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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on June 26th, 2017.

 

Corn pudding taken to a new tasty level. My old recipe is going by the wayside, I think, because this one is so delish.

Back in the 60s, when I hosted a dinner, frequently I’d serve a baked corn casserole that was composed of canned corn (both regular and creamed), milk, eggs, a bit of sugar, and with some eggs, flour and butter too. It was a regular menu item. It was easy to make, and always guests enjoyed it. I haven’t made it in years, nor have I ever posted it here on my blog, for that matter. But, there won’t be any going back to that old recipe now that this one has come to town.

This one has all of those ingredients (using fresh corn, however) plus a bit of cornmeal, fresh basil, ricotta cheese, some half and half, chopped onions and cheese IN the casserole and Parm grated on top. Oh my goodness, is this good. It retains a lovely softness because it’s baked in a water bath (a bit of a nuisance, I know) but you’ll be glad once it’s served since the pudding won’t stick to the casserole dish and no browned bits anywhere. Just nice, tender corn pudding.

The only thing you really have to prep ahead is cooking the onion and corn (they won’t get tender during the baking time, so it needs a head start). Otherwise, all the ingredients just get mixed up and poured into a greased baking dish, then it’s baked for 40-45 minutes until the top just begins to show some golden brown. That’s it. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the texture and taste – nice and soft, but the fresh corn has a little bit of toothsome-ness. The cheese (ricotta, Fontina and Parm) just puts this casserole at a new  taste level. Really delicious! It’s also gluten-free, FYI.

What’s NOT: maybe the water bath – a bit of a nuisance – but it makes the casserole extra tender.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ricotta Cheese Corn Pudding

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups corn kernels — (3-4 ears)
1/2 cup onion — chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup ricotta cheese — full fat
2 tablespoons basil leaves — thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Fontina cheese — grated (or use sharp cheddar)
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (for top)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Grease a 4-5 cup baking dish. Melt butter in a saute pan and saute the corn and onion until soft. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs, milk and half and half together in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly pour in cornmeal and ricotta. Add basil, sugar, salt, pepper, then the cooked corn mixture and grated cheese. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
3. Place dish in a large pan and fill pan halfway up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake 40-45 minutes, until top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 288 Calories; 18g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 154mg Cholesterol; 595mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2017.

perfect_baked_potato

Who would have thought that I could get so excited about a baked potato?

Recently I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and they did a segment about the perfectly cooked baked potato. They talked about what makes a good potato (first off, a nicely shaped oval Russet variety for sure with few blemishes, dents or eyes). But they mentioned all the things that go along with it – you want it fluffy. That’s probably the most important. You want crispy skin. And fluffy. Fluffy! So the chefs at ATK went about perfecting it, and OH did they! One of the secrets to this recipe is baking the potatoes to exactly 205°F. More and more, we’re figuring out the exact perfect temperature for cooking all kinds of things.

There are a list of steps to make these:

  1. buy a really nice oval Russet with few blemishes, about  7-9 ounces each (mine were heavier)
  2. poke the potato 6 times on the top with a fork
  3. dip the potato in heavily salted water (see exact amounts below)
  4. bake on a rack on top of a baking sheet at 450°F
  5. bake about 45-60 minutes, or until the internal temp reaches exactly 205°F
  6. remove from oven and brush the outside with vegetable oil
  7. bake another 10 minutes
  8. remove and cut a big X in the top and smoosh the two ends together to open up the top
  9. plop a lovely tablespoon of butter inside, add salt and pepper to taste
  10. swoon.

russets_poked_and_soakedAnd I mean swoon (definition: a state of ecstasy). I could have made just that for a dinner for myself – maybe I will one of these days. I invited 3 friends for dinner (made some grilled shrimp with a garlic and butter sauce, a new green goddess dressing that was the best I’ve ever made, and crumbled asparagus) So, that means I tried 3 new recipes. All 3 of them winners. Yes, I’ll post the other recipes soon.

Pictured, the potatoes after they’d been swirled in the heavily salted water.

These potatoes are just SO good. When I pulled the potatoes out of the oven, steam was escaping from the fork holes in the tops. Then, when cut the X and smooshed the ends in, there was a geyser of steam from each potato, and OH, were they fluffy inside. I had 4 pats of butter (room temp) and dropped one into each. I also made a topping for them, that was recommended by ATK to go along with it, but I preferred the potato just plain, with butter, salt and pepper.

