Reality check

True confession:  I am no longer shopping all-local.  COVID restrictions have caused me to reconsider my food choices. As much as I support local produce, I have had to shop beyond my 10 mile preference—by a long shot. 

For fresh fruit, I regularly buy local apples and pears, but beyond that, I must opt for what is available and affordable. At first I argued with self, but then there’s the banana situation. I have always been able to justify buying them from other countries because bananas aren’t readily available in US.  Plus, they ship well, arrive in their own thick-skinned wrapper, and supply plenty of much needed potassium.

Then, it was blueberries, a much loved Oregon staple. I struggled at first, but rationalized they were not locally in season. Still, they remain competitively priced and readily available —arriving clean, plump, and juicy from Mexico, Chile, and elsewhere.  Another reality check, and I’ve moved on. 

So, today’s cookie may cause some to freak out —but, consider the Blueberry Banana Cookie!    

Blueberry Banana Cookies

This is the time to use any soft aging banana you may have on hand. These cookies mix up quickly in one bowl with a whisk and spatula. A touch of nutmeg blends beautifully with both the berries and bananas.

Throw in a handful of fresh blueberries and you will have soft cookies peppered with purple pockets. A scoop of quick oats gives fiber, deliciously absorbs any excess berry juice, and contributes to their shelf-life. 

Of course, lacking fresh blueberries, you can always substitute an equal amount fresh nuts, seeds, or chocolate.

Blueberry Banana Cookies

From Banana-Oat Cookies, Counter Cuisine

Ingredients
1 cup AP flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp each salt, cinnamon, nutmeg
1 egg, room temperature
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 banana, mashed
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted or vegetable oil
½ tsp vanilla
 1 cup quick oats
½ cup or more cut up fresh blueberries (or nuts, seeds, fruit, chocolate bits)
1 Tbsp demerara sugar

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat, or spray with non-stick spray. 
On waxed paper, combine flour through spices.
In large bowl, combine egg through vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing to just combine. Stir in the oats, plus blueberries.
Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet. These will not spread much.  If desired flatten tops slightly. Sprinkle with a pinch of demerara sugar. 
Bake for 12-16 minutes, until evenly browned; rotate pan once.  Cool slightly and remove to rack,   Makes 24 cookies

Fruitcake worth considering

Old fashion fruitcake tends to get a bad wrap due to its tooth-aching inclusion of sweet candied fruits and such.  Here’s a game changer that will get your attention and become a requested addition on any  table—especially alongside holiday specialty meats and cheeses.

When this moist, easy to assemble Moroccan fruitcake was demonstrated on Martha Bakes recently I knew wanted to give it a try. Helen Goh, baker with London’s Ottolenghi restaurants shows how easy it is to create her big flavored creation.  The cake’s complexity is rooted in a combination of plump dried fruits soaked in dark tea and given a jolt with an exotic ras el hanout spice blend.

Moroccan Fruitcake

I love everything about this bread from the jam packed assortment of figs, prunes, apricots, raisins and dates to the big flavors of toasted cumin and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and paprika.

As mentioned, the secret is to soak the dried fruit in advance to fully plump and activate flavors; I prefer a fine Puer tea, but Assam is recommended.  You’ll note there is no fat used in this recipe either—and it is not missed.

Admittedly, the first time I tried a rich moist slice early in the morning I was not prepared for the impact. The distinct cumin flavors were front and center—near jarring on my sleepy taste buds.

With that in mind, I set about making the fruitcake again—this time with a modified spice blend that omitted the cumin but retained the red pepper.  I also took Goh’s suggestion to add a little whole grained flour and included ½ cup buckwheat flour. (I also swapped out self rising flour for AP flour and baking powder).

Fruitcake, take 2

Side by side, I preferred the original bread.  I missed how beautifully the bright spices and dried fruit mingled together. For personal choices, I’ve kept both options in the recipe below. This truly depends on taste and how you plan to use it.

If you wish, spread thick slices with butter, or toast it first.

Moroccan Fruitcake

Inspired by Moroccan Fruitcake as demonstrated on Martha Bakes by Helen Goh, baker from London’s Ottolenghi restaurants.

