Tafathalo! Welcome to My Arabic Dinner

This year the Arab American Institute conducted their biyearly poll of American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims. Favorable attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims are lacking to say the least: 68% of Americans are critical of Arabs and 73% dislike Muslims. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans admit they don’t know enough about Islam, Muslims, and Arab history and people. A narrow-minded bunch are we, which brings me around to my Christmas theme for 2014:

Jesus was an Arab.

He was born in the Middle East, he spoke Aramaic and he probably had dark skin. Look at the desert in the nativity scene. Arabic people can be Jewish because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnicity. Furthermore, every Arab is not Muslim. 

To honor my theme, I hosted a pre-Christmas-eve Arabian dinner. My menu came from the Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Gulf States section, mostly.) I got the cloth-bound hard-covered edition from my local library. (Frugality is another one of my themes.)

The Arabic cuisine is mainly a combination of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian food. It has been affected by the mingling of Arab and non-Arabs over the centuries. European cultures such as the Spanish, Italian, French and Greek had impact on Arab cooking. Turkish cuisine impacts the entire Arab world, while Persian and Indian cuisine influences eastern Arabic countries.

Sharing a meal with others is an old honored tradition in the Arabic World and an expression of hospitality. “Tafathalo” means “Do me the honor”. It is an invitation to come to the table. This is what I served:

Starters
Hummus and Khoubiz (Flat Bread) from Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Massachusetts
Endives with Oranges and Almonds (Spanish/Arabian influence, generously provided by a guest)

Soup
Shaurabat Adas (Red Lentil Soup)

Salad
Fattoush Salad

Entrees
Samak Quwarmah (Fish Curry)
Mushkoul (Rice with Onion)
Kebat Al Batatis Wal Burkul (Bulghul and Potato Cakes with Lamb and Apricot Filling) – (We thought this needed a yogurt sauce.)

Desserts / Beverages
“Sweet Sesame” (a Sam’s Bakery bread made with honey, sugar, cinnamon, and sesame seeds)
Dates
Candy (re-gifted by the teachers at the table)
Decaf coffee/Black tea
Wine
Arak (Now I know to water it down.)

Your thoughts: Do you eat Middle Eastern food? Do you know enough about Arabic culture?

Aglio e Olio, A Pasta Story

Aglio e OlioOn his blog, Ed Writes, Stories of the 40’s & 50s, my friend, Dr. Ed Iannuccilli, asks, “Do you have a pasta story to share?” Well, I can think of a pasta story that remotely involves him.

A long time ago, about seven years into my career, I worked as a dietitian in the medical office of Dr. I and his partners, where mostly everyone – professional and support staff alike and the patients too – were of Italian American heritage. I was not.

I had a patient with Anorexia nervosa, a psych condition characterized by a fixation on food and weight, although is really about deeper, difficult emotional issues. Nutrition therapy is an important part of treatment.

Anorexics usually have strange food rituals, such as eating the same food over and over because it feels safe. This patient’s “safe food” was Aglio e Olio [pronounced AH-lyoh ay AW-lyoh], a simple pasta dish that was unknown to me at the time. The patient shared an intimate history. It wouldn’t be right to interrupt. “Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio….” Follow the bouncing ball. It was all the patient ate. 

When the appointment finally ended, I burst out of my office into the common area where my coworkers sat. “Help!” I said, “What the hell is Aglio e Olio??!!”

Here’s a recipe for Spaghetti Aglio E Olio. Eat it with other foods as part of a balanced diet

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • salt
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not overcook. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
  • Boil and drain the pasta.
  • Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.
  • Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss. Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Rest the pasta for a few minutes. Serve warm.

Your thoughts: Do you have a pasta story to share?

My Favorite Christmas Gift (Orange You Glad?)

Citrus Fruit Gift BoxMy favorite gift is one that disappears. Eat it, drink it, burn it, rub it on the skin, throw it away like a withered bouquet.  Just make it go.