The outside skins were crunchy-perfect and salty – at the end of our meal I just kept pulling off little chunks of skin and eating it. Stone cold. But still delicious, and those pieces didn’t have any pepper, butter or topping on them. Just the salty, crunchy skin.

All 4 of us left our potatoes with most of the insides eaten and everyone went home with their own shells. Today, for lunch, I’m going to open up the potato fully, maybe fry up a slice or two of bacon, shred some cheddar, bake it for 10 minutes or so in my toaster oven, then top it with some green onions. Oh, and maybe a tablespoon or so of sour cream. Decadent. And I will eat the entire thing, the little bit of inside potato and all.

Image result for thermapenTHERMAPEN: As an aside, I’ll mention that I was so upset a couple of weeks ago when my beloved Thermapen quit working after 6 years! Woe is me! I use it ALL THE TIME. So I contacted ThermoWorks, and mailed the probe to them, with a $25 check and they repaired it with all new insides. Since these Thermapens are expensive, it was well worth paying $25 to get it fixed to near-new.

What’s GOOD: where do I start? Everything about this potato was downright perfect. Hence, the perfect baked potato. The crunchy, salty skin, the super-fluffy insides. This will be my go-to preparation from here on! DO MAKE THESE, okay? Thanks to Cook’s Country or America’s Test Kitchen they’ll be absolutely perfect!

What’s NOT: none of it is hard, but there are a few steps involved. Get everything ready (mis en place) so you don’t have to hunt for the thermometer, the pan and rack, the vegetable oil or brush, and have the butter at room temp. That will make the process easier and quicker. And once they’re out of the oven, no dilly-dallying getting to the table to sit down!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Perfect Baked Potatoes

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated, Jan, 2016
Serving Size: 4

4 russet potatoes — unpeeled, each lightly pricked with fork in 6 places (about 7-9 ounces each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

NOTE: Open up the potatoes immediately after removal from the oven in step 3 so steam can escape. Top them as desired.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 1/2 cup water in large bowl. Place potatoes in bowl and toss so exteriors of potatoes are evenly moistened. Using a fork, poke each potato about 6 times on the top half.Transfer potatoes to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until center of largest potato registers 205°F, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I put foil underneath them.)
2. Remove potatoes from oven and brush tops and sides with oil. Return potatoes to oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes.
3. Remove potatoes from oven and, using paring knife, make 2 slits, forming X, in each potato. Using clean dish towel, hold ends and squeeze slightly to push flesh up and out. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a pat of butter. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 3g Fat (34.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on April 17th, 2017.

kabocha_cornmeal_polenta

Polenta usually is made with cornmeal only. This one veers off the grid and uses mostly kabocha squash and some cornmeal. It has a very similar consistency, but maybe more healthy for us!

Polenta is really, really good stuff. And I just wish it weren’t so heavy in carbs. In this version, made with kabocha squash (which is a winter squash and a carb) it has all the benefits of flavor, but maybe because of the squash, it might be a bit healthier. Just sayin’. A serving of this has 44 grams of carbs. That’s a lot, but oh gosh, was it ever good with the Sicilian Chicken Stew. My downfall is that once I have a serving of polenta, I want more. It’s kind of like popcorn at the movies – I don’t EVER buy it, because I can’t stop eating it once I start!

Image result for kabocha squashDo you know kabocha squash? It’s mostly credited to Japan (but it isn’t, really). Like the photo at left (from Trader Joe’s), they’re round, globe-like, sometimes more squat that this one shows. They’re very nutritious and have lots of good flavor.

According to Wikipedia, Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. The squash claims a whole lot of beta-carotene.

In any case, they’re tasty things. At the cooking class, Chef Caroline said that she usually cooks the kabocha for about about 20 minutes (at 425°F) BEFORE she tries to cut it open. It has a pretty hard shell. Once cooled a bit, she cuts it in half crosswise, then puts the squash, cut side down onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roasts it for about 35 minutes. At that point the flesh is totally soft and scoops out easily. As with regular polenta, the cornmeal is slowly added to simmering vegetable broth and in this case, some milk, and then cooked gently for about 5 minutes. Then you add some salt, butter and the mashed up squash – which gives the polenta a more orange color. Taste for seasonings. Serve while it’s HOT.

