Shakshuka: An Easy Weeknight Dinner

Shakshuka with Kale and Goat Cheese

Shakshuka with Kale and Goat Cheese

Do you ever come home at the end of a work day wishing for a hot meal but too tired to cook? I just came back from vacation, so my refrigerator is not fully stocked, and I’m still tired from traveling and fighting a persistent ear/sinus infection. The weather here has been grey and rainy, and I was craving a hot meal.

Thankfully, I had a few basics in the pantry, and had picked up a few fresh vegetables at the store. I decided to go with eggs because I was too lazy to defrost a protein.

Shakshuka is an easy and comforting go to dish that is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can take a peek in your refrigerator and use any vegetables that you have available. I added some thin strips of curly kale, and chunks of creamy goat cheese. If you haven’t made shakshuka yet, I hope you give it a try.

Shakshuka with Kale and Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 large kale leaves, ribs removed, and cut into thin strips
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or red pepper flakes
28 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes, pureed in a blender
1 teaspoon sriracha or harissa, or more to taste
Salt and pepper
Pinch of sugar
4 eggs
2 ounces goat cheese, you could also use feta or seared halloumi
2 tablespoons parsley and cilantro, finely chopped
Toasted bread for serving
Procedure:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 375F.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized cast iron pot, or a deep oven-proof skillet. Sauté the onion until translucent. Add in the kale and the garlic, and sauté for 3 more minutes. Add in the bell pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add in the cumin, coriander, smoked paprika and pepper flakes, and stir well. Add in the tomatoes, sriracha or harissa, salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of sugar. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove from heat.
3. Crack one egg in a small container, and gently place into tomato sauce. I like to crack the eggs in a soup ladle, and then gently push the ladle into the tomato sauce and tip the egg into the tomato sauce. After all the eggs have been added, place the pot in the pre-heated oven and bake, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes. The whites should be completely set. Remove the pot from the oven and season the eggs with salt and pepper. Crumble the cheese on top, and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve in bowls with toasted bread. Serves 2.

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Carrot Cake with Ginger and Mascarpone Frosting

Carrot Cake with Ginger and Mascarpone Frosting 1

When you imagine a celebration cake, what do you envision? My immediate response would be carrot cake. My sister and I developed a recipe for carrot cake for her catering business, and it is delicious. I thought it was probably the best carrot cake recipe ever. That is until I made this carrot cake recipe by Ina Garten from Foolproof. This recipe takes carrot cake to the next level.

Some time ago, I received samples of Paradise Fruit Co.‘s crystallized ginger. There are many crystallized ginger options in the market. The main considerations for me are taste and texture. I also like that this brand gives you even slices of peppery ginger that is still moist and perfectly coated with sugar. I didn’t get any rough or stringy pieces. Given all that delicious crystallized ginger, I had to use it for this recipe.

Paradise Ginger

If you want a delicious, show stopping-cake, this is the cake to make. That delicious crystallized ginger is just the icing on the cake.

The full recipe is posted here. It is recommended to grate the carrots by hand. Using a food processor will make the carrots too wet and adversely affect the texture of the cake.

Here is what I did differently: The recipe makes a 2 tier 9 inch cake. Instead, I baked the full recipe in a half sheet cake pan (12 by 18 by 2 inches). I wanted to be able to serve a crowd, and this was an easy way to get more servings out of the recipe. There are many different instructions on how to adapt recipes for different pan sizes. The recipe makes 10 cups of batter, and my pan holds a total of 15 cups, so my pan was 2/3 full. It worked out perfectly. The cake rose just to the edge of the pan

I preheated the oven to 350F, reduced the temperature to 325F when I placed the cake in the oven, and then baked it for about 60 minutes. My oven does run a little hot, so baking time will vary according to your oven. The key here is to bake the cake until it’s done. Start checking it a few minutes before, with a toothpick in the center. The batter in the middle of the cake should be cooked. This is a moist cake, so you might still get some crumbs on the toothpick. Let the cake cool a full 30 minutes. Carefully run a thin paring knife along the edges to loosen it. It is really important to use the parchment paper to make sure the cake comes out of the pan easily.

The 12 by 18 by 2 inch sized cake serves 36 (2 by 3 inch pieces).

Carrot Cake with Ginger and Mascarpone Frosting 2

Carrot Cake with Ginger and Mascarpone Frosting 3

Disclosure: I received samples of Paradise Fruits Crystallized Ginger to try out. I was not required to write a blog post about it. I was not compensated for this post.

Diner en Blanc debuted in DC with pops of Moet & Chandon champagne corks & the twinkle of sparklers

The waving of napkins in the air marks the beginning of the event

The waving of napkins in the air marks the beginning of the event

The international pop-up picnic started by Francois Pasquier in Paris 25 years ago, debuted in DC last night. It was an evening filled with food, music, sparklers, and about 1,200 strangers all dressed in white.