Tops on my list is a box of seasonal fruit, straight from the farm. Aromatic and soooo delicious; it’s peak season for citrus fruits: red grapefruit, clementines, Cara Cara oranges, Meyer lemons. Super foods, as they say. I really mean it.

That’s what told Joan Wickham on a sweaty scorcher of a day last summer. Joan is the manager of advertising and public relations.for the Sunkist Growers. We met at The Capital Grille on E 42nd Street during her visit from Los Angeles. Sunkist a citrus growers’ cooperative of 6,000 members from California and Arizona. They are the largest fresh produce shipper in the United States.

Citrus Gifts

Joan presented me with a mesh bag of variegated pink Eureka lemons. (Sunkist calls their Pink Variegated Lemonsvariety “Zebra”.) It has green and off-white stripes on the outside and a pink flesh inside. Sporadically, pink lemons are available winter through mid-summer. They are a perfect garnish for cocktails. Look for them where Melissa’s Farm Fresh Produce is sold – and in fine bars. The variegated pink is a mutant variety first discovered on an ordinary Eureka lemon tree in a Burbank home garden around 1930.

As for my favorite Fresh Citrus Gift Box, California citrus can be ordered from farms such as Shields Date Garden and Pearson Ranch and, of course, on Amazon. To guide your choice, Sunkist makes a varietal chart of all the California citrus fruits available by month.

Lékué Citrus MisterAnd here is citrus gift, that doesn’t disappear, but gets a pass for being so darn practical and cute. It is the Lékué Citrus Mister I saw demonstrated at several cooking events this year. Just pop the mister right into the fruit to spritz salads, seafood, cocktails, your hair, the room, and more. The gadget is so much fun to pass around the table.

My citrus gift to you is this recipe for Grapefruit Avocado Salad, my favorite winter salad. It was first served to me at the Zuck’s dinner table and now, I make it all the time. Add pomegranate seeds to dress it up for Christmas and spritz the avocado to stay green.

Your thoughts: What’s your favorite holiday gift?

Double-Double Gratitude, Happy Thanksgivukkah!

A Turkey-shaped Challah

A Turkey-shaped Challah

This year, I think I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in a Jewish home because I don’t want to miss out on Thanksgivukkah. That’s the pop culture portmanteau neologism for the first day of Hanukkah that falls on Thanksgiving this year. (Such a phrase! Oy, the fun!)

This is the first and only Thanksgivukkah in our lifetimes. The next one is 70,000 years from now. Since both holidays are about giving thanks, it’s double-double gratitude happy happy joy joy, 2X the love.

The Thanksgivukkah Meal

A Thanksgivukkah menu combines the best foods from both holidays: Manizchewitz-brined turkey….challah stuffing….pumpkin pie with caraway and seeds in the crust. The Internet is a cornucopia of creative and healthy Thanksgivukkah recipes. My favorites are from Christine Byrne for BuzzFeed who has nine original recipes that combine the best foods from both holidays for us. I am considering these recipes:

Your thoughts, Will you be celebrating Thanksgivukkah? What’s for dinner? 

Confessions of a Wheat Germ Lover

Wheat GermA brief interaction on Twitter led Kretschmer Wheat Germ to me. They are considering me for a “Happy Wheat Germ User” feature, but needed to know more first.

Wheat Germ and Me

As a nutrition-loving baby boomer, it seems like I have always known about wheat germ. Along with soy protein and non-fat dried milk, it was part of Cornell Bread, a staple food developed for wartime rationing in the 1940s (well before my birth!) My first encounter with a regular wheat germ eater took the form of a woman from Switzerland I met in my late teens. She ate wheat germ for breakfast mixed with avocado and honey or as part of muesli along with yogurt. I like to add wheat germ to recipes for pancakes, muffins, veggie burgers, and meatballs. My favorite Wheat Germ Bread is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book via Kretschmer Wheat Germ a long time ago.