Ingredients
2½ cups dried fruit: ½ cup each diced apricots, figs, prunes or dates, raisins or cranberries
1 cup hot strong dark tea, Assam, Puer, etc.
1½ cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below)
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk, approximate, to thin as needed

Instructions

  1. Ahead, in medium bowl combine dried fruits, pour hot tea over all. Cover, let stand 2 hours or overnight to plump and absorb tea.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray with nonstick baking spray and line 8 ½ x 4 ½” loaf pan with parchment with 1 ½ inch overhang.
  3. In mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder, add salt, the spice blend, sugar, and combine.
  4. Stir in the dried fruit and any remaining liquid; add the egg and combine. Stir in milk as need to bind; it should be thick.
  5. Spoon into baking pan, bake until tester comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, turn out on rack to cool.
    Slice and spread with salted butter; also good toasted. Store at room temperature well wrapped for 3 days. Serves 6-8

Note: watch for signs of early browning on top as the bread tends to burn easily. Cover with foil as needed to protect the top.

Ras el hanout

Toast 1½ tsp coriander seeds and ¾ tsp cumin seeds and grind with ½ tsp coarse sea salt.
Add ½ tsp each coarse ground black peppercorns and crushed red pepper flakes and grind. Combine mixture with ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp dry ginger, ½ tsp cardamom. Makes about 2 Tbsp

Modified spice blend: ½ tsp coriander, ¼ tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and ground red pepper flakes

Half-time Biscotti

No, this is not about football food—although that is a possibility. Today, we are talking about super-friendly biscotti that’s made in less than half the usual time.

Given that biscotti loosely translates to “twice-baked” in Italian, the second bake was originally meant to protect cookies for longer term storage—by further drying them.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti

In my opinion, biscotti is generally defined by a slight eggy flavor, mild sweetness, and crumbly texture. It’s true I’ve never met a biscotti cookie I didn’t like, but frankly there are times when a frequently hard and dry biscuit is not what I’m after.

I wondered what would happen if I reworked my favorite biscotti elements and baked them only once? To get there, I’d include a little fine cornmeal or polenta for character and crunch, lace them with the sweet nuttiness of toasted almonds, and weave in floral notes from dried apricots.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Rather than fuss over the patting, shaping, and cutting steps required for traditional long fingers, I’d further expedite the process and go with quick, rustic rounds.

The Outcome:  A short and sweet labor of love—and delicious, dippable cookie.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Ingredients
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal or fine polenta
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 beaten egg, divided
1 Tbsp milk, divided
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp each almond and vanilla extract
¼ cup dried apricots, chop
¼ cup toasted almonds, coarse chop

Egg wash: 2 tsp of the beaten egg + 2 tsp of milk; 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Oil or line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. On waxed paper, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, remove 2 tsp of it and set it aside for the egg wash. Remove 2 tsp milk and add to the egg wash. Whisk milk into egg in bowl, then whisk in the sugar until light. Add the extracts.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the apricots and nuts. Shape into a round mass. (If the dough is soft, chill it 20-30 minutes until firm.)
  5. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands shape each into ¾” rolls. Cut into ¾” lengths and set upright pieces on baking sheet; they tend to spread slightly. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated (or cinnamon-flavored) sugar.
  6. Bake until cookies are set, shiny and browned,18-20 minutes. Cool on rack. Yield about 20 cookies

Manageable Muffins

I’m in food management mode.  My fridge has stopped working and while waiting for parts and repair I’m keeping it simple by relying on the most stable foods and meals.

My tiny backup cooler/fridge takes limited perishables like milk, eggs, cheese, and perhaps a ready made meal or two. So, there’s nothing like a good challenge to get the creative juices flowing.

Applesauce Muffins

For some reason I had several kid-sized servings of applesauce in the pantry. Turns out, 2 of these cups are just enough to make a small batch of  6 delicious applesauce muffins.

These fall-flavored muffins should hold at least 3 days without refrigeration, just long enough to safely polish them all off. Thus far, they have been a welcome touch for breakfast, snacks… even dessert.

The muffins are inspired by a larger recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Café. They cleverly begin by giving rolled oats a quick softening soak with other wet ingredients. Rather than melted butter, I used shelf-ready coconut oil for a light floral background note.