What’s GOOD: loved the added flavor from the kabocha – an unexpected treat. Still tastes like polenta, but perhaps more nutritious.

What’s NOT: maybe just the nuisance of having to bake the squash – not difficult, just a bit time consuming, plus having to cut it. Winter squashes are sometimes really hard to handle – and cut.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cornmeal and Kabocha Squash Polenta

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 1/2 pounds kabocha squash — yield: about 4 cups flesh
4 cups vegetable broth — low sodium
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Poke a few holes in the kabocha squash (upper half) and roast it whole for about 20 minutes. This will allow you to cut in half with ease. Cool for about 20 minutes, then cut in half crosswise. Turn it cut side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake an additional 35 minutes or so. Cool, then scoop out the flesh and set aside to cool.
2. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the broth and milk to a boil. Lower heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Stir in the salt, butter and squash and stir until well combined, the squash is completely heated through and butter is fully melted. Add seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 9g Fat (27.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on March 18th, 2017.

pepper_onion_roast_indian_spices

Oh yummy! After serving this to friends for dinner one night, I had about half of it left over. I ate it all over 3 meals. Cold or warmed, or hot. Delicious!

In a few days I’ll post a recipe for a grilled chicken that I made to go with this, but THIS recipe, to me, was the star of the menu. I found it online, but it’s from a book by Lynne Rosetto Kasper. She must enjoy Indian food just like I do.

What I wanted to do was use up 4-5 mixed colored bell peppers I had in my fridge. So I did a search for Indian bell peppers, and this one popped up. The chunks of bell peppers are mixed with chunks of red onion, canned, rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, with olive oil and some lovely spices. Nothing that would overwhelm any eater. The dish isn’t “hot,” just purely flavorful. It could be a vegetarian entrée; it could be a side salad, cold, or right out of the oven it’s purely sublime with some cilantro, lime juice sprinkled over the top. The recipe called for some yogurt on top – I forgot, and didn’t miss it.

pepper_onion_roast_raw_mixedFirst you combine the vegetables (raw) in a bowl, add the oil, salt, a pinch of sugar and the spices (cumin, black pepper and ground coriander that have been toasted, then ground to a fine powder). Meanwhile, you heat up the baking sheet in the oven, pour these veggies out onto it once it’s piping hot, then roast the veggies for about 40 minutes in a 450° oven.

If the pan is real crowded, I suggest you use two, as you want the vegetables to get caramelized and toasty on the edges. Those are the best bites of all!

With the left overs, I didn’t even bother to add cilantro – I just ate it straight out of the plastic dish I’d stored it in. Delicious down to the very last smidgen of roasted onion.I’ve increased the amount of onion (2 instead of 1), and I didn’t use the arugula – it might be nice added in after the mixture roasts – but I forgot that also, and didn’t miss it.

What’s GOOD: the combination of peppers, onions and garbanzos is just SO good. The roasting is easy, the chopping is really quite easy. I’d definitely make this again. Loved the spices – the only heat comes from the black pepper. Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: not a thing. It was delish.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pepper and Onion Roast with Soft Indian Spices

Recipe By: adapted slightly from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, Lynne Rosetto Kasper
Serving Size: 6

3 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons cilantro — tightly packed
1 piece fresh ginger — (1″) peeled and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper — chopped into 1/2″ pieces
2 large yellow bell peppers — chopped into 1/2″ pieces
2 large red onions — chopped
16 ounces garbanzo beans, canned — drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons lime juice
Generous pinch of sugar Salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arugula — tightly packed (optional)
GARNISH: (all are optional)
Lime juice
Cilantro leaves
Plain yogurt

NOTES: If I made this again, I’d add the chopped fresh arugula to the mixture when it’s served; I wouldn’t roast the arugula.
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F, and put a large shallow pan (like a baking tray) onto the middle rack. The pan will preheat with the oven.
2. In a food processor, combine the garlic, cilantro and ginger and process until fine, but not pureed.
3. In a large bowl, combine this mixture with all of the other ingredients except for the garnishes. Toss to mix. Carefully spread the mixture in the pan which is already in the oven. (If there isn’t enough room around the veggies, use 2 pans – if it’s crowded, the veggies will steam rather than roast and won’t get crispy edges.) Roast for 40 minutes, stirring often and scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. The peppers should be tender, and the chickpeas should be crisp.
4. Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl (and add the arugula if desired) and top with the garnishes. Serve. This is also equally good cold or served at room temp with or without the garnishes.
Per Serving: 195 Calories; 8g Fat (35.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 17th, 2017.

mushroom_cauliflower_risotto

Brown food doesn’t always look all that great in photos. But what it might lack in picture worthiness, is more than made up for in flavor. And low calories. And low fat. And nearly zero in carbs. There is no RICE in this dish, just so you know.

