts, bacon, lemon basil brown butter’) and some creativity.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

1lb Brussels Sprouts

2 tbsp butter

2 strips of bacon (cooked and chopped into small pieces)

1 shallot sliced thinly

1 small clove of garlic, minced

squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 tsp of dried basil

oil for frying (about 3 cups)

salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the sprouts and thoroughly pat dry. Trim off ends, peal away a couple of the outer leaves and then cut in half (if you need a visual there are several helpful videos on YouTube). Make sure they are completely dry.

Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprouts

Heat your oil to 350 F. Place a few sprouts on a slotted spoon and lower into the heated oil. Cover the fryer immediately to avoid being splattered with oil. The sprouts contain a high amount of water and they will start popping under the lid. Also, do not put too many in at once or there will be too much water released into the oil and they will burn before it is safe to open the lid. (We discovered this the hard way…needless to say I was a bit nervous because I didn’t completely know what I was doing and geared up for protection….think hazmat with a spatula! After doing the second batch as per my above directions, it was really easy and completely fine!) Cook each batch for about 3-4 minutes (you will hear the popping coming to an end) Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper before transferring onto a serving dish. You will probably need to cook the sprouts in about 4-5 batches.

Melt the butter in a pan. Brown the shallots and garlic in the butter then add the cooked bacon, and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour over the sprouts and then squirt a little lemon juice over top.

It was delicious and transported me back to that surprising discovery at South Congress! (The hubs said he liked it even better than the original ones we ate in Austin….but he is a little biased!) They were the perfect accompaniment to our Easter meal of Whiskey Stew, Yorkshire Puddings and Roasted Parsnips.

Easter DinnerCrispy Brussels Sprouts

I can’t wait for my next dinner party to sport these sprouts!

Pinteresting Easter Monday!

This was the first holiday John and I have spent alone and although that makes it sound like a sad occasion, it was actually by choice. The most exciting part of this decision was the chance to cook an entire special meal from start to finish. Usually, because we are with family, we just contribute a side dish or dessert so, despite all my cooking and baking experience, I have never been the person solely responsible for an all out holiday meal until yesterday. We talked through some options, looked over Pinterest, recalled some of the best dishes from our favourite restaurants, and came up with a menu: Whiskey Beef Stew with Yorkshire Puddings, Roasted Parsnips and Crunchy Lemon Basil Brussels Sprouts. 

Easter Dinner

The first part of our meal was a recipe I came across on Pinterest so I have decided to share it with you all for Pinteresting Easter Monday. I am not usually a fan of stews and pot roasts so for me to actually find one I love is a big deal!. What really struck me about this recipe was the whisky (need I say more?) and Yorkshire puddings (which to me are synonymous with holiday meals). Once we had settled on this recipe, it seemed only natural to go in the way of a British theme so Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts were quickly added to the menu. For the parsnips, I just roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper for 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. As amazing as the stew was, and as much as we love parsnips, the real star of the show ended up being the Brussels Sprouts which I will share with you more thoroughly later this week as they deserve a post entirely their own. In the meantime, here is the original recipe for the stew with my notes in bold.

Whiskey, Beef and Mushroom Stew in a Yorkshire Pudding Bowl  (from Elizabeth’s Kitchen)

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Serves 2 (I actually found that this will serve more like 4 people)

400g (1 lb) stewing beef or casserole steak, cubed
flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
oil for frying 
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 tsp dried herbs de provence (this is typically a mixture of Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel Seed and sometimes Lavendar. I just used Rosemary and Thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
13 button mushrooms, cleaned
70ml (about a quarter cup) whisky 
1 pint beef stock (2 cups)

Mix flour with salt & pepper. Dredge meat cubes, shake off excess and set aside. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry beef in batches until each side is seared. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a large pot. Fry onions and garlic in the oil until the onions soften.  Stir in paprika and fry a further minute. Transfer to the pot. Add potato, mushrooms and remaining herbs. Pour whiskey and stock into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping up all the little bits on the bottom. Transfer to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for at least an hour. Alternatively, cook in a slow cooker for 8 hours on low. When the meat is tender thicken with some cornflour if desired, although I feel it’s perfect just as is. I decided I didn’t want to dirty two pans so after dredging the meat, I seared it in my deep non-stick pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. I removed the meat and softened the onions in the same oil. I put the meat back in with the onions, added the mushrooms, potatoes and remaining spices, deglazed with the whiskey and then added the stock. It simmered in this same pan for 1 hour.  