The wet mixture is then dumped into the dry ingredients. The flours can be your choice: gluten-free, whole grained, etc.  I used partial all-purpose for max leavening power, plus a touch of recent favorite, buckwheat flour.  Additions such as dried cranberries or raisins are also combined with the dry ingredients.

Safe and Sane Muffin

The batter is quickly blended and portioned into a 6-cup lined muffin tin (a large ⅓ cup scoop works beautifully) and bake approximately 18 minutes. To avoid tough or dry muffins, the big caution is to not overmix or overbake.

Mine were/are moist, with just enough texture from the oats and dried cranberries for plenty of flavor, fiber, and food value.

Small Batch Applesauce Muffins

Modified from Mel’s Kitchen Café

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup AP flour
2 Tbsp whole wheat or buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, egg, vanilla, coconut oil and sugar and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, cranberries or raisins if using. Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry.
  4. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter evenly among the 6 muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 6 muffins

Singin’ the Blues

When you’ve got fresh blueberries the world looks brighter.

Fresh Blueberries

Here in the beautiful state of Oregon, I’m reminded of that fact—while across the state we are under siege from uncontained fires and COVID-19.

I can handle this. I am reminded I’ve survived the heat and turmoil of multiple hurricanes and their aftermath. Yet, after a week of approaching hellish fires capable of creating their own weather systems, we haven’t reached an end point. Thick, oppressive smog and particulates weaken our lungs—further exacerbating those threatened by the lurking COVID virus among us.

At this minute I am safe, and so I cook. I bake, use what I have on hand, and I keep it very simple. Lucky for me it’s blueberry season and in my cupboard I find cornmeal. A heavenly pair.

Food nourishes the spirit, the soul, and the body—and I become grateful as I cook. I give the gritty cornmeal a blast in the blender to eliminate any potential coarseness. It delivers a sweet earthy scent, a fine texture with a slight crunch.

I take my time, hand whisk the batter and meditate. It develops a gentle lightness, just enough to support the blueberries and allow them to float freely within. I love nutmeg with blueberries so I add a pinch for good luck. We need it.

Shareable Blueberry Cookies

I am rewarded with glorious, golden packages alive with juicy bites of blue goodness— shareable with neighbors.

Blueberry Cornmeal bite

I am restored. Life is beautiful… even in this bleak cloud.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cookies

Ingredients
4 Tbsp butter, softened
⅔ cup granulated sugar, or half brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 heaping Tbsp plain yogurt
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
⅔ cup fine cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour through salt on wax paper and set it aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the butter until light and cream in the sugars. Beat in the egg, then the yogurt, and vanilla.
  3. Dust blueberries with a bit of the flour mix and set them aside.
  4. Fold the flour blend into the egg mixture, it will be thick. Gently add the blueberries.
  5. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto lined or sprayed baking sheet 1-2” apart. Bake 11-15 minutes, until raised, golden and set on top; don’t overbake. Let rest 2 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool.
  6. Can be sprinkled with turbinado sugar before baking or dusted with confectioners’ sugar after. Store covered. Yield: 18-20 cookies.

Forbidden Rice for Everyone

Here’s a rice with benefits worth knowing about. Yes, rice is a staple in much of the world—it comes in a variety of strains from white, to brown, and even black.  I’m late coming to the rice party, perhaps reluctant, in thinking it lacked nutritional value. That was until I became acquainted with black rice.

Forbidden Rice

Black rice, often referred to as Emperor’s Rice in China, harkens back to ancient times when it was prized for its medicinal attributes and thought to contribute to longevity.  So rare, it was reserved as tribute food for those of the highest status.

Times have changed and these days strains of black rice are available throughout Asia—where it is recognized as a source of anthocyanins, those coveted antioxidant wielding phytochemicals found in blueberries and acai. Interestingly, its black color transforms into a muted purple when cooked.

Black rice is considered a whole grain since the husk and germ remain in tact. It has more fiber and protein than brown rice and is also gluten-free. Studies have found black rice may reduce cancer, act as an anti-inflammatory, and even help with memory functions. Its toasty flavor and chewy texture are reminiscent of wild rice.