Cauliflower “rice” is sold at Costco, and at Trader Joe’s. Perhaps at other food purveyors as well. Trader Joe’s has both cauliflower and broccoli (more stems than green part) that’s been “riced.” That’s not what one usually means by riced, as in using a RICER with a cooked potato – no, this is the fresh, raw vegetable chopped up finely in a food processor so it has somewhat a similar shape as a kernel of rice. You can do it yourself with your own food processor. I’ve not tried it, but you could try using the grater with cauliflower too.

This dish was prepared at a cooking class I attended last month – a great class of French food, and this was served alongside a delicious beef tenderloin. Since then I’ve made it myself as well, and it was every bit as good. Using the word risotto, of course, connotes rice and a creamy consistency. I won’t tell you that it tastes just like risotto, but if you don’t think about it, you can conjure up the toothsome-ness of rice and slightly creamy texture. The success of the dish is all about the mushrooms, actually, and probably the jot of soy sauce added in for umami flavor. You absolutely do NOT taste cauliflower. I can guarantee it!

I’ve mentioned it here before, that one evening several years ago I served mashed cauliflower as “mashed potatoes” and fooled a friend, Lynn, about it. I didn’t know he detested cauliflower – I just thought it was so fun to mimic mashed potatoes, so I didn’t tell anyone it was cauliflower. Lynn lapped it up and liked it. Ever since, when he and Sue visit me, Lynn is wary of what I’m going to serve him. If he knew this was cauliflower he probably wouldn’t eat it, but if I didn’t say anything, I’m sure he’d wolf it down like everybody else did!

Shallot, minced up finely, starts the dish. Along with both Crimini mushrooms and Shiitake types (you need the Shiitake for extra flavor – they’re expensive, but you don’t need all that much of them). Dried thyme and garlic are added, then the cauliflower rice. You add a bit of low-sodium soy sauce, just a tiny bit of heavy cream, and truffle salt (if available). You cook it briefly – about 2 minutes for the Trader Joe’s type, and a bit longer for Costco’s (because theirs is a bit bigger chunks). Parsley is added at the end, and you serve it immediately while it’s still steamy hot. I did make it and had leftovers. When reheated, it wasn’t quite as good, only because the cauliflower was softer with further cooking it.

What’s GOOD: this is a veggie dish that’s loaded with flavor and it’s very satisfying. Add some grated Parm on top if you want to make it extra special. The soy sauce is almost indistinguishable, but it adds good umami flavor. I think this dish is spectacular – I’m fooled that it IS rice.

What’s NOT: nothing, really – it’s quick and easy – certainly comes together a whole lot quicker than making real risotto!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom Cauliflower “Risotto”

Recipe By: Caroline Cayaumazou, chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon EVOO
10 ounces Crimini mushrooms — sliced
3 1/2 ounces shiitake mushroom — sliced (discard stems)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large shallot — sliced
1 large garlic clove — chopped
1 pound cauliflower — in “rice” form (Trader Joe’s or Costco)
4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Truffle salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped

1. In a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and shallot. Cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute only.
2. Add the cauliflower “rice” and stir well. Add soy sauce, cream, truffle salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cook for a minute or two (longer if using Costco’s cauliflower) until the cauliflower is cooked through, but not so long that it becomes mushy. Stir in parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 126 Calories; 5g Fat (29.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 587mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 13th, 2016.

lime_cilantro_rice

Quick-like, I snapped this photo with the rice still in the rice cooker, rather than my usual staging with a plate, the meatloaf on the plate, a napkin and background . . it’s just the rice. But oh, it’s good!

