Let’s get Freekeh!
When I originally came up with the concept for a roast veggie salad, I imagined a roasted vegetable mix with farro or wheat berries. But then I realized that we had a whole box of freekeh that would pair perfectly with roast veggies and Pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
What is freekeh (فريكة)? It’s a grain, more specifically a green wheat, that’s most popular in Middle Eastern foods. Generally, you can make freekeh on it’s own, with a side of roast chicken, or you can boil it in a soup. Freekeh has a smoky flavor, that—according to my research— is made naturally by burning the straw part (not the seeds) of the grain. The whole process of preparing freekeh is actually a lot more work than I imagined. But all worth it. You’ll only fully understand the intense flavor of freekeh when you’ve tried it.
I’m aware that it’s well past squash and root vegetable season, but I just couldn’t go without sharing this recipe. If you’d like, you can substitute the acorn and butternut squash for yellow and green zucchini, and some eggplant too. Don’t forget to use different colored carrots. They add lots of color and taste divine.
Roast Veggie and Freekeh Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
For the Salad
- 1 cup butternut squash, cubed
- 1/2 acorn squash, cut into slices
- 1 Russet Potato, cubed
- 1 Sweet Potato, cubed
- 1 parsnip, cubed
- 1 cup multi-colored carrots, cubed
- 1/2 red onion, cut into large wedges
- 1/4 cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon
- Salt, to taste
- 1/2 cup Freekeh
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup Chicken Stock
- !For the Vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon Pomegranate Molasses
- Olive oil
- Apple cider vinegar
For the Salad
- Preheat oven to 425 F
- In a large bowl, mix together the vegetables with 1/4 cup olive oil and salt until coated
- Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on a rimmed baking tray
- Bake for 30 minutes, until the veggies are charred then set aside
- Meanwhile, wash the freekeh very well until the water is clear
- Soak the freekeh for 5-10 minutes in lukewarm water, then drain
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan
- Add the freekeh and sauté for 1-2 minutes
- Cover the freekeh with chicken stock and bring to a boil
- Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat the medium-low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the freekeh has absorbed all the stock
- In a large bowl, mix together the roasted veggies and cooked freekeh until combined
- Serve over a bed of spring mix lettuce and Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
For the Vinaigrette
- In a small bowl whisk together the Pomegranate Molasses, olive oil, salt, and apple cider vinegar. Pour over the salad.
I’m all about simplicity. Mainly simplicity when it comes to cooking. Because really, who wants to spend more time making delicious food, like let’s say middle eastern meat pies, when you can cut that time in half? This girl right here. That’s me! I have no patience. I openly admit it. It’s something I’ve been actively working on for 30 years. However, the truth is, patience does not come easily to me. I have a hard time waiting for just about anything. So it’s no surprise that bread making is a serious test of my patience. I have made various breads in the past. I tested out some sesame bread that didn’t make it onto the blog, as well as Zaatar Bread, and Irish Soda Bread.
If you’re familiar with middle eastern meat pies, you know that traditionally, they’re made with a flat dough — usually homemade. That’s the time consuming part. And then topped with a minced meat mixture (either lamb or beef). A fair number of my friends actually make their dough from scratch–they must have a ton more patience than I do – and it’s absolutely delicious. If you’re simply impatient like me, or just don’t have the time to whip up some of your own dough, then puff pastry is the dough of your dreams.
I’m going to be honest, puff pastry is actually really great for large tarts, both savory and sweet, and can be used as a substitute for pizza dough too. Puff pastry is really fluffy once baked. The hardest part is trying to figure out when it has defrosted enough for you to pull the sheets open without breaking them apart.