On the stove top, black rice can take up to an hour to cook, but I’ve come up with a more efficient method. I discovered Forbidden Rice from Lotus Foods, a heritage black rice that cooks in 30 minutes and now available in most well stocked markets.

Soaking rice also reduces cooking time. It’s worth noting than many sources believe the addition of an acid such as lemon juice during the soaking process is helpful in removing phytic acid, which can inhibit mineral absorption.

Steamed Forbidden Rice

In tandem with presoaking, steaming black rice in the Instant Pot or other pressure cooker can cut cooking time down to a mere 12 minutes. Once the pot is disconnected, a 6 minute natural release of pressure has just enough residual heat to finish the cooking process and allow a brief rest to separate and swell the rice.

Zucchini Rice Patties

The prepared rice is ready to use in any recipe calling for cooked rice. Forbidden Rice is not regarded as a sticky rice, but it does hold together when necessary. Here, Zucchini Rice Patties assemble quickly for a  tasty appetizer, a nutritious side dish, or entrée. They shine with a squeeze of lemon, or dress them up with raita or other light yogurt sauce.

They are even good the next day topped with an egg.

Zucchini Rice Patties

Ingredients
1 medium zucchini or summer squash, (1 generous cup, grated)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp green onion, fine chop
2 Tbsp parsley or 1 tsp fresh minced thyme, dill or fennel fronds
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup cooked black, brown, or white rice (see below)
¼ cup flour + ½ tsp baking powder, approx.
2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Place grated zucchini and salt in a strainer lined with paper toweling or a coffee filter to draw out excess liquid. Let drain 30 minutes and squeeze well.
  2. Combine the zucchini with green onion and herbs; add the egg, salt and pepper. Lightly blend in the rice. Stir in enough flour and baking powder to thicken and bind.
  3. Divide heaping tablespoons into 6-8 rounds and shape into patties.
  4. Heat skillet over moderate heat with enough oil to coat bottom of pan. Add patties, gently flatten and cook 3 minutes per side until lightly browned. Drain on toweling. Cook in batches if necessary. Makes 6-8 patties.
  5. Serve with lemon, raita or yogurt herb sauce.

To presoak Forbidden Rice
1 cup Forbidden Rice
1 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)
Rinse and drain rice.
Combine lemon juice and water and pour over the rice.  Cover and let stand 7-8 hours. Use as is or rinse and drain.

To cook soaked Forbidden Rice in Instant Pot
1¾ cup water, divided
pinch salt
Lower trivet into liner; pour in 1 cup water and set pot to Sauté Normal to begin preheating.
In a heat proof dish or steamer, spread the soaked rice in bottom and add a pinch of salt; barely cover it with ¾ cup water. Cover with foil or a lid and set on trivet.
Seal pot and manually set to Hi Pressure for 12 minutes. When complete, turn off pot and disconnect; let pressure release naturally for 6 minutes. Carefully remove lid and lift out cooking container.
Fluff rice with fork and proceed as needed. Yields 3-4 cups.

Freekeh Friday

I’m big on freekeh. I’m impressed by this ancient grain’s natural abundance of sweet mild flavor, protein, fiber, and vitamins. These days I’m on the lookout for more ways to incorporate it in my meal plan—especially on Fridays, my favorite day of the week.

Freekeh cooks fast, it has a slight chewiness and readily absorbs flavors, which actually makes it a viable alternative to ground meats. If you think about it, one reason why chili is so delicious is due to fat from the meats included—which further drives and elevates the various chile flavors.

For an acceptable chili substitute, I want one that cooks in a fairly short amount of time and delivers big flavors. With that in mind, I begin by sautéing onions and garlic in rich olive oil, then introduce levels of flavor from a range of chiles including adobo, canned Ortega chiles, smoked paprika, and chile powder. Precooked freekeh is added to absorb these flavors, backed up with tomato product and pinto beans.  It then simmers for 20-30 minutes to bring it all together.

4-Alarm Freekeh Chili

Good news. This 4-alarm chili is healthy and tastes delicious, plus it’s filling and easily digested. It does not make as much as a traditional batch of chili, but a little goes a long way and it is easily doubled.

