Project: Persian New Year

I love a good project. Whether it’s for the house, crafting or making the yard new again, I just can’t seem to get enough. I love the sense of making and creating and with my continual effort to do something new, cooking has long fulfilled all of these desires. I have tried so many things, and yet there is still more to be attempted and more to be perfected.

Enter, Project: Persian New Year Dinner Party.

Back in college a friend hosted a group of us on Spring Break at her parents’ house in Santa Monica and I’ll never forget having Persian rice for the first time. The crispy bottom a delicacy adding texture and extra flavor to the rice, and the rest of the rice steamed to perfection. I don’t remember much about other dishes, but in general I do love middle eastern/Afghan/Indian food, so when I read the extensive article in Food & Wine about the ultimate Persian New Year feast I was intrigued. I happened to mention to a friend about the article to which she replied that she could actually make most of the dishes (having learned from her mom and aunt) and before we knew it a dinner party was born.

I hosted at my house and filled my dining table to the max. Jenny did an AWESOME job with the stews and rice, while I managed desserts recipes straight from the inspirational article and a delightful cocktail inspired by the holiday. I had an absolute blast at the international market she suggested – in Denver these places are not as easily accessible as in San Francisco, but they do exist! I loaded up on rosewater, flat breads, Persian cucumbers and so much more. It was also a blast from the past seeing so many products/brands I was familiar with from Germany, making me oh so nostalgic.

All of the dishes came out just wonderfully and were a smashing success with everyone. All five guests loved the food and lingered late into the evening – you know people are having a good time when there is an empty bottle of wine for each attendee! Jenny explained that Persian New Year is in the Spring, aligning with the fresh start of nature outside. It starts on a specific day, but the celebration lasts for about two weeks as it’s a time to spend with family and friends, popping by each other’s houses to collectively enjoy what life has to offer, and of course, indulging and eating way too much. The dinner party felt just that: a little celebration of the life I’ve started to build here in Denver, appreciating good friends with good food and new endeavors.

leftover wraps for lunch the next few days

The recipes we made are below, which are only a small sampling of the traditional dishes for the holiday. The Food & Wine link below has quite the variety and a Google Search will yield even more! The first three are recipes that have been passed down so they are a little less precise – go with your gut on quantities, stew consistencies and adjustments for flavor. Continue reading

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Valentine’s Day Video: A Simple Steak Dinner

Oh Valentine’s Day – what a funny holiday… I’ve never been a huge fan, but being the lover of a good celebration, I do think it is kind of fun to make or do something special whether or not a special someone is involved. Last year I made these for my girlfriends and two years ago I made this for dinner. This year, for the first time in quite some time, I will be having dinner with my boyfriend, enjoying a night at home, and prepping for a vacation – all the things that I love most: great company, good food, frequent travel.

During my trip to Europe last summer, I had a healthy amount of time with friends and family, but still toured around a lot of the time by myself and had to good fortune to rent an entire apartment in Brussels for a weekend. I took full advantage of having a nice terrace and even a full kitchen as I cooked an impressively simple steak dinner one night. A single piece of filet mignon called my name in the grocery store and I swear I was out the door for under 10 euros with that, a few potatoes, green beans and a bottle of wine in my bag. After a little research, I decided to cook the steak with some red onion, finish it in the oven and reduce some of the wine down for sauce. So so so good.

It may seem that it’s a bit weird to be posting my ‘steak for one video’ for Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s good to remember on this funny little holiday that even if there is no special someone, there can still be pleasure found in doing things alone or treating yourself to something nice. Not to mention that while the video does showcase a meal for one, it is easily adapted for two and would make the perfect simple weeknight Valentines Day meal to show your someone you care.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/59129251 w=700&h=500]

Steak recipe inspiration here ,tips:

  • I used red onions instead of mushrooms, both would be great.
  • My piece of steak was thinner than in the recipe, so it would have actually been cooked after a sear on both sides, gauge if your piece is thick enough to warrant a trip to the oven.
  • I don’t generally have demi glace with me on vacation, so I just used red wine to deglaze the pan and reduced it thicken, use a good amount, not just a splash like in the video
  • Finishing with butter is always the right thing to do.

Potatoes: place in cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Mash into a chunky mixture with cream, butter, salt and pepper.

Beans: boil until tender, finish with garlic, butter and salt in a saute pan.

Moroccan Inspired Meatballs

I found this meatball recipe a couple of years ago and it’s so so good. I served them the first time with cous cous & tzatziki for dipping and they were a huge crowd pleaser, but I lightened it up this go around with an almond/garlic/white wine sauce and a bed of baby greens. The original recipe calls for lamb and a lot of mint, so I’ve altered a little bit to my tastes, but they still exude a Moroccan feel with cumin, cinnamon and mint. The spices create a slightly smokey and warming flavor profile while the mint and parsley add a fresh spark.

