Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I'm in love with Middle Eastern Food. This love affair started about 5 years ago when I volunteered to watch the home during the funeral of a prominent Persian business man. Unfortunately high profile funerals are a heads up to criminals that the home is empty, and he was a jewelry and Persian rug dealer making it even a bigger target. When I said I would stay and watch the home I had no idea what I was getting into. Big women with big hair and big bosoms flew in from New York and Los Angeles. They were dripping in diamonds and wrapped in pearls the size of ping pong balls. Their husbands followed behind carrying suitcases and bags overflowing with pots, pans and food. And I mean FOOD!!!

What I didn't expect was my added responsibility of cooking and "watching" the food. There were six burners going with something different on each one. There were electric skillets plugged in everywhere and each pot and skillet came with an "order" of what I was to do with them. I had a BIG responsibility. It was during that afternoon that I realized the importance of food in so many cultures and how it brings family together to help heal, love, and deal with grief.

The tastes from each pot and skillet were amazing. I stirred and watched and tasted and knew that someday I wanted to recreate the experience. When the family returned from the service, giant tables were laden with breads, fresh herbs, nuts, cheese, and bowls of jeweled rice, chicken and meat dishes with a myriad of flavors. I never forgot that day and finally decided that the time was right to learn about this cuisine.

I bought the book Jerusalem a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. What a fabulous book. It is not only filled with recipes but so much history of the different cultures in the Middle East. Jerusalem is a crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa and became a hub of food and recipe exchanges. Middle Eastern cuisine is based on healthy food like vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, beans, nuts, and aromatic spices.

I had a small dinner party with some recipes from my new book. It just so happened that this weeks Food Matters Project recipe chosen by Keelymarie was Rolled Cabbage. I used Mark Bittman's recipe as inspiration to make stuffed grape leaves. One guest is a vegetarian so I made Chickpea & Bulgur Stuffed Grape Leaves. They are in the left corner of the picture. I served the grape leaves with a yogurt and lemon zest sauce from Pidge's Pantry. I'll be posting the other recipes in the following weeks.


Izmir Iced Tea Cocktails
Pita bread with spicy hummus
Spiced and marinated olives and spiced garbanzo beans
Chickpea & Bulgur Stuffed Grape Leaves with a Lemon Yogurt Sauce
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds
Pasta with Yogurt, Peas and Chile
Kendall Jackson Reserve Syrah


  • 1 15- to 16-ounce jar grape leaves (see Notes), drained
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, divided
  • 7 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 3 tablespoons tahini (see Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sumac (optional; see Notes)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 19-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup bulgur (see Notes)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • Lemon wedges for serving
  • Plain yogurt for serving
  1. Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Remove grape leaves from the jar and unroll. Separate into two piles—one of whole leaves and one with any torn leaves or pieces of leaves. The whole leaves will be used for rolling. Set aside the others for Step 5.
  2. Cook the whole grape leaves in the boiling water for 5 minutes; transfer with tongs to a colander to drain.
  3. To prepare filling: Process lemon zest and 1/4 cup juice, garlic, tahini, oil, sumac (if using), pepper and salt in a food processor until smooth. Scrape into a large bowl. Pulse chickpeas in the food processor until coarsely chopped. Add to the lemon mixture along with bulgur, parsley and scallions; mix until well combined.
  4. To assemble grape leaves: Lay a clean kitchen towel on a work surface. Place 4 to 6 whole grape leaves at a time on the towel with the stem-side up and stem end pointing toward you. Pinch or trim off any long or tough stems. Depending on the size of the leaf, shape 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of the filling into a 1 1/2- to 2-inch log and place it on the leaf, perpendicular to the stem end. Roll the end of the leaf over the filling, tuck in the sides and roll tightly into a cigar shape. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling. (You may have filling or grape leaves left over.)
  5. Place the torn or very small leftover grape leaves in a large saucepan, covering the bottom completely; this will prevent the stuffed leaves from sticking as they cook. (No leftover leaves? See Tip.) Place about half of the stuffed grape leaves in one tight layer in the pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Make a second layer of grape leaves on top of the first and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
  6. Place the largest heatproof plate you have that will fit in the pot on top of the grape leaves. Place a small-to-medium heatproof bowl on top of the plate and fill it three-quarters full with water (this will act as a weight to keep the grape leaves submerged). Add water to the pan until it reaches the rim of the plate.
  7. Timing: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the bulgur is tender, adding water as necessary to keep the grape leaves submerged, about 30 minutes. (To check if the bulgur is done, carefully remove the bowl and plate, take out one stuffed grape leaf using a slotted spoon and cut it open.)
  8. Carefully remove the bowl and plate, then transfer the grape leaves from the water using a slotted spoon. Serve warm with lemon wedges and yogurt for dipping, if desired.
Tips & Notes
  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate cooked grape leaves for up to 3 days. Reheat with a little water in a skillet or in the microwave. Or freeze uncooked grape leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and finish with Steps 5-8.
  • Notes: Jars of grape leaves can be found with other Middle Eastern ingredients in large supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets, natural-foods stores or online at amazon.com. We like the texture and quality of Sadaf, Ziyad, Roland and Yergat brands. If you can only find a 32-ounce jar, you can freeze the leftover leaves in an airtight container for up to 6 months. If you have access to fresh grape leaves, you could harvest your own to use instead. Select medium-size leaves from unsprayed grapevines in late spring or early summer, when they will be at their most tender.
  • Tahini is a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. Look for it in large supermarkets in the Middle Eastern section or near other nut butters.
  • The tart red berries of the Mediterranean sumac bush add fruity, sour flavor to many regional dishes. Find ground sumac in Middle Eastern markets, specialty food shops and online at penzeys.com.
  • Bulgur is made by parboiling, drying and coarsely grinding or cracking wheat berries. Don’t confuse bulgur with cracked wheat, which is just that—cracked wheat. Since the parboiling step is skipped, cracked wheat must be cooked for up to an hour whereas bulgur simply needs a quick soak in hot water for most uses. Look for it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets, near other grains.
  • Tip: If you don’t have any leftover leaves to line the pan, cut a potato into 1/2-inch-thick slices and place in the bottom of the pan to prevent the stuffed leaves from sticking.
  • How to Arrange Stuffed Grape Leaves in the Pan: The stuffed grape leaves should be tightly packed in your saucepan to prevent them from floating up and unwrapping during cooking. Working with about half of the stuffed grape leaves, nestle them into your pan in concentric circles, working from the outer edge toward the center. Make a second layer directly on top of the first with the remaining stuffed grape leaves.
          Recipe from Eating Well