I really like the chili spread on tostadas and topped with whatever else is on hand.

Freekeh Tostada

I learned this trick while living in Mexico—I was set free once I discovered that Mexican home cooks do not cook their own tostadas. They purchase precooked tostadas for everyday meals (they would use refried beans). Now I regularly stock a package for quick meals and snacks.

So, layer it in a bowl or try it on your own tortillas. You don’t need to wait for Friday to enjoy this chili.

Four-Alarm Freekeh Chili

Ingredients
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
1 Tbsp each chile powder and smoked paprika, 1 tsp ground cumin
2 chipotles in adobo, mince; 1-2 Tbsp canned chopped Ortega chilies
3-4 cups cooked cracked freekeh*
15-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes
15-oz can pinto beans, drain
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp cornmeal
1 cup water

Instructions

In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in hot oil. Add the chile powder, smoked paprika, and cumin and cook until aromatic. Add the chipotles and Ortega chilies and toss to combine.

Add the cooked freekeh, stir and cook for 5 minutes to incorporate flavors.  Add the tomatoes, pinto beans, Worcestershire, cornmeal, and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Simmer partially cover for 20-30 minutes until thick.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve 4

To precook freekeh:  Bring 1 cup cracked freekeh, pinch of salt, and 2½ cups water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, simmer 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; drain if needed.  Yields 3 cups, approx.

(Dirty-Little-Secret)

I spend a lot of my free time reading cookbooks and checking out online recipes. It’s my form of relaxation. But there are times when all I really want is a familiar, well-tested recipe; one that delivers what I expect.

When I’m thinking ‘casual cake’, here’s a contender. Not only is it always good, it is basic and highly adaptable. I especially like tinkering with this one because it  easily changes with the season—and it loves fresh fruit, too.

At its heart is a well constructed European-style cake that rises high and fills the pan. It uses 3 eggs, which I consider generous, but they are core to its success: they add structure and don’t fade into the background. To control the fat quotient, I tend to use plain yogurt for tenderness and moisture and then fold in a little olive oil on the finish.

While this cake benefits from a good beating to get the eggs and sugar fully integrated, I have taken to forgoing a mixer in lieu of a whisk. You could call it a dump cake, because the dry ingredients are quickly added to the wet. Olive oil is gently folded into the batter and it’s quickly popped into a moderate oven.

That’s it.  Since any additions and flavorings incorporated will become quite apparent, I tend to use a mild olive oil because a bold extra virgin oil can overly dominate. Which brings us to what prompted this cake…

At my market they have been actively promoting beautiful blueberries from Chile.  Of course, I would pause and stare. I’d mentally note that it’s a long way to go for something that grows like crazy in Oregon, and then I would move on.  It’s wrong—on so many levels…

That argument blew up today. They reduced the price of the blueberries, and I buckled. (My dirty-little-secret.) So, today’s cake features two of my favorite things:  blueberries and polenta.

Blueberry Polenta Upside-Down Cake

I’ve gone with a simple upside-down cake that features sweetened blueberries topside and includes a bit of fine polenta in the batter for taste and texture. These two are true partners in crime, and what a color combination!

Since blueberries have an affinity for lemon and nutmeg, they flavor the cake beautifully and bring it all together.  Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would be worth considering, too.

Blueberry Polenta Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients
Berry Layer
1 tsp butter
1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries, picked and rinsed
⅓ cup granulated sugar
Dry Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup fine polenta or cornmeal
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
Wet Ingredients
3 eggs, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup plain yogurt, room temperature
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
⅓ cup mild olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter a 9″ cake pan and spread the blueberries evenly in the bottom of the pan; sprinkle with sugar and set aside.  On wax paper, blend the flour through nutmeg and set aside.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until light and gradually beat in the sugar.
  4. Add the yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla, and mix.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate. Fold in the oil; don’t over mix.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly over the berries.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating to brown evenly, until center springs back when touched.
  6. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of pan to loosen the cake, cover with a serving plate, quickly flip to invert cake onto it and cool.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. Serves 8-10.