The Original Super-food

As a registered dietitian, people complain to me about feeling stiff-achy-and-punk. Their children are listless and their parents are falling apart with inflammatory diseases and cancers. To them I say, “You really ought to be eating wheat germ!” Wheat germ is LOADED with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid), vitamin E and essential fatty acids, the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and zinc, plus protein and phenolic compounds. Wheat germ is the nazz! In fact, the germ is the richest part of the wheat kernel, which is why white flour is a problem: the germ (and bran) is tossed during in processing. Such a sin.

An Image Problem

A “germ” is a seed, bud, spore, or embryo, the basis of all new life. A plant germ is highly nutritious because it has the nutrients to support future growth.  A “germ” is also a microorganism, especially one that produces disease. People today don’t seem to know that one germ has nothing to do with the other. Wheat germ needs a re-branding campaign. I can help with that.

Here are three good wheat germ recipes from my recipe files at Calorie Count:

Your thoughts: Do you eat (and enjoy) wheat germ?

The Quinoa Standard

Liza and QuinoaGreetings from the planet we call Brooklyn, where the peeps can’t get enough of healthy (organic, gluten free) food. Look at my daughter, Liza, standing alongside of 130 pounds or so of quinoa. At $10 for a 26-ounce bag no less. A picture says it better than words.

Quinoa, a seed not a grain, is a wonderful source of complete protein, providing all of the essential amino acids. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and a host of other nutrients. It made the Incas thrive. But that’s an awful lot for the USA..

Furthermore, we happen to be in a grocery store in Crown Heights, a once posh residential neighborhood that took a deep dive in the 1960s, but is now coming back. I guess quinoa is an economic indicator. Invest with confidence in a quinoa-forward neighborhood.

Here are some quinoa recipes from Cooking Light: Cooking with Quinoa: 22 Recipes

Your thoughts: Do you eat quinoa?

One Way to Raise a Great Cook

Little Liza's Cookbook

Liza’s Personal Childhood Cookbook

As I recall, this is the time of year that gave rise to “Cook ‘Til You Drop”, the cookbook my daughter, Liza, made when she was six or seven. I can’t remember. The book,  including title and cover art, was entirely her idea.

Every year, when the raspberries ripened around the first of July, we’d say, “Where’s that Raspberry Cheesecake Parfait recipe?” Since it was the old days, the early ’90s before the Internet, that meant searching through a huge stack of Cooking Light magazines until we found it. Liza, having much less to do than I and forever the Martha Stewart, thought it made sense to preserve her favorite recipes in a self-adhesive photo album. We photocopied only her besties to make Cook ‘Til You Drop.

From that time on, Liza has always kept a personal recipe book. Perhaps it’s a reason why Eliza Hartley in the Kitchenshe is a fabulous cook today.

Here are two summer favorites from Cook ‘Til You Drop:

Your thoughts: Did you cook as a kid? Do you cook with your kids? What do you make?

Adorkable Easter Appetizers

Easter Appetizers Deviled EggsA lot of people ask me, Mary, do you make adorkable appetizers for every holiday? I say, not really, but if I do make anything, I make these. I like my appetizers to be wholesome, easy, attention-getting, and appealing to kids. Besides, my traffic spiked traffic to 10,000 hits a day because of those Strawberry Santas at Christmas. The people have spoken. Adorkable appetizers it is! Click on the links for “how-to” recipe information.

 

Eggy Chicks, Roosters and Bunnies

File these appetizers under “What to Do with the Hard-cooked Eggs.” The deviled Easter egg chicks (above) are my favorite and the no-devil roosters and happy-face chicks are easy enough to make, but the deviled bunnies are scary to me; however, I’ve seen worse. Rachel Ray shows how to make the deviled egg chicks.

Easter no devil Easter roostersEaster Bunny_deviled_eggs_Lg (1)

Raw Vegetables Appetizers Kids will Eat Easter Potted CarrotsEaster Appetizers Smurf Mushrooms

Rule number one: kids love to dip. I love these Potted Carrots and Dip from Toys in the Dryer and the Smurfy Radish Mushrooms from The Paper Pony. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Easter Appetizers Chick Breadeaster_chickbunsEaster Chick Buns

Granted, making bread is a lot harder than boiling an egg, but how sweet are these little chick rolls?  Grandma’s Kitchen shows you how.