Middle Eastern Puff Pastry Meat Pies
- 1 package Puff Pastry
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 lb ground beef
- 2 tablespoons Seven spice
- 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
- 3 tablespoons yogurt
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- Remove the puff pastry from the packaging and place on a lightly floured surface
- Allow the puff pastry to defrost (no more than 40 minutes), until the dough is easy to pull apart
- Flatten out the puff pastry dough and cut each sheet into 9 squares and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You can follow the creases already showing in the dough (you'll need two baking sheets)
- Heat the oven to 425 F
- Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet
- Add the onions and sauté until translucent
- Add the ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until cooked about 3/4 way through
- Mix in the seven spice, cinnamon and salt
- Stir in the pomegranate molasses until the ground beef is coated
- Stir in the yogurt, then transfer to the food processor
- Pulse the meat mixture a few times until the ground beef is minced
- For the pine nuts, place the pine nuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes, until very lightly browned
- Use a large spoon to make small indents in the middle of each puff pastry square -- think of it as the space you'll put your meat filling
- Spoon the meat mixture into the middle of each square and top with pine nuts
- Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 10 minutes
- Serve warm
Happy Birthday to me! I feel like I’m thr …. Thirty. I’m 30! And I’m celebrating with White Chocolate Rosewater Buttercream Cupcakes.
But before I share this fabulous recipe, I have some wisdom to impart on my readers ….
Once upon a time, when I was about 15 years old, I started a “Before I’m 30 List.” What is this magical list you may ask? It’s all the things I wanted to do or experience or accomplish before I turned 30. Some things were clearly written by 15 year old me. Others, I just didn’t get around to doing. Maybe it was timing, maybe it was my life path, who knows. I did get through about 50% of my line items – not bad for someone who’s really good at starting projects and not so good at follow-through.
At the time, 30 seemed forever and a half away. I thought I’d have my life together by now. I thought 30 was when I got “old” and was no longer allowed to be irresponsible or lazy or selfish for that matter. But as the years crept closer and closer to 30, I realized that at 30 I did not accomplish everything I thought I would; that 30 is just a number and has no bearing on my maturity or my selflessness or level of accountability or responsibility. Thirty is just that… a number closer to 100 (to which age I hope I will live) and it doesn’t mean anything more. Being an adult is arbitrary. There’s no manual, there’s no guidebook, there are no directions. There’s just trial by fire and learning from life experiences. I don’t have all the answers, but I have learned some pretty important lessons during my 30 years.
- Life will never go according to your perfect little plan. Even if you wrote it up, checked all the boxes, revised and re-wrote some elements, life throws some major curveballs and you have to believe that even if things don’t play out according to your plan, there’s a bigger, better plan waiting ahead.
- There’s a difference between being nice and being a doormat. Don’t be a doormat.
- Be nice – because the world needs it. Humanity needs it. And if not for any other reason than to be able to live with the adult you’ve become.
- Give to give, not to receive. There is an inexplicable joy that comes with giving and not expecting anything in return.
- Be a good hostess. Now, I’m not saying you have to have the dinner party thing down (because those are hard). You should, however, be able to host a group of people at your home and have them walk away feeling like you were an exceptional hostess, and that they had a good time. That’s a skill you will use for life.
- Always send a thank you note. Handwritten notes may have gone out of style, but saying thank you hasn’t. A quick text expressing your gratitude is the very least you can do. It makes you a more genuine person. If you so wish, you can hand write a note and mail it, or hand deliver.
- Work really hard … and reward yourself. With sweets, or shopping, or bread…
- You can’t measure happiness based on the number on your scale. Dieting sucks. And exercise sucks, for that matter. I will never be a skinny girl and I have accepted the fact that my life will be a constant battle to fight for or against eating the bread. So find happiness elsewhere and EAT THE BREAD.
- Family comes first. No one in the world will ever be there for you unconditionally like your family. They are tied to you through bonds that are stronger than any other relationship. They are the first to celebrate your successes, and the only ones you want to know about your failures, because they will stand by you.
- Solicit advice. From the people you trust, whose opinions you care about the most. They usually have a perspective you hadn’t thought about before.
- Never sacrifice who you are, just to be accepted. The people you want in your life are the ones who love you for who you are, not the person you try to be for them. You were raised with standards and morals. Don’t sacrifice those for anyone.
