Chicken Shawarma

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Because I grew up in the country, I didn’t have a large variety of cuisine to sample from. The standard spices in the recipes of my Midwestern region tend to be salt, pepper, and sugar. Lots of sugar. While I love the delicious food I grew up with, and I still make a lot of those traditional recipes, I didn’t really know beauty of other cuisine until Robert and I moved to Columbus. As with most larger cities in America, Columbus is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. This means there is a plethora of ethnic restaurants just waiting to inspire the taste buds of diners. I was introduced to spices like turmeric, saffron, and garam masala. It was educational and delicious all in one.

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Perhaps our favorite discovery, though, was The Olive Tree in Hilliard. It was at this Mediterranean restaurant that we found the magic of chicken shawarma. Shawarma, by definition (thanks to a quick, highly technical google search), refers to the method of preparing meat by roasting it in a vertical, rotisserie-type of device called a spit.  It’s also often served with hummus or tahini and eaten with pita. I think I originally ordered this because it reminded me of the post-credits scene in the movie The Avengers, but not even the acting skills or Robert Downey Jr. could have prepared me for the deliciousness that was served. A gorgeous medley of amazingly-seasoned chicken and vegetables were sitting atop a silky swirl of creamy homemade hummus and accompanied by pillowy soft pita. Robert and I were both hooked and there was a fabulous stretch of time when we ordered take-out from The Olive Tree about once a week because we had shawarma fever.

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It’s fun and exciting to try new foods. It adds to a richer experience in life and it broadens one’s worldview. Just as we have the ability to evolve and mature as individuals, we have the ability to allow our tastebuds to do the same. Now more than ever, we have access to previously hard-to-find ingredients and there are millions and millions of incredible recipes at our fingertips thanks to the Internet. I’ve happily added this chicken shawarma recipe to our family’s rotation of meals. It’s a great way to shake up the classics and it has actually become a meal that I would classify as a comfort food. It reminds me of many convivial moments dining with friends and family and it nourishes both the body and the soul.

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Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 bell peppers, julienned
  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Hummus
  • Pita bread
  • Feta cheese, optional
  • Fresh basil/cilantro, optional

Directions

  1. Make two separate batches of the marinade: in 2 separate small bowls, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon all spice, 3/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, pinch of cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken in a zip-loc bag or bowl and pour one of the bowls over the chicken. Ensure the pieces are coated evenly and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Cover other bowl of marinade and set aside to used for vegetables.
  2. Grill the chicken: heat grill to medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil and allow meat to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Sauté the vegetablesAdd about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot, add the peppers and onion and the other bowl of marinade. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to ensure vegetables are evenly coated. Turn down the heat of the stove to medium and cook until peppers and onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Plate and enjoy: After the chicken rests, cut into strips. Swirl a generous amount of hummus on a plate or bowl. Add a scoop of the sautéed vegetables and then a few pieces of chicken. Top with feta cheese and fresh basil or cilantro. Serve with pita bread. Enjoy!

Source: Tori Avey

 

DIY Crème Fraiche

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Aw, yes, crème fraiche (pronounced KKKREM FRESH in the most obnoxious French accent possible.) It’s the snooty, more sophisticated cousin to sour cream. Crème fraiche is thicker, less tangy, slightly nuttier in flavor, and it is delightful in both savory or sweet dishes. It also has a higher butterfat content compared to sour cream, which makes it a great addition to sauces and soups because it won’t curdle at higher temperatures.

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Also stacked against sour cream, crème fraiche is more difficult to find in grocery stores (especially in our rural neck of the woods) and it is more expensive. So chic. So European.

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The good news is that it’s quite easy to make crème fraiche in the comfort of your own home, where you can call it “cream fraytch” if you are true, red-blooded Ohioan like I am. All you need is a pint of heavy cream, real buttermilk, and a little patience. The stand-in buttermilk mixture of milk and vinegar or lemon juice won’t work in this recipe because the heavy cream needs the active bacteria found in the true buttermilk to get that crème fraiche explosion going.

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To make the crème fraiche, combine the pint of cream and 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk in a sterile mason jar. Give it a good stir, secure a coffee filter over the top of the jar using a rubber band, and place the jar in an oven or a draft-free place for about 24 hours. The mixture will thicken. After the 24 hours are up, give the mixture another stir and put the jar in the fridge for another 24 hours. When this time has passed, you will find a magnificent jar of homemade crème fraiche waiting for you and ready to jazz up any and all food you make. My current favorite way to use it is to treat myself to fresh strawberries, a dollop of crème fraiche, and a small drizzle of local honey. It is so lovely.

If you are interested in making this recipe, here is the helpful video I watched before I embarked on this fun experiment. Good luck!

