Friday, December 24, 2010

Lost it?

I think I have gone and lost it. Lost my kitchen mojo that is. Usually this time of year I am constantly in the kitchen, baking cookies and stews, braising meat and making stock. This year? All I seem to be doing in the kitchen is screwing things up. Burned caramel, melted cookies, disastrous deep frying's really been bringing me down. Things have been so hectic around here, it seems that when I finally get a chance to get my butt behind the stove, I am more rushed than usual and when that happens I have a tendency to let things get out of control (see the disintegrating falafel incident).

One thing that DIDN'T get screwed up royally was our Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Christmas feast. Well, the majority turned out wonderfully anyway. I need a new falafel recipe, as the one I used completely burst into a million little pieces once dropped into the deep fryer. Luckily, we still had plenty of hummus, pitas, and beef and chicken shawarma to fill our bellies that night.

I don't know how authentic these recipes are, but the spices in both the chicken and the beef meatballs, tasted just like the shawarma you would get from your local middle eastern take-out place. Shawarma is typically roasted on a spit over hot fire and sliced off in thin layers, similar to a kebab, but since I have neither a large spit, nor a large fire, I opted for my broiler and a charcoal grill. Topped with some very pungent tahini sauce and stuffed into a soft, thick pita, they hit the spot.

Chicken Shawarma
adapted from
makes about 4-6 sandwiches

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast tenders
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground allspice
juice of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients minus chicken in a large ziploc bag and mix until combined. Add chicken, coat evenly, and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 8 hours.

Prepare grill. I grilled these on a charcoal grill over direct heat, moving the chicken to indirect heat when they were nice and seared. The chicken I used was pretty thin, so it took about 10-15 minutes total cooking time. Just be sure to bring the internal temperature up to 165. You can also cook these on a grill pan indoors if you have a good vent hood, as the marinade is going to create some serious smoke.

Serve warm or at room temperature in pitas with hummus or tahini sauce. If you are one of those crazy people who actually likes cucumbers, I hear some slices are particularly good on this sandwich.

Beef Shawarma Meatballs
adapted from Evil Shenanigans
makes about 20-24 meatballs

1 pound ground beef (I used 80/20, but you can go a little leaner if you want)
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 onion, diced finely
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until well combined. Gather about two tablespoons, roll into a ball, place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining beef mixture. You should get about 20-24 meatballs. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat your broiler, bake for 15-20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 155. Cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Tahini Sauce

1 cup tahini
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced very finely
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature until serving.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pumpkin Mac

Thanksgiving is long gone, the Christmas decorations are up, the ground is covered in snow....and yet I am still finding random cans of pumpkin around my apartment. I am not kidding, they are everywhere. I think that as a result from the big pumpkin-shortage scare of 2009, I over compensated with my pumpkin purchasing this fall. Every time I went to the grocery store in late October and early November, I picked up a can, you know, just in case they ran out before Thanksgiving. I wonder if I am beginning to exhibit hoarding tendencies.

Luckily, after all the pumpkin pies and tarts were made, I found an even better way to use up my seemingly endless supply of extra pumpkin. Pumpkin macaroni and cheese. I have been seeing versions of this creation all over the blog-o-sphere lately, and I am so glad I tried it. It wasn't overwhelmingly pumpkin-y, but very rich and creamy with a hint of squash flavor at the end. I added some Gorgonzola and ground mustard to the mix, just to give a little extra bite to cut through the rich cheesy pumpkin sauce.

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8-10

1 pound dried pasta (I prefer cavatappi or penne rigate, it holds the sauce really well)
1 quart whole milk
1 stick butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin puree (DO NOT use pumpkin pie filling, not the same thing!)
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cooked the pasta until just al dente. It should still have some bite to it as it will continue to cook while baking. Drain, set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, being careful not to let it boil or burn.

Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until combined and just starting to turn a light brown color, about 2-3 minutes. Slowly add in the milk, whisking until smooth and thick, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Gruyere, cheddar, and Gorgonzola cheeses, pumpkin puree, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ground mustard.

Add the pasta and stir until pasta is evenly coated. Pour into a 10 x 14 baking dish, or alternatively you can use two slightly smaller ones. (I do this, and freeze one of the pans after baking, that way I am only tempted to eat half a pound of pasta in one sitting, rather than the entire pound.)

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the microwave, then mix with the panko and pecorino romano. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture all over the top of the pasta and bake for 30-40 minutes, until top is golden brown and bubbly.

If anyone has any other more savory ways to use up excess pumpkin, please let me know in the comments, I think I still have a few cans lying around...

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