A few days ago I gave you the new recipe for Italian-style meatloaf that I made up myself, that was really wonderful. This is what I served with it. Normally I’d do mashed potatoes, but for whatever reason – it was a warm, summer night – I didn’t have potatoes on hand anyway – I decided to accompany the meatloaf with rice.

This recipe came from the Pioneer Woman and she served it as a side with a Mexican menu. Yes, with the cilantro and lime in it, it certainly would be nice with Mexican flavors. But, it was just lovely with the meatloaf, I thought.

Previously I’ve talked about my Breville rice cooker – it’s really a bit of everything – you can sauté in it, make risotto in it, and use it as a slow cooker. And it has a rice setting, of course. It was perfect for this – I sautéed the onion a bit first, then added the garlic (lots) and lastly the rice and allowed that to sauté briefly. Then I added in the chicken broth and lime juice (I had to supplement with a tiny bit of lemon juice as I had just 2 limes). The lime zest was apparent in the dish – loved the flavors.

Ree Drummond’s recipe has you making this in a saucepan and she added just some of the chicken broth, adding more if needed. Well, my rice cooker shut off after about 12 minutes (because it was dry – and the rice wasn’t done) so I added in the remaining cup of chicken broth and let it go for another 4-8 minutes until it was perfectly done. Next time – with the rice cooker, I would just add all the broth at once. Just before serving I stirred in most of the cilantro and sprinkled the last of it on top just for the appearance factor!

What’s GOOD: the lime juice and lime zest add a real bonus flavor here – I loved it. The garlic is apparent also, and the onion added great texture. It’s not just rice – the onion is noticeable, in a good way. I liked this a lot and I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. It’s a great recipe.

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Garlic Cilantro Lime Rice

Recipe By: A Pioneer Woman recipe, 2012
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic — minced
1 large onion — chopped
2 cups long-grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 medium limes — (use juice of 3, zest of 2)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro — chopped, for garnish

NOTES: I made this in my Breville rice cooker – I sauteed the onion in it also, then added liquid as indicated. It needed the extra cup of water, which I added in part way through the steam cycle. It was perfectly cooked. My advice – add in all the liquid at the beginning if using a rice cooker.
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the rice and salt. Cook over a low heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the rice doesn’t burn. Add 2 cups of the broth, lime juice and zest of 2 limes and bring it to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the rice is done. Add more liquid as needed. The rice shouldn’t be sticky.
3. Just before serving, stir through the juice of a lime and lots of cilantro.
Per Serving: 210 Calories; 3g Fat (12.0% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 254mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on September 5th, 2016.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad

What a lovely and tasty salad this is. It’s different – a little – because it’s served either warm or at room temp, and the Feta cheese adds such a lovely texture and the toasted walnuts too. Those are greens (baby spinach) mixed into the HOT salad, so they wilt.

My good friend Yvette made this salad at my house – so she gets all the credit for it. I provided some pots and pans, the bowl, pans for toasting the nuts, a cutting board, etc. At the very end we all tasted it to see whether it needed more feta or salt, or greens (yes, it did).

The recipe came from a cooking class Yvette took near her home, and it’s from Nancy Madok (a graduate of one of the C.I.A. culinary schools). I wasn’t able to find a website for her, but she gives cooking classes in her home in north San Diego County. Yvette has taken a number of classes from her over the last couple of years. So, the recipe credit goes to Nancy for a stellar recipe.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad1Pancetta is sautéed, then some red onions. A Dijon vinaigrette is made that contains quite a bit of fresh basil and lemon juice. Orzo pasta is cooked and drained, walnuts toasted, then you toss the orzo with all the other ingredients, while the orzo is hot, so the baby spinach greens wilt. You can serve it then – with the Feta and walnuts sprinkled on top, or mix it all in – doesn’t matter! Or, you can let it cool to room temperature (after a couple of hours I think I’d refrigerate it) and serve it that way. That’s how we had it, with a bit more dressing mixed in (pasta absorbs a lot of dressing if you leave it to sit) and some more Feta sprinkled over the top. There was just a little bit left over and I’m the happy recipient of that! Yippee.