Source: Food Wishes

Homestead Living: Classic Basil Pesto

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I’m in a magical state of mind as I sit here and write this post this morning. The house is so quiet I can hear the fridge humming and the sun is just beginning to peek its head up on the horizon. My little rumpy is still snoozing soundly. This is such a rare moment that I keep tiptoeing back to the bedroom to check on Smith because, at this point, he is usually sprinting around the living room with one of his toys and some treasure he pilfered from my kitchen (usually an ice cream scoop or can opener these days).

It’s hard to believe summer is almost coming to a close, but the window of daylight is gradually shrinking and the little pups are going back to school. I’m always ready for the changes in seasons, but I know I am going to miss the fresh flavors of summer come January. One of the quintessential summer herbs is deliciously wonderful basil. My front porch pot of this plant did great this year and, in an attempt to preserve the sunshine, I made a big batch of pesto that will (hopefully) make it into our meals this winter.

With this particular recipe, I put the pesto into pint jars. I reserved one in our fridge and placed the others in our freezer. My mom introduced me to this method of freezing items in glass jars and I find it keeps very well. The most important step, in my experience,  is to make sure to leave plenty of extra space between the lid and the food. As we know, liquid expands as it freezes and it can result in a big mess if you fill the jar too full.  I find leaving about an inch works well and, with pesto, I put a thin layer of olive oil on top because Ina Garten said so. And it helps keep it fresh. :)

I hope you are all having a wonderful week.

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Classic Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Place garlic, walnuts, herbs, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in food processor. Process until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides with a spatula and add in cheese. Process until well-incorporated, about 15 secs. Store in fridge or freeze. Don’t forget to add a thin layer of olive oil or plastic wrap to the top of the pesto to prevent it from browning! Enjoy.

Source: Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

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Aw yes. The old favorite pair: chocolate and peanut butter. It’s hard to resist the salty and sweet combination. Want to make it even more irresistible? Add in butter. A weight watchers trifecta of evil, if you will. I made these bad boys for a surprise welcome home party for my sister a few weeks ago and they were a hit.

I used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and then topped them with a glorious whipped peanut butter buttercream. It’s fabulous on cupcakes and it would also be great on brownies, graham crackers, rice cakes… ok, let’s get real- these foods are just going to be a vehicle to get this stuff from point A to your mouth. I liken it to my mom serving us steamed artichokes when we were young and we got to dip them in melted butter. We were just in it for the melted butter. Honesty is the first step to acceptance.

To actually make the frosting, you must know that the whipping of the butter is the key to a great buttercream. Allow the butter to soften to room temperature and then beat it with an electric mixer or handheld mixer for 8-10 minutes at a medium-high speed. The butter will become pale yellow and fluffy and it will strengthen your faith in God. It’s magical, really, and it yields pillowy frosting that pipes like a dream.

Piping icing gives me an inner peace that I imagine yogis feel while they are in the middle of meditation. Namaste, my friends, and have a fabulous weekend!

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Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. Place the butter  into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high for 8 minutes, until pale yellow and fluffy. Add in the peanut butter and beat for about 4-5 mins longer. Add in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Mixture will appear crumbly. Add in the cream and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 mins longer. Add more cream if mixture is still too thick. Frost your baked good of choice or store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

 

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

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We just got back from a lovely Independence Day celebration at Lake Erie with my sister’s family. Selby is now officially back in Ohio and I couldn’t be more excited. I have already seen her more in one month than I probably did in one year while she was living out of state. It’s fabulous.

A lot of people have already started asking Robert and me if we want more childrenMy first thought is, “more kids already?! My little pup is not even crawling yet!”  But my next thought (and my response) is, “absolutely- we would love nothing more than to give Smith a sibling.”

You see, there is no bond like that between siblings. My sister and I didn’t always get along. In fact, we really butted heads growing up. We had different interests and different personalities. She was always very outgoing and assertive and I was more shy and sensitive. Selby was the homecoming queen. I was focused on school and sports. She has the dainty, thin feet and I have pizza wedge, size 11 feet.  I once joked, “I don’t think we would be friends if we weren’t sisters.” Probably not the nicest thing I’ve ever uttered; but to the naked eye, it’s the truth.

It wasn’t until Selby was in college that we started to connect more. I started to realize how much I really needed and depended on my older sister. And I think we both started to see that we were more alike than we had previously thought. We shared the common bond of childhood. Selby was my first friend. All the road trips, holidays, and even the fist fights at Vacation Bible School created this strong relationship that trumped those moments when I lambasted her in my fourth grade diary or the time she threw scissors at me (kids do the cutest things). Yep, Selby and I are two peas in a “night quite right” pod; but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the line from Little Women sums it up pretty well, “I could never love anyone as I love my sister(s).”

As for these cookies, they have absolutely no tie in to my little narrative above; but they are still lovely in their own way. Chewy and soft, they are very comforting and their looks don’t do them justice. They won’t win awards for looks; but they will win your heart with taste. They are even better if you let the dough chill for 24 hours to allow the flavors to really meld and develop.