Groups of participants met up with group leaders at locations throughout the city, hopped on metro, and headed to the secret location: the Yards Park. The metro trip there was not an easy one. Hundreds of participants boarded metro, all carrying their tables, chairs, and picnic baskets while dressed in their white finery. I was disappointed with the location when we first arrived. I was expecting a more iconic backdrop with a view of one of the many DC monuments. But as all the groups set up their tables, the empty space turned into an elegant dinner party with a view of the Anacostia river.

The evening started with the waving of napkins in the air and a jazz band. We sat down to feast on our picnic dinners and sip on wine. The second part of the evening was marked by the traditional lighting of sparklers, and opening of the dance floor. Matches branded with the #DEBDC14 hashtag had been distributed along with our white Diner en Blanc wristbands.

Everyone instantly became acquainted with dinner companions in nearby tables, sharing food and stories throughout the evening.

The event was extremely well organized. Although it required a lot of planning, I really enjoyed the evening and can’t wait until next year’s Diner en Blanc!

I leave you with some photos from last night.

My simple white tablescape for Diner en Blanc

My simple white tablescape for Diner en Blanc

Appetizers: smoked salmon & cream cheese sandwiches with herb crust, blinis with creme fraiche/smoked salmon/caviar, and shrimp cocktail

Appetizers: smoked salmon & cream cheese sandwiches with herb crust, blinis with creme fraiche/smoked salmon/caviar, and shrimp cocktail

Time to sparkle!

Time for sparklers

Sparklers

Secret location of Diner en Blanc DC: Yards Park

Sparklers marked the opening of the dance floor.

How gorgeous is this floral arrangement in a tall vase?

How gorgeous is this floral arrangement in a tall vase?

An illuminated Eiffel vase holds a bouquet of baby's breath

An illuminated Eiffel vase holds a bouquet of baby’s breath

View of the Anacostia River

View of the Anacostia River

A must for the evening: a bottle of Moet & Chandon, sponsor of the event.

A must for the evening: a bottle of Moet & Chandon, sponsor of the event.

Pouring the bubbly

Bubbly

Desserts: madeleines, macarons, and caneles

Desserts: homemade madeleines and caneles, and macarons from Olivia Macaron

At the end of the evening, I was ready to kick off my white espadrille wedges and go barefoot on the lush grass.

At the end of the evening, I was ready to kick off my white espadrille wedges and go barefoot on the lush grass.

Sous Le Ciel de DC–Diner En Blanc DC 2014

chalkboard-menu

The first DC Diner En Blanc is taking place on September 4th.The day is almost here and I can hardly wait.

It’s been fun planning with friends: everything from the dress and shoes, down to little battery operated tea lights. There’s been highs: I found a pair of gorgeous comfortable wedges super discounted. There’s been lows: I ordered my dream dress only to find out that it was beige and not white. Yes, we must wear white and shades of cream, beige, or ivory are not allowed. I’ll be wearing my white back up dress.

I’ll admit it, I’m so excited that I already did a test run of my table setting. But what I’m really most excited about is the food. You had the option of ordering a picnic basket. However, for me, the best part is putting together a menu and making it for the big day. I have changed my mind dozens of times, but I finally narrowed it down and put it down on paper.

Here’s what I’m making. There are links to some recipes and options on where to purchase pre-made versions for convenience. You can take a 100% DIY route, or be more “semi-home made” about it. It doesn’t matter which way you go, no one will know once you arrange all your food on your shiny white tableware.

Menu

Appetizers:
Classic shrimp cocktail. Let’s call it cocktail de crevettes.
Need a recipe? try this one from Fine Cooking. For something more creative, this version with okra looks delicious! You can purchase pre-made shrimp cocktail at most grocery stores. You might want to pick up some horseradish cream to add to the cocktail sauce to doctor it up a bit. Fresh lemon juice will also brighten up a store bought cocktail sauce.

Saumon Fumè, two ways:
Smoked salmon on blinis with crème fraîche and caviar
Smoked salmon tea sandwiches with cream cheese, dill, and cucumber slices

These two recipes only require a trip to the grocery store and 15 minutes of your time. This recipe for herb-crusted sandwiches looks fantastic.

Main:
Crab salad on butter lettuce with Meyer lemon-clementine olive oil vinaigrette and Old Bay seasoning

Here is my non-recipe: make a simple vinaigrette of lemon and olive oil for the lettuce. You might want a bit of honey for sweetness. Top the lettuce with crab sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning and sriracha. I reserve the right to change my mind and use endive leaves instead. Get local Maryland crab if you can find it, we are right in the middle of Maryland crab season. You can find more inexpensive options at Trader Joe’s.