- When you go to a restaurant, order something you can’t make at home. Try something new off the menu. You’ll become much more cultured. The same can’t be said as a food blogger, because I can make everything, right? Just kidding. Trying new things at restaurants from a young age helped me understand and love food.
- Save Money! Save Money! Save Money! I know it’s so hard, especially when after taxes your paycheck has practically diminished. Start with your 401k (if your company offers you a match on your contribution, you have no excuse). Set up a savings account in your name. This is money you never touch, except when you’re ready to buy a house or a car, or need it for a real emergency. The only money movement is IN to the account, never out. It’s impossible to “save” in your checking account. Trust me. Save Money!!
- Keep up with current world events. Whether you spend the first hour of your day scanning the headlines, get news alerts during the day via the AP and CNN apps, watch the news at the gym, or wind down with a tablet copy of the newspaper, you have to know what’s going on in the world. Things are happening locally, domestically and internationally that you need to know about. You don’t live in a vacuum. Be aware of the political climate, trending videos, the latest happenings … you’ll have a lot more to talk about than the weather.
- Try new things. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s food or new experiences, you won’t know whether you like or dislike something until you’ve given it a try.
- Travel as often as you can. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.
- Without good health nothing else matters. It’s 2017, we’re in an era of prevention. You have no excuse. Get your regular checkups in.
- Life is not fair. We’ve heard it a million times. But it is the truth. Life is unfair, it’s unequal and just because something should be a certain way, doesn’t mean it is. At 30, I have definitely felt the impact of this statement.
- Adversity builds character. That’s a direct quote from my mother. If everything was easy, you wouldn’t be the strong independent person you are today. You might think that a bad hour/day/week/month is the end of the world. That there’s no way out. But you’re wrong. Because the time will pass, and you’ll find that when you have no other choice but to be strong in the face of adversity … you are way, way stronger than you ever thought you were. Trust me on this one.
- It’s okay to cry. Sometimes, the only logical response to a very stressful situation is to cry, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just don’t do it in front of everyone at work. If you have to cry at work, take it to the bathroom, your car, or down the block, and then pull yourself back together.
- Every office is dysfunctional in its own way. I’ve held a number of positions with various organizations. I’ve found that each of those offices was dysfunctional in its own way. At each site, everyone thought they worked at the most dysfunctional place of work … but I’ve come to learn that no office is perfect, and you need to find work that you love to do to overlook some of the “dysfunctional-ness.”
- Do not underestimate the power of positive thinking. Positive thoughts, bring about positive outcomes… for the most part. Stay strong and Stay positive!
- Distance yourself from negative people. You’re going to have people in your life who are negative about everything. They always have something mean to say, and never seem to be genuinely happy for you. You don’t need those kind of people in your life. They will bring you down.
- Just because you’re a functioning adult, does not mean you actually know what you’re doing. How many times have you looked at adults throughout your lifetime and thought, “shouldn’t they know what they’re doing?” The answer is they don’t. At best, we fake it ’til we make it. Especially that first month at a new job. I know you know what I’m talking about …
- Make your bed every morning. Making my bed makes me feel like I have my life together. It only takes a couple extra minutes to fold your covers back up, but it will make you way more productive. There are studies that prove this.
- Buy formal dresses when they’re on sale. You may not need it for a few months, but when that last minute event comes up, you’ll have a dress (at a fraction of the price). You’ll have also significantly reduced the chances that someone else will be wearing your dress too.
- Moisturize every day. Your skin will thank you later. My beauty regimen consists of a cleanser and moisturizer, with a scrub once a week and a mild face peel 1-2 times a month.
- Do Adult Things. Get your oil changed regularly, wash your car and keep it clean, pay your bills on time (auto-pay!), get your taxes filed, go for regular health checks (SEE #NUMBER 17). By 30, you should be able to do these basic adult things.
- You can’t judge a fish by its ability to fly. More accurately, Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You are a unique individual with unique qualities. You may excel at something that others don’t or vice versa. Do not, under any circumstance, allow someone to make you believe you are not good enough.
- Love is inescapable. Love is beautiful. Love is hard. Love comes in so many forms. It’s intense, it’s heartbreaking, it’s passionate, it’s hard to define, and yet so easy to feel. You can’t escape falling in love, no matter how hard you try. Fall in love and live in the moment. I truly believe that you fall in love multiple times in a lifetime. It’s worth savoring it every time.
Here’s to another 30 years … I might have some more wisdom to impart, that is, if I’m still doing this blogging thing at 60. For now, let’s celebrate with these White Chocolate Rosewater Buttercream Cupcakes!
White Chocolate Rosewater Buttercream Cupcakes
For the Cake
- 1 package White Cake Mix
- 1 White chocolate pudding mix
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 cups White Chocolate Chips
For the Frosting
- 2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup Crisco
- 4 cups Confectioner’s sugar
- 2 tablespoons Rose Water
- 1-2 Tablespoons Milk
- Food coloring, for the pink color
For the Cake
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners
- In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water.
- Stir in the white chocolate chips
- Pour the batter into the cupcake liner, making sure to inly fill 3/4 way up
- Bake for 25-30 minutes
- remove from oven and cool all the way before frosting
For the Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and Crisco until fluffy (you can also use a hand mixer)
- Add the rosewater and beat until mixed
- Add the confectioners sugar one cup at a time and beat until light and fluffy
- Using the instruction on your food dye, add the food coloring to the frosting, then beat for 30 seconds.
Remember that week I spent in Rome I’m still eating my way through all the goodies I brought back.
While in Rome, I stopped at the local grocery store The Coop. It was perfect because that’s where I bought my 25oz bottle of extra virgin olive oil, that I’m still using. I also made my way to the spreads section of the store. There, I found black olive tapenade, capers in chunky salt and it’s also there I discovered Artichoke Pate. While the jar and ingredients were in Italian, I managed to google translate my way through. I wish I had brought a jar back home with me. Since I wasn’t able to, I decided to make my own artichoke spread with fresh ingredients.
Don’t get me started on the fresh Italian ingredients in Rome. At one of the restaurants we went to, they served whole fried artichoke. It wasn’t covered in batter or anything. Not the way you think of fried vegetables, at least. The artichoke was served whole and the leaves were browned and crispy. A perfect combination with a plate of bread and cheese. I just can’t wait for the farmer’s markets to open up in May. I’ll be eating fresh fruits and vegetables all summer long.
So what the heck would you use Artichoke Spread for, right? That’s probably one of the first questions you asked yourself when you got to this recipe. Well, Artichoke Spread is actually pretty versatile. If you love sandwiches, use Creamy Artichoke Spread instead of mayo or mustard, then pop in the panini grill. Use it as an appetizer for dipping bread, or add a small bowl of Artichoke Spread to your charcuterie board. I even challenge you to be creative and use it as a light pasta sauce in lieu of pesto. It’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of Artichoke Spread.
- 1 cup Artichoke Hearts
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves Garlic
- In the bowl of a food processor, place the artichoke hearts, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse until smooth.
- Depending on the consistency, add the second tablespoon of olive oil.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.
Rise and Shine! It’s breakfast time. Get a hold of these Banana Walnut Orange Blossom Muffins to start your day. You won’t be disappointed. The muffins are loaded with bananas, walnuts and Orange blossom Water (my not-so-secret ingredient).
My best recipes come to me when I see an ingredient in dire need of being used. I’ve shared with you before a recipe for Banana Bread. It’s a total hit in our house. I really wanted to come up with something better than just your average banana bread. That seems pretty standard, right? Bad bananas means bake banana bread. Then I got to thinking about my favorite Middle Eastern sweets and decided to fuse the two together. If you’ve ever made qatayef with walnuts (قطايف), you know that the pancake stuffing consists of walnuts, white sugar, cinnamon and orange blossom water. Add to banana muffins and you have a one-of-a-kind sweet breakfast treat.