Here’s to more random thoughts and unrelated recipes.  Plenty more where that came from. :)

Oh and I just have to share this picture of my nephew, Jack, enjoying his first ever s’more over the weekend!

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Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 2 cups cinnamon chips

Directions

1.In a medium bowl, cream together butter and both sugars.

2. Beat in eggs, one at a time until well blended. Stir in vanilla. Add in the molasses and whip until combined. Scrape down the sides as needed.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.

4. Add in the oats and stir just until combined. Add in the cinnamon chips and, again, mix just until combined.

5. Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, cover, and chill for at least an hour (24hrs is best!).

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and place on the cookie sheets, about two inches apart. Press down gently with fingertips.

7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake. Allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com

 

Food Memory Friday: Strawberry Shortcake

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It sure has been a long time since I’ve posted a “Food Memory Friday.” Today’s recipe happens to be based on one of Robert’s favorite treats. The summer after Robert and I started dating, I was over at his house (now our house) eating dinner and mama Connie served up some strawberry shortcake for dessert. It was much different than the kind my mother made. I watched in curiosity as Robert and his dad tore up the biscuit-like cake, scooped macerated strawberries with lots of sugar on top, and then poured a generous amount of whole milk over it. I was skeptical. Just as skeptical as I think they were of me when I decided to top my strawberry shortcake (sans milk and with the cake still in its original form) with a little drizzle of chocolate syrup. “Chocolate?,”Connie questioned with a friendly smirk. Yes- chocolate. Because, is there any dessert where chocolate doesn’t belong? No.

Bert and I got to see a lot of the differences in our families as we continued to date and spend more time together. My Irish catholic side and his Amish/Mennonite side. His parents focused on teaching their boy how to put in a hard day’s work and mine focused on studying hard to get good grades and get into college. His house was always stocked with a candy bowl that I couldn’t (still can’t) avoid dipping my hand into. My house never had a regular supply of desserts. My family reunions involved adult beverages. His family get togethers featured lots of delicious Amish food. It was, and still is, an eclectic mix of two cultures that has been beneficial for both of us.

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Now here we are, sitting in the same spot enjoying strawberry shortcake that we first did over a decade ago. I like to think we’ve successfully brought pieces of both of our sides together into our little family. I’m hoping our baby rump roast will get the best of both worlds. A nice blend of feisty Irish and hard-working Amish.

And time will tell what type of strawberry shortcake he will prefer.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup low fat milk
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • Additional sugar for berries, as desired
  • Whipped cream, optional

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Sprinkle in the butter and use your (clean) hands to rub the butter and flour mixture together until the mixture resembles flakes of oatmeal.

3. Combine the milk and vanilla and slowly pour into the flour mixture. Gently fold with a wooden spoon, until just combined. Drop a generous spoonful of dough onto a baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. Remove from oven and allow shortcakes to cool. Split in half and top with berries, sugar, and whipped cream. Store unused shortcakes in an airtight container for about 2 days.

Source: Slightly adapted from Alton Brown

Homestead Living: Maple Syrup Granola

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It’s  been three weeks since we moved into our little house on the hill and I must say that settling into country living is going pretty smoothly so far. Smith and I are starting to get into a good routine and I am really enjoying my newly updated kitchen (pictures to come soon). One of the goals I have for our new location is to attempt to embrace more of a homestead type of living. This doesn’t mean I’m swearing off modern medicine (I’m a physical therapist, after all). It just means I am hoping to broaden our horizons with more made-from-scratch foods, gardening, and composting. I plan on including my steps toward a modified version of this type of lifestyle. The first project? Homemade granola.

t am always shocked to see the price of granola in grocery stores considering how easy it is to make and that all the ingredients for a basic batch are readily available. Robert has finally joined the Greek yogurt train, but he prefers eating it with a bit of granola. As a result, i decided it was time to start making our own at home.

I perused through recipes and landed on this one. It’s from the folks of the ever-reliable Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a simple concoction with a delicious result. The original recipe calls for almonds and raisins, but old Bert is a no frills type of guy and we kept it simple. This is a great granola recipe that you can jazz up with lots of ingredients depending on your personal preferences. Nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chocolate chips, etc. The possibilities are endless so save yourself some moolah and start making your own granola today!

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Oh and I just couldn’t resist throwing in this picture of my little ham loaf…

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Maple Syrup Granola

Yield: 5 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk in the oil until well combined. Add in the oatmeal and mix until the oats are evenly coated.

3. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet. and gently pat down with a spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 mins, or until lightly browned. Be sure to rotate the pan after about 20 minutes to ensure even baking.

5. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break up the granola with a spatula and store in an airtight container.

Source: My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball