Birthday gift

When Huzoor moved to Europe too many years ago to think about, he left me with a lot of stuff he couldn’t/didn’t want to take along. One of those things was a Cuisinart spice/nut grinder. At the time I thought, pffft, I’ll never use this. But as it turns out, I used it a lot. Enough that I killed it. (Fig. 1 Dead Cuisineart)

Yesterday I was standing in my kitchen trying to think how I was going to grind up cilantro for the street tacos I planned to make for dinner. The door bell rang and Fig. 2 arrived. I was literally standing in the kitchen trying to decide how I was gonna accomplish this. The ol’ ball and chain came through just in time.

The maiden voyage. (Fig. 3) It was fabulous.

I made an extra cup for Ann White

40 TBs of butter and 6 eggs later

Coconut cake. Quick, run to the medicine chest and take an extra cholesterol pill before you even read this.

This is one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, coconut or not. King Arthur Flour’s recent email brought this recipe and I, for no reason I can think of, decided to make it. I like coconut, sure, but it’s not like I was dying for it. It was absolutely worth the trouble (and all those calories). Everyone who ate it loved it, including the coconut averse. (They scraped off the frosting and just ate the cake part). How can you not love all that butter? Julia Child would be proud.

It was also the maiden voyage of my layer cake slicer which has been sitting unused since my husband sent this ingenious contraption to me. I only used it to slice the dome off the layers so they were flatter—and immediately ate those—and it worked like a charm.

I rushed it out to my car as soon as I had the crumb coat on.

If it wasn’t perfect enough

I made a birthday dinner for someone who has the good sense to tell me in no uncertain terms, and frequently, which food I make is her favorite so when her birthday rolls around I know what exactly to make her. Rather than annoying me, it takes the burden of having to decide what to make off my shoulders.

And if chicken pot pie wasn’t enough, I made the most exquisite herbed rolls for the 3rd time since Thanksgiving. They are so fine-o-mite. With Irish butter. I’d have made my own butter but that would have taken the dinner into the realm of ridiculous.

The best thing

Thanksgiving meal was good. Everything went off without a hitch. OK, there were hitches, like this happened when I was trying to make the dough for the rolls.

OK, sure I lost my paddle, (used approximately 4 times) and had to hand knead. Not the end of the world. But these herbed rolls. OMG, so freaking good. Sally, who apparently has a baking addiction, gave me the recipe which you can find here. I took the long way ’round and did a 24 hour rise. I got nothing but time. I baked them the day before and right before dinner I brushed them with butter and flaky salt, and did a quick 15 mins in a hot oven to brown the top. Fabulous.

Garden salad

I gave my neighbor some of my extra produce and she made me a meal in return. Seems fair, I give her a couple 3 tomatillos and a cucumber and she gives me an entirely cooked meal with salad. She’s Puerto Rican and an excellent cook. The whole meal was great but the salad was especially good. It was a chop salad that included tomatillos. That was eye opening. I never know what the hell to do with them except make salsa.

So I took it a step further. I used my little black tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers and onions, all from my garden (now in decline—although the green beans did not get that memo) and I added some corn I had lying around. And while her dressing was simply vinegar and I was good with that, as per usual, I felt the need to do something a little more exotic so I found a recipe for honey lime dijon vinaigrette on a site unfortunately named The Yummy Life (insert eye rolling emoji). You can see the recipe here.

I make a lot of salad because I like leftover salad. There wasn’t much leftover, my guests went right for it, but I ate what little there was standing at the sink cleaning up that same night.

Ottolenghi

Food group met again and the theme this time was Ottolenghi, or maybe more loosely Middle Eastern food. I chose mezzes which are appetizers more or less. I do like Ottolenghi (if you don’t know who I am talking about you can look here and clearly you are not a friend of Sharon’s because he’s pretty much all she talks about). Anyway, I settled on swiss chard stuffed peppers. This is not something that appeals to me very much but it’s, you know, Ottolenghi!!! so it was gonna be ok with Sharon no matter what.

I dunno, this was a case of the sum equalling more than its parts. They were delicious. And pretty.

Recipe below

Baby peppers stuffed with chard and mozzarella

Bags of mixed baby peppers, 5-6cm long and in red, yellow and orange, are available from most supermarkets (they’re sometimes labelled “chiquino”). They vary in size, so use more or less of the filling as required. Serves four to six.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch swiss chard, trimmed, stalks and leaves finely sliced
Salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
30g pine nuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
50g pecorino romano, finely grated
80g mozzarella block, roughly grated
500g mixed baby peppers (ie, about 20 baby peppers)

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high flame, then fry the chard, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper for 15 minutes, stirring often, until the stalks are soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, chilli and oregano, fry for another minute, then take off the heat. Leave to cool, then stir in the pine nuts and both cheeses.

Cut out a little V from the stalk of each pepper down almost to the base (reserve the bits of flesh for soup or salad), then scoop out and discard the seeds. Fill the peppers with the chard mix (you’ll need about 20g in each), then lay them cut side up on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper. Roast for 18-20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and caramelized, then leave to cool for 10 minutes and serve warm (if you want to get ahead, they are also good at room temperature).

Fritternizing

My sister left me with a whole lotta shrimp when she went back to LA. I coulda made a nice salad but no, I thought, how about shrimp fritters? What could be better than shrimp fritters? Corn and shrimp fritters is what. Oh my god. Fresh corn-off-the-cob, shrimp, red and green peppers and onion. Ho-made tartar sauce (which I could eat for dinner with a spoon). Who cares that it’s a boat load of work and calorific to boot.

Yes. Deep frying is awful and makes me want to hang myself a combination of the spray of hot oil, the need to be entertaining but having to stand over the deep fryer, the understanding that your guests are waiting with only thinly veiled impatience). But so worth it, in the short run anyway, not sure about the long run.

Also clean up is really unpleasant—I did the deep frying outside and yet I could smell it in the house the next morning. A salad might have been the easier option but not the most delicious.

Thai thighs

After my coconut pineapple cake triumph, or possibly fiasco, I had a lot of leftover coconut milk, pineapple and pineapple juice and in an attempt to make the best use of all of it (without the torture of making another coconut cake) I decided on Thai. Seemed like a good idea. I’m not all that familiar with Thai food but peanuts, pineapple and coconut feels Thai-ish. At least it’s heading more in that direction than, say, Irish.

Unfortunately I only managed to get a picture of the salad, which is just as well since it was the most photogenic item on the menu. But the Thai marinated chicken thighs roasted on sweet potatoes were fabulous and the coconut pineapple rice, the idea of which several people of the royal mounted variety turned their nose up, was absolutely outstanding.

I was anticipating having leftover salad. This was a citrusy, bell pepper, carrot, radish and lettuce Thai salad (I have no idea if Thais actually eat salad) topped with peanuts and dressed with a sweet and sour lime, brown sugar and peanut butter (seriously) dressing that was AMAZING. There were no leftovers unfortunately.

Recipe links below.

Thai chicken thighs link here

I actually followed this pretty closely but I roasted them on cubed sweet potatoes so the sweet potatoes were bathed in the lusciousness of the chicken.

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Thai salad dressing link here

I only used the dressing recipe and was pretty fast and loose with it all. Not really measuring. It was helpful to have my 9 year old grandnephew here beforehand. He julienned the vegetables for me and did quite a good job. He was very interested in my knives.

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Thai rice with pineapple and coconut. You’re on your own here. I didn’t use a recipe, just leftovers.

Mea culpa

Bless me father for I have sinned. I cheated and used a box cake mix. On the other hand, it worked out pretty well. I might spend a few extra months in purgatory but I’m hoping there’s a bar there so it might be worth the risk.

I don’t think it could have been better if I’d made it entirely from scratch. I put dulce de leche, itself a miracle of deliciousness, and coconut in the middle. Coconut cream cheese frosting on top. O.M. G.

So very easy.

Green chicken enchiladas

My sister made these and they were great. So, of course I had to make them. And make them my own. I’m including the original recipe but giving my own. The original says it serves 6 but I’d guess it easily serves 10. Mine would serve 5 or 6.

While I riffed on the original recipe, I wrote this recipe out myself. I have immense respect for people who write recipes (Julia you are a goddess). I’m certain every person who writes them has a million thoughts whipping through their heads about the variations, additions, clarifications or mistakes that might crop up. Keeping it contained, which you will see I have not, is the real challenge. Plus, if you’re going to be writing a recipe you pretty much understand what you’re doing and just assume that everyone will know what they are doing. Pfft, as if anyone does.

The recipe follows. And now I’m getting a glass of wine. And yes it is 10 in the morning. So judge me.

Green chicken enchiladas

1 pound of cooked chicken approximately.

You can, as I did, poach or sauté 2 average sized chicken breasts, or use thighs, just cooked shredded chicken. Meat from one of those roasted ones from the supermarket works. Use a goddam envelope of turkey gravy for all I care.

1 bag of baby spinach

1 onion chopped relatively finely

4 TB butter

1.5 cups sour cream (don’t use fat free or lower fat, it will break, well, you can but don’t come crying to me)

1 can chopped mild green chiles

1/4+ cup milk (I used cream so I could clog my arteries more thoroughly)

5 flour medium sized tortillas, you can use corn for all I care

8 oz shredded Monterey jack cheese, I shredded my own but you can use pre-shredded, it’s in your supermarket next to the turkey gravy.

2 tsp cumin

1 egg, beaten harshly

Salt and pepper

Turn on the oven to 350° so it will preheat

Make the chicken and spinach:

Sauté the chicken in olive oil a medium sized sauce pan. Be sure to salt and pepper the chicken. Brown slightly add a little water, cover and simmer on low until it shreds, let’s say 20-30 minutes. Be sure to check it occasionally so it does not dry out and burn. Take the chicken out and let cool slightly. Then chop or shred.

Wilt the spinach (salt it too) in that same pan. Add water if none remains and if there is water in there, just leave it be. It will seem like a shit ton but it will reduce to practically nothing. You’re going to need to turn it hither and tither. If you’re using already cooked chicken you can just wilt the spinach in that pan with a little oil or water. It’s very easy. Take it out and let it cool and then chop coarsely.

So, make the sauce:

Sauté the onions in the butter in that same medium sized sauce pan, be sure to salt and add the cumin. When that’s are cooked, turn off the heat, add the sour cream, milk, green chiles. You’re going to want that to be almost pourable so add more milf, I mean milk, honestly it won’t make much difference if it’s too thin so err on the side of thinner. And taste it to make sure it’s properly salted.

Assemble the damn thing:

Butter or oil (I used Pam—I’ve spared you the joke I was going to make here) nine inch square casserole.

Take out half the sauce and reserve. To the sauce still in the pan add the egg and mix. Then add the chicken and half the cheese. Stir to combine.

Put half of the reserved sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish. Now take and fill the tortillas. You’re on your own here. Put some in one and fold it up, making little packages and putting them in the casserole as you go. Put the rest of the sauce on top and the rest of the cheese on that.

Bake covered for 20 minutes, uncovered for 20 or until it’s browning. Let rest 10-15 minutes. You’ll need a rest too.

Add’l thoughts

I have no idea why in the hell you’d wrap these things up like that. You cannot, or at least I could not, discern the shape of them once they were baked. So my suggestion is to just layer them like lasagna in 3 layers. It’d be a hell of a lot easier.

Also I should have drizzled green taco sauce on top of it.