Serve with Yorkshire puddings.

300ml full fat milk (1 1/4 cups)
4 eggs
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
250g plain flour, sifted (1 cup)
dripping

Whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your dishes with dripping in the oven until very, very hot. I used an 18cm Le Cruset pan to make the Yorkshire ‘bowl’. Stir flour into the egg/milk mixture and pour into the very hot pan.  (I don’t have this size pan so I just made smaller puddings in a muffin pan with a tbsp of drippings/oil and -once hot- 3/4 full of batter ) Bake for 20 minutes. 

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes There are several reasons why you should try this stew:

1) it’s easy and delicious

2) whiskey…but seriously though!

3) it can be adapted for the crock pot making it even easier

4) it will make your house smell amazing while it’s bubbling away

5) except for the whiskey (depending on your pantry), it is really quite inexpensive, hearty and all the ingredients are probably sitting in your fridge and cupboard at this very moment!

Birthday Burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin

Birthdays are a big deal here at the Duncan household, even more so now that the hubs is doing his PhD and hardly gets any free time. Last Friday, he turned 35 and I got the chance to pull him away from his laptop and piles of books to a weekend full of fun and surprises. In the morning he was given a large bag full of numbered balloons and had to pop them as the day proceeded to find out where we were going next.

Happy Birthday!

We had a blast- and I say we because it was just as much fun for me planning and seeing his reaction to each clue as it was for him to be spoiled! It was such a needed break and a very important day so there was no question as to where we would be spending our adventures- in Austin, TX! After a quick dash through the Starbucks drive-thru, we made the 2 hour drive south to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for a peaceful outdoor scenic morning stroll. This was perfect to balance out our stop for lunch at the hectic South Congress on a beautiful sunny day. In all honesty, apart from the parking issue, the extrovert in me loves being around any downtown hustle and bustle so I felt energized and excited for our stop at the incredible Hopdoddy Burger Bar on this famous Austin street.

Although it was heaving with eager hungry guests like us, Hopdoddy has this great system where your table is assigned to you as you are lining up and even on a very busy lunchtime rush, our wait to actually sit was only about 20 minutes. Even still, because you are moving in the line past the beer taps at the bar (and sipping on your drink) and creeping all the more closer to the burger order station, you feel like time is passing and you are making progress. Then the food arrives and you realize you would have waited double the time if necessary (and more!). Some of the most unique and delicious burgers I have ever seen and eaten. All their meat is ground in-house daily and comes from cows that are humanely raised and fed all the good stuff to keep them happy and healthy. Their buns are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day. The result?

Primetime at Hopdoddy, Austin

delicious and moreish hand-crafted burgers like Primetime: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli,

Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce

Llano Poblano at Hopdoddy, Austin TX

and the Llano Poblano: Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles,

Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo

Fries with Green Chili Queso at Hopdoddy, Austin

all finished off with their seasoned Kennebec Fries and Green Chili Queso.

I seriously could have gone back for dinner but fortunately (or unfortunately) there were other surprises to unveil. After a long afternoon of used-bookstore browsing, we returned to the buzzings of South Congress and enjoyed another amazing celebratory meal at South Congress Cafe. Sadly, the lighting was pretty bad for photos so none of the pictures I took on the night came out. I would have loved to shown you my beautiful plate of seared scallops with crispy Brussels sprouts glazed with basil, bacon and lemon brown butter, or John’s hearty steak au poivre and blackened jumbo shrimp. But, your imagination will have to do. The other alternative is for you to visit Austin, TX and taste them for yourselves 🙂

Rotisserie Chicken- bringing out the big guns on a weeknight!

