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

5 Ingredients. 5 Meals. Only 1 Chicken

Every now and then I get really focused on saving money and actually hitting my budget. Every time I assess where my city living gets most spendy, I realize how much it costs to eats out. A lot of times it’s due to those 1 or 2 glasses of wine that add up fast, but in general I eat less, healthier and cheaper when I eat at home. I find that the best way to work through this is to actually go to the grocery store and have food in my fridge – shocking, I know. This means instead of needing to get a quick something out, I at least have the option to just have toast and a bowl of cereal for dinner (yes, that’s what I had last night). Sticking to my budget means also bringing breakfast and lunch to work, which with all these groceries I’ve now purchased and a little preparation, is not too difficult a task. It also means I can be eating well AND saving money – score.

The past couple of weeks I’ve impressed even myself with my efforts, and it all began with 1 chicken. I’ve long loved my crock pot, and I finally put it to use for something other than chili and pulled pork. Put a chicken in, pour over some salsa and at the end of the day you have tender shredded chicken, perfect for a multitude of uses. I ended up making some very easy meals that kept me fed for dinners and lunches – absolutely fantastic. Even more proof that just a little bit of effort and a few ingredients can go a long way!

photo-215 ingredients:

  • Whole chicken
  • Large jar of salsa verde
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • 1 package of tortillas
  • cheese

Optionals:

5 meals:

  • 2 servings of 2 tacos
  • 2 servings of 2 enchiladas
  • 1 breakfast tostada

Preparation:

  • Rinse the chicken and place in the crock pot, cover with 1/2-2/3 of the jar of salsa and the can of tomatoes
  • Set on low and let it cook all day, remove from crock pot and when cool enough to handle, pull meal off the bones and shred it
  • Mix shredded meat with some of remaining crock pot juices.
  • For tacos: serve in warm tortillas with pickled corn
  • For enchiladas: roll meat, cheese (and pickled corn, if using) in tortillas, cover with some salsa and cheese, bake at 350 for about 20 min until bubbly and golden
  • For tostada: it’s just an open face taco, add salsa, an egg, greens or whatever else you have on hand.

Recipe Repeat: Scrambled Eggs and Bacon

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to post this,  seeing as that it was SO good. I think I felt kind of awkward posting about breakfast again and I had a mildly busy week. But really, the breakfast I made last weekend is nothing to be shy about. I was inspired by this recipe on Gilt Taste where Ruth Reichl explains the technique to making fabulous scrambled eggs, namely being a sauce pot rather than a frying pan, low heat and lots and lots of butter. This was similar to the double boiler scrambled eggs I made last year, here, and they were so good last time I wanted to try them again using the true sauce pot technique. The result was SUPER creamy eggs, with the smallest curds that were almost like a sauce over my veggies and toast.

In addition to the luscious eggs, I sautéed some asparagus and mushrooms with onion and garlic in my new cast iron skillet. I can tell already I’m going to love that thing. The onions caramelized and salt and pepper was all seasoning the vegetables needed to be amazing. I put a touch of tarragon in the eggs, which is really mild and almost a sweet, it paired back really well to the onions and mushrooms. I also added some goat cheese to the eggs, right at the end, which helped balance out the sweet notes. I loaded it all up on toast (two pieces with the bottoms touching are why it looks round) and served it with a side of brown sugar bacon like I had made here, and it was perfect.

The following night, I had left over veggies and served up the same elements in a slightly different fashion – I spread the goat cheese on the toast and put a fried egg on top. Oh, how I LOVE a runny yolk. Just as amazing.

Scrambled Eggs and Bacon*

  • Whisk eggs with salt and a pinch of tarragon. Heat a sauce pot over low low heat and melt some butter. Add eggs and continuously stir, eventually it will thicken with the smallest of curds. Cook until done, adding goat cheese at the very end, mix in and leave clumps of cheese to your desire.
  • Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. Add finely chopped onions and salt, saute until translucent. Add garlic, cook for a minute. Add asparagus and mushrooms, cook for a few minutes to brown, then add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until vegetables are tender.
  • Toss 8 oz of bacon with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 tsp ancho chili powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. It’s better if you cook on a cooling rack, or something for the grease to drip down, but in a pinch you can just cook on the foil. Lay out bacon and cook at 375 for 15-30 min until brown and crisp.