This would make a lovely buffet salad either hot or room temp. I think you could make almost everything ahead of time – I’d toss the pasta with the spinach and some of the dressing and let it sit, refrigerated. Have everything else in a separate container and just toss it together when you’re ready to serve and add most of the dressing and leave a few pieces of walnuts and Feta to put on top. Taste for salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: this was a GREAT salad. At the gathering where Yvette served this, there were about 15 other salads, so I’m happy it wasn’t all eaten! With the leftovers I’m going to mix in some additional baby spinach (that won’t wilt) and some more Feta too. As I’m writing this I have family coming for a week, so that will make a great accompaniment to some grilled pork chops.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a great summer salad. Wonderful flavors throughout. You do have to make the dressing, cook the pasta, toast nuts, etc. but it’s not overly labor intensive, all things considered.

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Orzo, Pancetta, Feta & Greens with a Basil Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Nancy Madok, C.I.A. instructor, Cucina Casa, near San Diego
Serving Size: 8

BASIL LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil — cut in chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pancetta — diced
1 medium red onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound orzo
4 cups baby spinach — roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts — toasted
8 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard and and lemon zest and juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. SALAD: In a medium saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 T olive oil; add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Allow to drain and then place in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pan back on heat and add 1-2 T more olive oil (if necessary – you need about 2 T in the pan to cook the onions) and saute the onions until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add to bowl with pancetta; set aside.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon salt, add orzo and cook as per package instructions. Drain the orzo and place in the bowl with pancetta and onion mixture. Add spinach. Toss with the hot pasta. Add most of the vinaigrette (add it all if desired) and continue tossing until the spinach has wilted. Add feta cheese and walnuts; toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it ahead a few hours, the salad may need additional dressing and/or salt and pepper. May garnish with more Feta on top, if desired.
Per Serving (you may not use all the dressing and the Feta may contain a lot of sodium): 630 Calories; 39g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 1121mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 31st, 2016.

artichoke_harissa_cream

Do you like artichokes? They’re not available everywhere, I know, and some folks just can’t seem to wrap their arms (or their mouths) around scraping the essence of the stem-end of each artichoke leaf through their teeth to gain this little tiny half a teaspoon of artichoke essence.

Growing up, my mother prepared artichokes frequently. They’re available many months of the year at the grocery stores here in California. They’re grown in abundance in the Salinas Valley, in the north end of the central part of California. And they grow well in other NoCal climes. My mother always put out a little bowl of mayo and we dipped each end into the mayo and scraped away. As I recall, my mom made ONE artichoke and the 3 of us shared it. It was never enough in my book.

When I married my DH, Dave, I soon discovered that he was an artichoke and BUTTER guy. He wanted a little bowl of melted butter to dip his artichoke. But after awhile he stopped using the butter and used nothing. He definitely didn’t like the mayo dip at all. My DH adored the artichoke heart, so I usually let him have my half too. He used to tell the story about his wonderful dog, Woof (a collie) who was a very bright dog. She died long before I met Dave. Dave taught her to scrape the artichoke. He’d hold the leaf and she’d ever so gently pull off the little bit of it. She LOVED them.

Recently I craved an artichoke, and saw some really pretty ones at the store. I pressure-cooked it for about 15 minutes. Just now I went on the ‘net and found recipes suggesting everything from 6 minutes (Kalyn’s Kitchen) to 22 minutes on one other, with several others suggesting times in between. Me? I added about a cup of water to the pressure cooker, squeezed half of a lemon into the water, cut the artichoke in half, leaving the choke intact, put them on a rack and pressure cooked them for the 15 minutes. Once cooled some, I used a spoon to remove the choke and let the artichokes cool to room temp. If the artichoke you buy is really big, use a longer cooking time; shorter if they’re smaller, obviously. Half an artichoke is a good-sized serving. I ate it with my dinner, but it also makes a nice appetizer too.

Then I mixed up the dipping sauce: nothing more than mayo, harissa sauce (if you want to know more about harissa, read my 2012 blog post about using it on lamb kebabs), a little bit of bacon jam (some high end markets carry this, it’s a refrigerated little jar, costs the moon, but it lasts forever), plus a little squeeze of lemon juice.

What’s GOOD: well, now, I love artichokes, so there’s no question any mayo-based sauce would taste great in my book, but if you want to make it special, try the addition of harissa and bacon jam. Delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except the harissa is spicy; probably not to children’s tastes.