This almond sauce is a little more Spanish inspired – it has fresh ground almonds, garlic, more parsley and white wine, yum! I thought the sauce and meatballs were even better a day later after all the flavors were able to come together. I still love them with the tzatziki, but either route, you end up with flavors of the Mediterranean (one a little more eastern and one a little more western) that are so right for each other.

hand-ground picada for the sauce

Moroccan Inspired Meatballs*

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped very finely
  • 1/2 lb beef
  • 1/2 lb pork
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2-1 cup loosely packed mint, finely chopped
  • 2-4 tbsp bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt (~1 tsp) and pepper to taste

Warm oil in saute pan and cook onion till very soft, add garlic at very end. Let cool. In a separate bowl add all ingredients including onions and garlic. Thoroughly mix all ingredients with hands, making sure all ingredients are well-distributed. Start with 2 tbsp breadcrumbs, add more if the mixture is too wet. Add 1/2-1 cup mint depending on your taste preference.

Heat oven to 350. Form meatballs ~12 larger meatballs or ~24 smaller meatballs for a group, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on size, until cooked through.

Meanwhile prepare almond sauce and  warm through meatballs in sauce before serving.

*Meatball recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma here, Almond Sauce recipe here (I omitted the saffron)

Game Day: Elevated Pigs in a Blanket

Um, these are kind of amazing, no no, like really amazing. As much as I love gourmet food and making things from scratch, there are some oldies but goodie that are pretty fantastic as is – add a couple of extra ingredients and they just might blow you away. I’ve been in love with lil’ smokies in a blanket since I made them for a 70’s party several years ago (I went with a snack from the era) and since then I’ve made them for many a house party because they are so easy and such a crowd pleaser. The thing that makes these great for hosting is that you can tuck in the piggies ahead of time, keep them on baking sheet in the fridge and pull out when you are ready to bake. I also love how this particular recipe doesn’t need a dipping sauce, so they are clean and easy for game day viewing.

What makes these elevated is the home-made spicy mustard, apple and sharp cheddar. The apple, cheese, meat combo is a classic that I’ve applied here and here. I am a huge fan of how the lil’ smokies and crescent roll are slightly sweet and are balanced by the crisp apple and the sharpness of the cheddar and mustard. Also, if you are wondering why I went crescent roll over puff pastry for my special smokies – I just think they taste better. I like the bread texture, and I think they maintain texture and flavor better than puff when cooled. When rolled all together these little piggies are hot, melted  and I know everyone will love them.

{cut each crescent roll in half and spread with spicy mustard}

{layer on thinly sliced apple and cheese – don’t slice too thin because they need to hold their own against the sausage and the roll}

{add the lil’ smokie – it looks high, but it’s so worth it}

{wrap ’em up tight, bake with the apple on the bottom}

{bake on parchment paper at 375 for 12-15 min until golden and melted}

Red Wine-Braised Beef Short Ribs

Fall is here. We had our first October rain a couple days ago, my radiator is in full force and while it’s sunny outside there is definitely a crispness to the air. After being gone all last weekend and spending my first three nights of the week either at yoga or catching up with friends, it had been a good five nights since I spent some quality time at home. Between my absence from my abode and the chilly weather, I was craving some down time and comfort food.

As you may have noticed over the course of these past eight months, I don’t cook a TON of meat. There is the occasional poultry or fish, but I actually had to create a new category called ‘beef’ just for this post. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it (every now and then I do get a craving) I’m just a little particular about it and feel as though someone else can always to it better – hence me ordering it in restaurants or leaving it to dates to cook steaks for me. I do; however, LOVE slow cooking, meat that falls off the bone, and any excuse to use my dutch oven so when bon appetit said this was a nearly fool proof recipe, I figured I’d be a fool not to try it!

These short ribs are just as amazing and tender as they look. You brown them, add some veggies, loads of herbs and cook with red wine and stock for a couple hours until all the fat has melted, they are imbued with flavor and they fall apart at the slightest touch. It was super easy, and you definitely don’t have to be a master to take this on. The fragrance alone is enough to make me salivate and have beefy dreams, and as I was eating it I was amazed that I could taste the herbs and the bay and the wine. The sauce is phenomenal too, cooked down with all the beefy, veggie goodness and it is essential that you make mashed potatoes to soak it all up. I didn’t want my potatoes to overthrow the flavor of the meat, so I simply seasoned with butter, milk, salt and pepper, and it was the perfect complement. And in a bit of a guilt trip I decided I needed something green on the plate, so I made green beans – but let’s be honest, these were nice, but merely a side note to the stars of the dish.So Mission: Comfort was a success – all nestled in, caught up on chores (2 hours of cooking allows for a lot of tidying up), movie watched and book read, I felt cozy from the inside out and ready to embrace fall and my busy weekend!

Recipe here