Speaking of Qatayef … isn’t Ramadan right around the corner? There will be plenty of walnut and cheese filled sweets to go around for 30 days and 30 nights. Okay, if we’re lucky, 29 days.
Tell me I’m not the only person this happens to. I buy bananas green and then all of a sudden they become dark brown before I get the chance to use them up. Well, my mom’s been really good about using up the bananas. She makes whole grain Belgian waffles and tops them with banana slices. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
This last batch of bananas was pretty strange. I bought them when they were green. I swear to you they never turned that bright yellow color. They just went straight from green to brown, almost overnight.
Banana Walnut Orange Blossom Muffins
- 1 cup Walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 5 tablespoons White Sugar
- 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
- 3 Tablespoons Orange Blossom Water
- 4 Medium Bananas
- 1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
- ¼ cup Brown Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
- ½ cup Unsalted Butter, softened
- 1 large Egg
- Preheat oven to 375 F
- Line your muffin pan with paper muffin cups
- In a small bowl, combine the chopped walnuts, cinnamon, white sugar and orange blossom water and set aside
- In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, brown sugar and salt, and set aside
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, or a large bowl, add the mashed bananas, egg, and butter. Beat until thickened (you can use a hand-held beater as well)
- Slowly add the dry ingredients, continue beating until combined, 1-2 minutes
- Stir in the cinnamon walnut mixture
- Spoon the batter into you muffin cups, filling about 1/3 to 3/4 way up
- Bake on the middle rack for 18-20 mins
- Cool on a wire rack and then serve
So one day, the day I was prepping for my dinner party and Ultimate Charcuterie, I was at none other than my favorite grocery store, wegmans. I was stocking up on all the cheeses, meats and goodies I wanted to feature on my board. And at the very last second I picked up what I thought was chunks of parmesan cheese. It wasn’t until I started putting the Charcuterie board together that I realized I had actually picked up parmesan rinds. Parmesan rinds are hard and practically inedible. Devastated, I just threw them into the fridge thinking I’d figure out what to do with them later.
It wasn’t until I was on a work trip to Rome, that I had mentioned the unfortunate incident to a fellow colleague while talking about the buffet of cheeses at our conference. She had suggested freezing the rinks and throwing them into a soup. Brilliant! I’m not sure why I hasn’t thought of that before. As soon as I got home, I threw the rinds into a freezer-safe ziplock bag.
It’s been the warmest February in DC on record. The Washington Post even says it was warmer than the average March! That’s good news for me, she who does not like snow. But it’s bad news for the me who loves cozy soups in the cold months. I cannot let all of winter and early spring go by without at least one more soup recipe – Roasted Cauliflower and Green Pea Soup. And lucky for me, the weather took a turn for the cold when overnight we hit 20 some degrees Fahrenheit.
Roasted Cauliflower and Green Pea Soup
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil + 1 tablespoon
- Salt, to taste
- ½ teaspoon Ground Cumin
- ¼ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon Ground Ginger
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 medium Onion, chopped
- 4 cups Chicken Stock
- 12oz Frozen Green Peas, thawed
- 1 Parmesan Rind
- Preheat oven to 425 F
- Wash and cut the cauliflower head into medium-sized (1 1/2-inch) florets
- Place the florets in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, cumin, cinnamon and ginger, until coated
- Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, toss and return to oven for another 10 minutes
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat
- Add the onions and sauté until translucent
- Add the Parmesan Rind
- Add the peas, stir for 1 minute
- Then finally add the roasted cauliflower florets
- Pour in the vegetable stock, stir then bring to a boil
- Once boiling, use an immersion blender to smooth the soup to your desired consistency. NOTE: You can also blend the soup using a standing blender. Have another empty pot available. Using a ladle, spoon the soup into the blender and blend until smooth. Then return to the pot. Use the additional pot if you have too much liquid for the standing blender.
- Simmer on low for 5 minutes
- Most of the time the Parmesan rind dissolves in the soup. If it hasn't dissolved, scoop it out with a slotted spoon before serving.