Sunday, February 24, 2013


This amazing dinner was inspired by Meg from Fledgling Foodie. Meg chose Mark Bittman's recipe for Pared-Down Paella with Peas, Clams, and Chorizo. This is all part of our Food Matters Project.

Mark Bittman takes the fear out of creating this dish and after making this once I can't wait to experiment with it more. Mark's recipe called for only clams for the seafood. I was lucky enough to find live Manilla clams at the market but I also added shrimp and scallops.

You can find the recipe on Meg's blog here and for all the other members take on this recipe click here.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Sometimes we are amazing on the inside but not so pretty on the outside. Especially when the cook made us GREEN!

This weeks Food Matters Project  recipe was Oatmeal Griddle Cakes chosen by Aura of Dinner with Aura. As most of you know by now I don't make desserts, bake, or cook breakfast! I just don't like traditional breakfast food. When I saw our choice this week my first thought was to pass, then I thought about a savory take on a griddle cake. It was Chinese New Year on Sunday so how about a Chinese scallion cake. I was planning on making a Chinese meal so I cut out the pot stickers and went with the scallion cakes. Now, traditional Chinese scallion cakes do not look like mine! They are made with a dough not a batter. You knead, you let it rest, you roll...all the things I don't like about baking. BUT, leave it to "our" Mark Bittman to come up with a recipe for a quick and easy scallion pancake.  Just a few ingredients, a puree of cooked scallions mixed with a batter of flour, egg and soy sauce. Drop batter on the griddle and there you have it! Chinese Griddle Cakes!!!

I served these with a soy-ginger sauce that we drizzled on top of the pancakes.

The pancakes were a nice side dish to Chinese Ribs and Stir Fried Bok Choy.

A great celebration honoring our newest family member Alexa. My sister brought her here from China five years ago. Such a precious gift.

For all of our members "real" griddle cakes click here.


4 bunches scallions or spring onions, about 1 pound
1 egg
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Peanut or canola oil

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil while you trim the scallions. Roughly chop three bunches, and mince the fourth.

Add the larger portion of scallions to the water, and cook about 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Puree the cooked scallions in a blender, adding just enough of the cooking liquid to allow the machine to do its work. 

Mix the puree with the egg and soy sauce, then gently stir in the flour until blended. Add pepper to taste, then the reserved minced scallions. Film a non-stick or well-seasoned skillet with oil, and turn the heat to medium-high. Drop the batter into the pan by the tablespoon or quarter cup, and cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. 

If necessary, the pancakes can be kept warm in a 200~ oven for about 30 mintues.

Serve with a dipping or drizzle sauce.

Recipe by Mark Bittman


2 TBSP. light soy sauce
1 TBSP. rice vinegar
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced.

Mix all ingredients together and serve with Chinese scallion pancakes.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


This post is in celebration of our family's gift from China.

Happy New Year Alexa!

In honor of our niece who lives on the east coast we had a Chinese New Year meal on the west coast.

Chinese ribs, scallion pancakes with a soy-ginger dipping sauce and stir-fried bok choy with ginger and garlic.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


This week Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla chose Mark Bittman's recipe for Cardamom Scented Pear Crisp. I didn't have time to make it on the weekend but after reading how much all the Food Matters Project Members enjoyed this healthy crisp I decided to give it a try.  I used apples instead of pears and followed the recipe as written.

Cardamom... a spice I have only used in Indian cooking and that was many years ago. I could not recall the taste. I purchased a jar and WOW!! It's EXOTIC! It's SEXY! No wonder Cleopatra used it to perfume her palace apartments!

Try this crisp. It's delicious, healthy, and so easy to make.

You can also check out what the other members did with their crisps here.


4 TBSP. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2TBSP. vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 TBSP. lemon juice
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
Pinch of salt
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp. cardamom

Heat oven to 400~. Grease an 8-9 inch square or round baking dish with a little butter. Cream the 4 TBSP. butter, oil, and sugar together using an electric mixer or fork. Stir in the nuts, lemon juice, oats, flour, and salt until combined and crumbly. (You can make topping ahead to this point; tightly wrap, and refrigerate for up to a day or freeze for up to several weeks; thaw before proceeding.)

Put the apples in the prepared dish, sprinkle with the cardamom, and toss. Crumble the topping over all. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is just starting to brown, 30-40 minutes. Serve immediately, or at least while still warm.

Recipe by Mark Bittman