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Harissa Bacon Mayo for Artichokes

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon harissa — or more to taste
1 teaspoon bacon jam
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste

1. In a small bowl combine all ingredients. If time permits, let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so for the flavors to meld.
2. Serve along side a cooked artichoke.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 32g Fat (97.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 227mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

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Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 21st, 2016.

roasted_carrots_platter

Can I just say, this was one of the best-est dishes I’ve eaten of late. I feel like I’d like to devour that entire platter. What is it? Multi-colored carrots roasted, then tossed with a unique kind of dressing that contains raisins, hazelnuts and thyme. It’s serve with Greek yogurt and sumac flecked pita chips (at left on the platter).

Some weeks ago I attended a cooking class where this was prepared. I took pictures, but they didn’t come out all that well, so lo, and behold, another blogger, Adde of thisishowicook.com made this lovely dish and kindly has let me share HER photo she took when she made it. I’ll be making this sometime soon, then I’ll take my own photos. Thanks, Adde.

This masterpiece isn’t hard. But it does take a bit of time to do – the carrots need to be prepped (easy) then tossed with oil and spices and they’re roasted for about 30 minutes. Also not hard, but then you want to make the pita chips slathered with some oil and peppered with sumac and baked/toasted in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Then, the mixture you eventually toss with the carrots must be prepped – raisins, nuts, thyme, sumac cooked in a bit of butter. Once the carrots are done, you toss them with this raisin mixture and you platter them. Now, I think Adde did it according to the original Sunset recipe – yogurt on the bottom, then the carrots and pita chips. Our instructor put the carrots down first, then plopped Greek yogurt on top. Your choice as to how you do it.

spiced_carrots_yogurt_pitaWhat I will tell you for sure – this dish is off the charts. The carrots become soft and succulent and take on such a lovely sweetness from the caramelization going on during the roasting. The combo of raisins and hazelnuts is brilliant – I’d never have put those two together, nor combine them with carrots! Then you complement them with the yogurt and pita chips. Oh yum.

This can be served as an appetizer, using the sumac pita chips as your scoop, but it would be best to have small plates and forks as the carrots might be a bit difficult to eat. Or, in the class I attended, the chef served it as a side dish with chicken, which was also very lovely.

What’s GOOD: Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t get enough of this – probably it’s the sugar/sweet taste of the carrots, but complemented by the raisins and hazelnuts just makes this dish unctuous.

What’s NOT: well, you can’t throw this together in 30 minutes – it takes a bit longer. Hopefully you have hazelnuts on hand, and Greek yogurt AND the sumac. And pita bread rounds and multi-colored carrots. For me, this will require a special trip to the grocery store to make sure I have everything.

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Roasted Carrot Platter

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2014
Serving Size: 8

5 tablespoons olive oil — divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt — divided
2 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac — divided
4 pita bread rounds — 6″ across
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound carrots — medium sized, peeled and sliced diagonally 1/4″ thick and 2 to 3″ long
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup hazelnuts — very coarsely chopped roasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — divided (fresh)
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — coarsely chopped

NOTES: Buy the multi-colored carrots if you can find them – they make for a beautiful platter.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine 3 tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. sumac. Cut pitas in half and split them horizontally. Brush all over with sumac oil. Stack, cut into 4 wedges, and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets.
2. Bake pita chips, turning once, until deep golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
3. Increase oven to 450°. In bowl used for pita oil, combine 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sumac, the lemon zest, coriander, cumin, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil. Add carrots; toss to coat. Spread evenly on 1 rimmed baking sheet. Roast carrots, stirring once, until browned at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool.
4. Cook butter in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. All at once, add raisins, hazelnuts, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and remaining 1/2 tsp. sumac. Cook, stirring, until raisins puff, 45 to 60 seconds. Let cool.
5. In a bowl, combine yogurt, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/2 tsp. thyme.
6. Spread yogurt on a platter. In another bowl, toss carrots with nut mixture and parsley. Spoon over yogurt and serve with chips. Add more salt to taste. Or, alternately, spread the carrots on the platter and then spoon the yogurt on top, sprinkling a little zaatar on top, and surrounding the edges with the zaatar pita chips you’ve made.
Make ahead: Through step 5, up to 5 hours; chill yogurt and carrots separately. Bring carrots to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours, before continuing.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 21g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium.

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