 

Scary Bunnies

Tell me if this pear bunny doesn’t look like a rat? The recipe is from my childhood cookbook and it still creeps me out.

Easter Pear Bunny Image_2Easter_ betty_crocker_boys_and_girls-thumb-250x343Easter bunny_salad-thumb-500x671

Your thoughts: Do you see adorkable Easter appies in your near future?

Adorkable Christmas Appetizers

Black Olive Penguin
To minimize my calorie intake from holiday appetizers, I make appies that are almost too cute to eat. Not that they aren’t delicious and nutritious (and low in calories), I simply want to keep them around a little longer. This year, I plan to reintroduce the penguins that were such a hit in 2011 – plus two more appies that are more about fun than food. All are are quick and easy enough for a slacker like me!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Pinterest…

Pinterest is a great place to find photos of creative recipes. Here are the Pinterest pages for my favorite holiday appetizers, Penguin Appetizers, Strawberry Santas, and Cheese Reindeer. So many pictures! Modern living – you must open the links.

Penguin Appetizers

My Penguin Appetizers, 2011

Originally from the blog FoodieWithFamily.com, these super cute cream cheese-filled black olive penguins are the hit of every party. AND, they have only four ingredients – olives, cream cheese, carrot, and green onions – and the toothpicks that hold them together.  I like my penguins to ice skate on a silver tray. See the recipe for Black Olive Penguins.

Strawberry Santas  

Strawberry Santas

Popular on Pinterest with only four ingredients again – large strawberries, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla – the chocolate sprinkle or seed eyes are optional. This recipe is oh so no work. Check out the Strawberry Santas from JustAPinch.com.

Cheese Reindeer

Reindeer Appetizers

This easy appetizer is – again – (I didn’t plan this) made with only four ingredients – a Laughing Cow cheese wedge, pretzels, olive, and red pepper, so its creator says. As for me, I think the nose is a maraschino cherry and there are more chocolate sprinkles for the eyes. Here’s the recipe for Cheese Reindeer from CuteFoodForKids.com.

Your thoughts: Do you have a cute Christmas recipe for a slacker to pass along?

Pie from The Automat

I am still working my way through the sugar pumpkins I bought – cheap – after Halloween. They are stored on the fire escape and I have to eat them before the hard freeze.

Yesterday, I made a Pumpkin Pie that is worthy of a recommendation. The recipe is authentic from Horn & Hardart’s Automat, a fixture in New York City, opened in 1912 to flourish in branches for the next 50 years. Drop a nickel in a slot, open the door, and pull out your dish. Sandwiches, hot dishes, and desserts – lunch for office workers and tourists.

The Pumpkin Pie recipe is a take-away from an exhibit at the New York Public Library, Lunch Hour NYC, through February 17, 2013 at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Drawing on materials from throughout the Library, the exhibit looks back at more than a century of New York City lunches, exploring the ways in which New York City—work-obsessed and time-obsessed—reinvented lunch. But honestly, Lunch Hour NYC, the online exhibition is really good too. Dig deep because there’s a lot there.

PUMPKIN PIE (from Horn & Hardart’s Automat)
2 cups of cooked pumpkin (mashed)
¾ tbsp. salt (I used less)
1 can (14 ½ fl. oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg

Heat over to 425o
Beat all ingredients together with a rotary beater or wire whisk. Pour into a pastry-lined 9-inch pan.
Bake 40-45 minutes. Insert a silver knife into the filling about one inch from the side of the pan. If the knife comes out clean, the filling is done.

Watch “The Automat” scenes from THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) with Doris Day, Cary Grant, Gig Young, and Audrey Meadows.

Your thoughts: Have you been to The Automat? Tell us about it.