Last week was Constant Companion’s birthday. It’s hard to believe how time passes; this has been a year unparalleled by any other. CC might be the greatest fan of my cooking, so this was a day for which I make extra special careful plans. He recently revealed that he thinks I’ve embraced the essence of the TV show Chopped by exploring new recipes with unfamiliar ingredients. It’s fun when it comes out good.
What to do for this year, a second COVID birthday? Although the lockdown is not as stringent as last year, we are concerned about the prevalence of the Delta variant. We’re not extravagant with going out.
Last year I chose a new, now firmly embedded, dish in my cooking repertoire, schnitzel. Both Constant Companion and Daughter particularly enjoy this dish. Dessert was a one-off, something I don’t anticipate making again, baked Alaska (see Aug. 14, 2020 post). My mother would say she’s done something twice, the first time and the last!
Two year’s ago before was a longtime favorite, Moroccan bstilla (Aug. 12, 2019), an amazing sweet and savory chicken pie. Bstilla it was again for this year. For instructions see the post above.
Two other dishes were adventures in new recipes, both harvested and saved from earlier internet cooking newsletters: a chick pea almond soup and a lemon olive oil cake.
I started the day before by cooking the chicken for the bstilla in water, thus getting more than one dish for the effort. The remaining rich chicken broth was used as the base for birthday dinner soup. The rest went into a new congee recipe. Garlic Beef and Onion Congee, from Food and Wine (https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/garlic-beef-and-onion-congee).
In my usual way, I made some changes. First was to add 2 chopped up cooked, salted duck eggs.* I also added chopped mushroom, snow pea pods, and chive flowers. It was a delicious dish and a good repurposing, as they say in Chopped, of the fresh chicken broth.
*A while ago, Daughter and I were out and stopped at an Asian market. This product intrigued her. It sat on the pantry shelf for a while. One day when I came home she told me that she’d eaten one; it left lots to be desired. I turned to Google as is my practice and found that these salt eggs can be incorporated into dishes in place of salt. What to with the remaining eggs?
Back to the birthday dinner and two new dishes.
Chickpea soup with almonds is a Mark Bittman recipe, very easy. Cook a thinly sliced small onion, some smashed garlic, and half a cup of slivered almonds in some olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of smoked paprika. Add a can of chickpeas with their liquid and four cups of chicken broth or water. Bittman recommends using a potato masher to break down some of the chickpeas, I used my immersion blender. Cook and stir til warmed through. He recommends serving with chopped parsley, I topped each bowl with some of the chive flowers, added a nice bite.
Lemon Olive Oil Cake. This recipe comes from the weekly Pappas Post (https://pappaspost.com/). If you are interested in Greek politics, history, culture, it’s a good newsletter to follow.
It’s a fairly easy cake. Start with the usual: heat oven to 350 degrees F, grease a 9” round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Mix together the dry ingredients: 1 cup of flour, zest of 1 lemon, 1 tsp baking powder, and ¼ tsp sea salt (Greek if you have it!). In another bowl beat 4 eggs and 1 cup sugar on high until fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Next add ½ cup of extra virgin (Greek, too) olive oil and juice of 1 lemon to the eggs. Gently fold the flour mixture until completely combined. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on cooling rack for about 20 minutes, then flip onto a cake plate. When thoroughly cool, dust with powdered sugar to serve.
It was a birthday, something more was needed. I felt compelled to try a new gummy recipe, this time with hibiscus and lovely fresh strawberries. A package of hibiscus tea purchased at a long ago museum conference in Croatia had been stashed in my tea cabinet for quite a while (see Dec. 30, 2019). Two recipes were combined: one for hibiscus tea and one for the gummies. Steep the entire package of tea in a glass bowl with 4 cups of boiling water. Following the tea recipe, let it sit for 2 days, then strain. Next, sprinkle two envelopes of unflavored powdered gelatin into 1 cup of warmed tea, let it sit for about 5 minutes, then mix it with the remaining 3 cups of tea along with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Heat til all are dissolved. Pour the mixture into molds; I used loved Art Deco champagne coupes. After about 30 minutes poke the berries* into the gummies and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
*I used strawberries cut into heart shapes (https://www.californiastrawberries.com/how-to-make-strawberry-hearts/) for the occasion. You can use other nice berries you have on hand.
It was another birthday dinner enjoyed by all.