Roast Chicken

Life is busy for all of us. It seems the more time saving technology we develop, the less time we seem to have for everything! At the end of a hectic work day, it is so tempting to just pull into the nearest drive-thru on the way home and pick up whatever is easy and headache free. While this may be unavoidable occasionally, it’s really not ideal for health and budget reasons (let’s face it, there’s only so many cardboard value meals you can take before you start going for more expensive options!Store Bought Rotisserie Chicken is every working home-cooks’ secret weapon! A regular sized chicken offers about 5-6 servings (maybe more depending on your portion sizes and how you serve it) and although it might look dull, it can be used in endless ways. As demonstrated in my post on Monday, I often sub Rotisserie chicken in recipes I find as it saves time and energy, making that drive-thru all the more unappealing. Best of all, you can get so many varieties of rotisserie chicken form your local store these days (like Lemon Pepper, and Mesquite BBQ) making it easy to mix and match recipe flavours. When I buy one, I usually plan on using it for two different recipes throughout the work week; this is  great because the chicken can last a few days in the fridge (and it also means we don’t have to eat the same back to back chicken dish)!

From my quick lighter Chicken Salad (see below) to an exciting flashy Quesadilla,  I have some great suggestions if you find yourself at a loss and are tempted to look for your car keys (or for the delivery number on the fridge!)

Leia’s Lighter Chicken Salad

Leia's Chicken Salad

2 cups of chicken meat (lemon pepper is my go to variety for this)

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp of dried tarragon (this is the magic ingredient in chicken salad and totally worth the investment if you don’t already have it in your pantry)

1 diced apple

1/2 cup of mayo (I prefer the olive oil variety for health reasons)

1/2 cup of thick Greek Yogurt

 

1 tbsp of chopped scallions

1/4 cup of raisins/cranberries (or even chopped grapes)

1/8 cup of toasted pine nuts

1/2 tsp of paprika

dash of cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Pulse chicken in food processor 3-4 times until chicken is in small pieces. Mix yogurt, mayo, herbs, spices and lemon juice in large bowl until well combined. Add chicken and remaining ingredients. Serve on toasted bun with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and a slice of Cheddar cheese.

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Here are some other suggestions for transforming a rotisserie chicken into something great and fun for any weeknight dinner- (some of these are faster than waiting in the drive-thru line!):

Chicken and Humus in a pitta  Just line the bottom of a pitta with shredded chicken. Dollop on some store bought humus, add salad leaves, tomatoes, olives (whatever ingredients you like) and voila!

Chicken Pitta and cucumber relish (see Monday’s post)

Chicken Pitta with yogurt and cucumber relish

Chicken Quesadilla–  shred the chicken and sprinkle with your favourite seasonings like cumin, paprika, garlic powder and a squeeze of lime. Warm a tortilla in a pan for about 30 seconds on low heat, flip over add chicken, shredded cheese, diced peppers and onions, spinach (again it’s your taste buds- just add your favourite!), fold the tortilla in half and wait for the cheese to melt. You could also do so many varieties like a BBQ Chicken Quesadilla (slather chicken with your favourite sauce and add grilled pineapples and chopped jalapenos all melted together with mozzarella). or a Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla (again just slather chicken with wing sauce, and add cabbage and blue cheese). These same ideas can be applied for Soft Chicken Tacos.

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches – shred the chicken and leave overnight soaking in BBQ sauce. Serve in a toasted bun with coleslaw.

Chicken Pot Pie this is already a  great use of leftover roast chicken. Add to your favourite grandma’s recipe!

Baked Chicken Wontons:  Put chicken, cream cheese, scallions, corn kernels, tarragon, and grated Parmesan (or other cheese) in a food processor and pulse a few times. Place a tbsp of mixture onto a wonton wrapper, fold up, place on a baking sheet, spray with oil and bake until crispy and golden. (You could do this with crescent rolls too) Serve with salad or veg

Add chicken to any of the following for a protein boost without the added cooking time:

Pizza, Salad, Grilled Cheese, Mac n Cheese (add a dash of wing sauce into the cheese mixture for a new twist on the classic) and in any Casserole. What are some of your favourite recipes using Rotisserie Chicken?