Freekeh to the rescue

Mujadara is a delicious mid-Eastern specialty typically made with rice and lentils and topped with caramelized onions. My mouth was watering thinking about this plus spoonfuls of Raita (here), a yogurt topping seasoned with cumin, green onion, cilantro, and such.

It wasn’t until I began pulling out the lentils and rice that I realized I was completely out of rice! How does that happen?  I debated a run to the store but spotted a bag of cracked freekeh.

cracked freekeh

Well, I reasoned, freekeh is certainly nutritious, it has a lovely nutty flavor and a chewy bite… It might actually be good with lentils.  Why not give it try?

I had the Instant Pot ready to go, so I proceeded pretty much as usual in making mujadara, by first caramelizing the onions and then set them aside. Yum.  I quickly sautéed the aromatics: cumin, allspice, and smoked paprika, added garlic and a dollop of the onions. The freekeh and lentils were tossed in next with water and such, and the pot was set to Hi Pressure for 11 minutes.

Once complete, I decided to let the pot rest with a 7-minute quick release.  I carefully opened the lid, relieved to see that both the lentils and freekeh were cooked. It was a little soupy but it set up as it sat in the pot. I had forgotten to add lemon rind, so I stirred in a spoonful of preserved lemon, which perked it up nicely.

Freekeh and Lentil Mujadara

The very exotic mujadara was ready and waiting when dinner was served 30 minutes later—along with caramelized onions, raita, and more lemon.

I could have stopped there; it needed nothing more. I buckled and added a little tomato for fresh color… and pita bread.

Freekeh & Lentil Mujadara

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, thin sliced lengthwise
½ tsp cumin, ¼ tsp allspice, ½ tsp hot smoked paprika or to taste
1 clove garlic, mash and sliver
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup brown lentils
2½ cups water
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp grated lemon rind or preserved lemon

Instructions

  1. To prepare the caramelized onion, set Instant Pot to Sauté Medium, melt the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When bubbling, add the sliced onion, a dash of salt and pepper, and stir often with flat a spatula until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Reduce heat to Sauté Low, drizzle in a little olive oil to coat bottom. Add the spices, stirring until aromatic. Stir the garlic into the spice mixture for a minute and then a spoonful of the caramelized onions.
  3. Add the lentils and freekeh, then the water. Increase heat to Sauté High; stir in salt, pepper, bay leaf, and lemon. Seal pot, reset to Hi Pressure for 10-11 minutes. When complete, let stand 7 minutes and carefully release pressure. Open the lid, stir in preserved lemon  if using. It thickens as it sets.
  4. Serve with caramelized onion, fresh lemon, and homemade raita. Serves 4

Cornbread worth eating

Back making more soups and stews with cooler weather, I baked my favorite cornbread recently and was reminded how much I appreciate it.

In my opinion, cornbread tends to be either dry and crumbly or overly sweet. Well, maybe that doesn’t matter so much if it’s just an add-on for chili and such… Thank you, I’ll just have a bite and move on. But then, why bother at all?

Most cornbreads are designed as quick breads where dry and liquid are all mixed together and then immediately popped into the oven with ease in mind.  What makes this cornbread unique is that it begins more like a traditional cake batter. The butter and sugar are first creamed together, then the liquid is stirred in followed by the dry ingredients.

It makes a difference.  Yes, this cornbread has a moderate amount of sugar in it, but it aids in the structure of the loaf and enhances its corn flavor. I usually make this in an 8×8” or double it for a 9×13” pan. Baking it as a loaf was a switch, it rose evenly and baked beautifully. Even better I was delighted with how thinly it would slice.

This loaf truly is pure gold; it does not need to be relegated to a chili side. It stands on its own.  It goes with just about anything, but is particularly good with eggs, salads, stews and soup—anyplace a well-constructed bread is wanted.

Golden Cornbread

Ingredients
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup milk or water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.  Spray a 5×8″ loaf pan with bakers spray.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter to soften and slowly beat in the sugar until creamy.  Add the egg and beat well. Beat in the yogurt and milk, then the cornmeal.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just blended. Transfer batter to pan.
  5. Bake until golden brown and tester comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack.
  6. Serve warm or room temperature.  Can be prepared a day ahead.  Cool complete.  Cover with foil and store at room temperature. Makes one loaf.