* click on the links above for more detailed recipes, but the gist of them is here.

Simple Roast Chicken

There are already Christmas ads on TV. It’s unbelievable how every year retail push up their advertisements so that we’ve finally gotten to the point of Christmas before Thanksgiving. I for one, am a little appalled seeing as that I am still in the throes of deciding what to make for the biggest eating day of the year! In anticipation for a the holiday I hosted dinner club with a Thanksgiving theme. I originally wasn’t going to make a bird, because I thought it would be too much work, not to mention for me the highlights of that meal are always the sides. But then I got to thinking that you can’t have mashed potatoes without homemade gravy, you can’t (well you can) have a meal with just carbs and starches, and finally that I shouldn’t turn down the excuse to roast in my dutch oven, which was the whole point of me getting the oval shape – so a bird would fit! In the end I caved and made one of the best roasted chickens I know how. It’s incredibly easy and looks so impressive, it’s always a crowd pleaser.

the mock Thanksgiving spread

My trick for getting flavor into the bird is butter. I know people say brine, and while we’ve done that for turkeys before, it yields an awfully salty gravy, but a chicken done right isn’t in as much risk to drying out. Here’s my easy bird that comes out moist and loaded with flavor:

  • Make a herb butter: room temp butter mixed with chopped sage, rosemary, thyme (or whatever you have on hand) salt & pepper
  • Run your fingers between the meat and the skin, separating both and making easier work of the next step
  • Put the butter between the skin and the meat – shove it in there and smooth it out. Even put it on the top of the legs
  • Place thinly sliced lemon, garlic and a whole sage leaf under the skin as well
  • Chop an onion and the rest of the lemon and place in the cavity of the bird
  • Tuck under the wings and tie the legs together
  • Roast at 350 for about 30 min/lb until the juices run clear from a cut above the thigh
  • Let it rest! 15 min or so until you carve, you want all the juices to soak back into the meat.

And that’s it, folks, easy peasy. I wish I’d taken some more photos for you, but my hands were a little involved with all this butter stuffing and chicken dealing. But I just can’t stress enough how tasty it came out. It’s also amazing how many people it will feed. We were a party of 6 and stuffed to the brim, and I ate it for the rest of the week: on toast, in sandwiches, mixed with mushrooms and broccoli in pasta. The possibilities are endless.

the post chicken day fare: toast + brie + chicken + hot gravy = AMAZING melted, savory & crisp

Cucina Italiana

I hosted book club last week for the first time since I moved into my new place! We had a great time chatting in my dining room crammed around my super small round table. Over the past year we have really stepped up our culinary game – growing from cheese and crackers to mild attempts to pair a dish or two to the book. Our last read, The Imperfectionists, took place in Rome so I decided to kick it up with a little Italian fare. The meatballs were tasty, and the suprise dish was a toothpick caprese salad.

I had made these meatballs before and thought they were really good. I made them mini bite sized this time and they were only ok. I don’t know if it was my memory, change in tastes, or doubling of the recipe, but they didn’t seem as amazing as they had before. They are turkey with celery and onion, which was a good start, but they could have used a little more punch – more herbs, more salt, something really special. I made moroccan inspired meatballs for book club last year and those were great, packed with mint and stronger flavors from lamb and pork, so maybe my expectations for  these were a little high. You wouldn’t think that meat balls are so hard to perfect, but it’s all about proportions and flavor profiles can be so varied. So while these were good, I’ll have to keep trying for a winning combination because they are great for parties and it really doesn’t take that long to roll 77 of them!

Now my mini capreses on the otherhand were great. SO simple, but they looked impressive and just took a couple steps. I used grape tomatoes and fresh mozarella. The fresh mozzarella makes all the difference, because it’s creamier and moister than the other kinds that are vacuume packed. Simply skewer the tomato and cheese, sprinkle with basil, and top with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. It’s as easy as that and as long as you use qualities ingredients, you can’t go wrong.

Summer BBQ

Summer is great! That is, unless you live in San Francisco. Despite the nice weather this past week, fog, wind and even rain plague my beautiful city while it is sublimely warm in neighboring cities during the months of June, July and August. So when my parents planned their three week Spanish extravaganza, I planned a BBQ in their empty home. Last weekend down came my SF friends to relish in warm weather, the ease of suburban life, and some good home cooking!

Normally with large groups I don’t stress to much about making everything from scratch; however, I went all out this past weekend, making one classic, one easy and two new delicisous dishes. I was shocked that they all turned out well! For any given meal, I’ve come to accept that there will usually be a star, while some of the other dishes flounder – and while everyone had their favorite, I must say, that they were all pretty great in my book.

1) The Classic: Grilled Panzanella

I discovered this receipe a couple years back when a girlfriend of mine made it for her BBQ, and now make it for every BBQ I have. It’s actually another Ina Garten recipe that is SO easy. Grill bell peppers, red onions and some quality bread. Chop while warm and mix with tomatoes, cucumbers and dress. The secret addition, though, is goat cheese! It’s creamy already and get’s a little melty with all the warm veggies, so it adds to the texture and tang of the salad. The dressing is simply oil, white wine vinegar, garlic and dijon which is light, yet spicy from the raw garlic and perfect for summer – this soaks into the bread, which along with the warm veggie juices, makes the ‘croutons’ full of flavor.

2) The Basic: Burgers

What is a BBQ with out the staple hamburger or hot dog??? I opted for burgers this time, and put in some multi pepper blend and dried onions that my parents had in the pantry. My Dad actually always made burgers with nothing in them, and as I got more into cooking, I realized you could actully spice and flavor the meat – what a revelation! I still kept them basic this time, and they came out just fine. Definitely not the star of the show, but an essential offering.

3) 1st New & Delicious: Yogurt & Spice Chicken Kebabs

Yes, hot dogs/sausages would have been easier, but not nearly as fun. These turkish inspired kebabs were packed with flavor and super moist. You combine yogurt, dries chili flakes, paprika, tomato paste, lemon and garlic to create a rich, creamy marinade and  then grill them to perfection. I let mine sit for a few hours and was pleasantly surprised by the results. There wasn’t a ton of heat, but just enough to leave a little spice in your mouth and the yogurt kept the chicken moist, while my gentle BBQ skills didn’t over cook and left them tender.

2) 2nd New & Delicious: Creamy Potato Salad with Lemon and Fresh Herbs

WOW!! My new favorite BBQ staple – it was amazing! 2 parts mayo (I even used light mayo) and 1 part Fage greek yogurt, made me feel not as bad about making a creamy potato salad… But the real star was the herbs, they were intense and packed a punch, but at the same time were really really refreshing and delightful. Basil, parsley and specifically the dill were a winning trio. I didn’t taste the lemon as much, and would probably add more next time and while I added bacon, I didn’t add enough to make a big difference in flavor, and to be honest, the salad really doesn’t need it. I also used a variety of fingerling potatos, which worked well and I especially loved the pop of purple.

Overall, a smashing success! I’m so happy I was able to share my family home with my friends and served up some old and new favorites.

Little Dinner Parties, As Easy As That

Ina Garten has it together – an amazing home in the Hampton’s, the effortless ability to throw a dinner party together as easy as that, and fabulous friends. I love her.

So when I decided to have my best friend and her husband over for dinner, Ina was a natural inspiration for my main course choice. Lemon Chicken Breasts, from her newest book How Easy Is That?, won the vote and did not disappoint! After I smashed some potatoes, sauteed asparagus and baked an apple tart, my little dinner party was born.

not my finest photo, but you get the idea
The chicken baked in a dish with olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano & thyme. Mixed with the juices from the chicken you end up with a great ‘sauce’ to spoon over the finished product. The recipe calls for skin on, boneless breasts, but Safeway didn’t have boneless breasts, so I went skin on bone in – amazing. Between the bone and the skin the breasts remain moist and tender (save for a little over cooking…)
My rustic mashed potatoes were red potatoes (skins on) with some chives, sour cream and cream – I loved these potatoes! Creamy and just a little tangy, with no pressure to be perfectly smooth. I sauteed the asparagus with olive oil, salt & pepper and finished with a sprinkle of parmesan. It all came together so well, with some left overs to spare.
And what about the apple tart? I have been making this most simple dessert for over a year now and it really deserves its own post… but all of this was prepared in a small kitchen with a late start, proof that having friends over for dinner really can be as easy as that.