Cheese plate:
MT Tam Cowgirl Creamery
Humboldt Fog Cypress Grove
Bleu d’Auvergne L’Or Des Dômes

Accoutrements: raspberries, honey with honeycomb, and herbed nuts
Visit a local cheese shop or a supermarket with a large cheese selection. Most Whole Foods carry a very large selection. Pick a double cream cheese, a goat cheese, and a blue cheese. Extra points if you get all French selections. If choosing a cheese board is intimidating, let the cheesemonger know how much you want to spend and let them put together a few options for you. Get fun pairings: tart dry fruit, a sweet conserve, something crunchy, and something savory. Don’t forget crackers, or just break off chunks from a baguette. A baguette is de rigueur. If you have time, pick one up at Bread Furst.

Mignardises:
Macarons, caneles, and pistachio madeleines

Since I’m serving a cheese plate, I don’t need a heavy dessert. But I still want to nibble on something sweet at the end of a meal. I won’t have time to make my own macarons, so I will be purchasing mine from Olivia Macarons. I will be making rum infused caneles, and pistachio macarons. Whole Foods sells tiny little tarts and other small desserts that would be perfect for a dessert platter.

If you forgot to order Champagne, you can order some through Tuesday here. Remember that no outside alcohol is allowed. From what I’ve heard from previous events, the evening should last about 4 hours. You don’t want to run out of bubbly and wine too early on. I’m planning on bringing ice packs to keep my wine chilled throughout the evening.

What are you planning on making? Did you order a basket?

Sorry about not having any photos, I hope to have those up after the event ;)

Can’t wait until Thursday. I’ll be listening to Edith Piaf until then.

Poached Peaches with Vanilla Bean and Kaffir Lime Leaves

Poached Peach with Vanilla Bean and Kaffir Lime Leaves

Poached Peach with Vanilla Bean and Kaffir Lime Leaves

We are approaching the end of summer, but peaches are still plentiful. I don’t know why I love peaches so much, I don’t think I had a fresh peach until I moved to the United States to go to college. See, we don’t grow peaches in Panama. And the imported ones available at the grocery store were badly bruised and quite mealy.

Gorgeous Peaches from the Farmers Market

Gorgeous Peaches from the Farmers Market

Growing up, my grandparents would take me to a little ice cream shop at the beach. The ice cream shop served a variety of ice cream desserts. Some were simple, and some were completely over the top. I would always order the same thing: peach Melba. The peach Melba was made with a canned peach half, thick sugary syrup, and raspberry jelly. It was all sugar. To add insult to injury, I would request for a dollop of marshmallow fluff on top. I always ate every last bit of it.

The funny part is that I thought that our server’s name was Melba. Since she was the one that always assembled and served the peach Melba, I was certain that it was her recipe and that she had named the recipe after herself. Many years passed before I learned that the peach Melba recipe had been created by Chef August Escoffier in the late 1800s to serve to an opera singer: Nellie Melba. I was so disappointed.

Poached Peaches with Vanilla Bean and Kaffir Lime Leaves

A ripe summer peach is best eaten out of hand, but this is an easy and elegant thing to serve. And it is the foundation for peach Melba. To assemble a peach Melba, you just need one peach half, a small scoop of good vanilla ice-cream, and a few raspberries. You can make a raspberry sauce or purchase one if you like. I think the tart raspberries go well with the sweet peaches. Add a little bit of the syrup to the bottom of the dish.

Peaches Cooling

Peaches Cooling

Ingredients:
1 vanilla bean
2 cups white wine
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves (you can substitute dry, or a small segment of lime peel)
3-4 medium peaches

Storing the Poached Peaches in Syrup

Storing the Poached Peaches in Syrup

Procedure:
1. Cut the vanilla bean down the middle length-wise and scrape out the seeds. Place the vanilla bean pod, the seeds, the wine, water, sugar, and kaffir lime leaves in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Once the sugar dissolves, gently place the peaches in the syrup. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes over medium-low heat, turning the peaches around halfway during the cooking time. To test for doneness, pierce a peach with a toothpick. The peach should be soft, but not mushy.
3. Remove the peaches from the syrup with a slotted spoon and place on a shallow bowl to cool.
4. Bring the syrup to simmer over medium heat, and continue to cook until reduce by 1/3. It should be thicker and syrup like. Let the syrup cool and place in a container that is big enough to fit the syrup and the peaches.
5. Once the peaches cool a bit, you’ll be able to slip off the skins easily. After you remove the skins, cut them in half, remove the pit and gently scrape any fibers from the core if desired.
6. Store the peaches in the syrup, along with the vanilla bean. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

If you have any leftover syrup, make a cocktail with some of the syrup and some sparkling wine. You can also puree the poached peaches with some of the syrup for a Bellini base.

My Version of Peach Melba

My Version of Peach Melba

Peach Melba

Peach Melba