Middle Eastern treats- Lahmacun and Muhammara

muhammarra and lahmacun

If you spend even a small amount of time eating food from the countries that border the Mediterranean you will realize how much they all have in common. Greece and Italy love their freshly caught fish with a simple but dazzling splash of pure olive oil and lemon, and delight in their warm and bubbly baked pastas and their delicious salty cheeses. And yet unlike Italy, Greece shares its love of hummus and heavily seasoned meat with its middle eastern neighbours. Of course this phenomenon is not surprising at all when you read about the occupations and migrations of different people groups in the  Mediterranean throughout ancient history.

We have a couple of decent Greek/Middle Eastern restaurants around Waco but there are a few menu items I haven’t seen anywhere and have dearly missed so I decided this weekend was a good time for some nostalgic cooking! The first dish I made is called Lahmacun (pronounced Lah-ma-joun) and is typically an Armenian and Turkish dish although each culture serves it slightly differently by adding a unique variety of pickled or grilled vegetables. It’s a meat (usually lamb or beef, or both) mixed with spices and parsley and then grilled/baked on flat-bread  This recipe came to my family from an Armenian woman and Mum used to make it for us when we were kids.

Lahmacun

The second item I have been missing is originally a Syrian dip called Muhammara (affectionately known to my friends as ‘The Red Dip’) with roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses. We first discovered this when my husband and I lived in Cyprus and visited an amazing restaurant called Syrian Friendship Club. Although the ingredients sound like a strange combination, when I first took a bite, I could not place a single one and was completely baffled. It just tasted delicious and I had no way of figuring out how it was made. When we left Cyprus, a tiny piece of my heart stayed behind in that restaurant with the bright red bowl of heaven! Then, unexpectedly while looking through an Ellie Kreiger cookbook, I came across a recipe for Muhammara and could not contain my excitement. I made a couple of adjustments and was delighted that in some small way, we could relive our Syrian Friendship Club days thousands of miles away. I hope you will try these very simple but delicious recipes and experience the delights of the Middle East in your own kitchens

Muhammara

Lahmacun

1/2 lb of ground beef

1/2 can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 tbsp of tomato paste/puree

Handful of chopped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp of cumin

1/2 tsp of all spice (or just mix ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)

1/2 tsp of ground coriander

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

6 pitta pockets (you can also use large thin flat-bread)

fresh lemon wedges or juice for serving

I like to blend the crushed tomatoes but this is not completely necessary. Mix all the ingredients (minus the bread) in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight. Turn on your broiler (or oven grill) to get nice and hot. Slice open and separate the pitta pockets so you have two thin rounds. Spread a THIN layer of the meat mixture onto each side of the pitta. The surface of the bread should be completely covered. Place under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the edges are crunchy but not burnt. Repeat with remaining pitta pockets and squirt some fresh lemon juice over top before serving. 

Lahmacun

Muhammara (adapted from Ellie Kreiger’s The Food You Crave)

1/2 cups of wholewheat bread crumbs

1 1/2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp of cumin

1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper (optional)

1/2 cup walnuts

1 tbsp lemon juice

18 oz jar of Roasted Red Peppers (drained)

2 tbsp of pomegranate molasses *(see note below)

(*Pomegranate molasses can be found at any middle eastern specialty store but in the event you don’t have one near you, simmer some pomegranate juice on medium heat until it reduces to a syrup- about 1/4 of the volume -and allow to cool. It can last in your fridge for a few weeks if you have extra.)

Muhammara

Toast the walnuts and grind in food processor. Add breadcrumbs and spices and pulse until well combined. (If I don’t have breadcrumbs, I toast a small piece of bread, let it cool and harden and then throw it in with the walnuts.) Add drained peppers, lemon juice, molasses and olive oil and blend until everything is mixed well. Serve with Pitta Chips or warm flat bread.