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Operation Medusa in Afghanistan

Ground Beef Dumplings

A lot has gone on in Afghanistan. It has always been volatile and I can’t write about all of it, but I would like to write about one of it, since I am dedicating the Afghan food to my friend Jay, who was the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group Operations Officer for Operation Medusa.

The 2006 Operation Medusa was a crucial battle that may have saved Afghanistan from the Taliban. This was the largest combat operation ever led by NATO, the battle of Panjwayi in the Kandahar province. It was also the bloodiest and most decisive operations.

This area was the birthplace of the Taliban decades earlier and has become Afghanistan’s most deadly area. With Operation Medusa, it would turn even deadlier. The Taliban had secretly congregated for a full-scale attack and to keep the Taliban from slaughtering NATO troops, Operation Medusa was put in place. This operation would keep the Taliban from laying siege to Kandahar and it would restore the south of the country to a newly formed democratic Afghan government.

According to Major General David Fraser, Canadian in charge, the operation was an opportunity to buy time, as the Taliban had changed their tactics at this time from small groups into one large fighting unit. The mission of Medusa was of course not to lose, and it has set up the peace process to keep on going, but the odds were against them.

The Taliban knew their terrain and they had drilled landmines into every piece of ground they could find and dug IEDs into every road they knew. They stocked guns and ammunition in every local house, school and mud hut they could lay claim to. Worst of all, they were protected by corrupt officials.

Despite suffering a brutal battlefield defeat, the Taliban retained their presence in Kandahar province and did not lose their will to fight, leading to the subsequent Operation Falcon Summit. Nonetheless, Operation Medusa was at the time the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO.

Kandahar is more than just symbolically significant in the continuing fight for southern Afghanistan. It is the key to central and northern Afghanistan and Panjwayi is the key to Kandahar. The Panjwayi District, beginning 35 kilometers southwest of the city encompasses the Arghandab River valley.

The river is part of an extensive watershed that creates a broad, fertile region in the desert of southwest Afghanistan. The valleys provide natural lines of communication between Kandahar and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. Residents of Panjwayi raise grapes, corn, and other crops making it the breadbasket of Kandahar and the surrounding country.

Kandahar is known for Pashtun cuisine. A specialty of Pashtun cuisine, Chopan Kabob is made with lamb meat roasted over a traditional Afghan charcoal brazier called mankal. It was named after sheep herders who used to rub chunks of lamb with plenty of salt, skewer them on twigs or small branches, and roast the meat over a fire while watching their flocks.

Today, Chopan Kabob is a popular Afghani street food and can be found in numerous kebab street stalls called dukan-e-kebabi. The delicious Afghan lamb skewers are seasoned with sumac or gard-e-ghooreh, sour grape powder, and commonly served with naan bread.

The Afghan cuisine is of course not limited to just this one dish. The national dish of Afghanistan is Kabuli Pulao, which is a special occasion food in Afghanistan. It is a rice dish made with lamb and sweet and warm spice and is named after Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

The dish comprises of a two-step cooking process that yields fluffy and flavorful grains with excellent texture. The cooking process isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take time to complete. These steps can be done ahead of time and when you are ready, you may just layer all of it and complete the cooking on your stove top.

I love dumplings and my recipes from Afghanistan will not be complete without Mantu, the delicious ground beef dumplings and sauce that I could eat all day long. I include a recipe for a Middle East Relish that goes well with everything.

In Afghanistan most vegetables are cooked in their own juices or some kind of broth for a long time. Crunchy vegetables are a rarity, but Afghanis do eat salad (salata) and they use fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Salata is always light and crunchy, making it a perfect counterpoint to Afghan cuisine’s heavier dishes. Some Afghan cooks consider it a point of pride when the diced vegetables are small and uniform in size. This salad makes a great palate cleanser if you intend to eat dessert.

The recipes for the above mentioned dishes will appear in my book under construction, Rustic.

 

Rustic in Syria

Beet Dip

April 23, 2020. As I write this, we are in full COVID-19 lockdown. There is a woman towards the end of this story that sets an incredible example to all of us during this.

As my son so eloquently put it earlier this week, “I feel you about missing eating in restaurants. I’m sick of my own food…”

He verbalized more vehemently my own euphemized statement, “I’m completely at peace, but I so miss eating at restaurants and I’m really tired of my own food all the time.”

I feel like going out and I feel like off the beaten track food travel, preferably in a dangerous location. All of which is of course impossible right now. So, I’ve decided I’m going to bring Syria to our table. It is a country at war, and they make do with limited ingredients, and I will use those limited ingredients to show there is beauty in limitations.

I’m cooking from Syria as a tribute to my son who fought the war there as part of the Israeli army. Through the food I will celebrate his scars as symbols of victory. It is personal to both of us. We can’t travel there, but we can bring the ravaged beauty of its food into our kitchens.

My food today was inspired by a book called Our Syria by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Eight women tell their story in this book. Strong Syrian women who thrive and survive in their kitchens despite great adversity. They set an incredible example for me, especially when I just think about complaining. When I read their stories of suffering, I suddenly realize how many things we can be thankful for.

One woman grabbed my attention. Her name is Tahani. Thirty-six months under siege had brought her close to starvation. She had a brand-new baby. When news got out, women begged her to breast feed their babies. She got both her babies, and herself through months of starvation. I bet that puts the fight over toilet paper in new perspective, and that the depth of the recipes that follow will sweep you away to those inaccessible, dangerous shores and that you will be filled with gratefulness for the abundance of what we have.

About my Syrian menu:

Mutabal Shwandar (Beet dip). This has been around in Lebanon for many years and has since traveled into the Damascus restaurants. The rich color brightens up any table. The recipe calls for roasting the beets, but I prefer to steam them as this captures the fresh earthy taste beautifully. If you prefer to steam, steam them in an electric food steamer according to the steamer instructions for 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly before peeling. If they are still warm, they will peel easier.

Zahra wa Kamoon (Roasted cauliflower with cumin). Cauliflower is used a lot in Syrian home cooking. It can be bland on its own, but the way Syrians combine spice, it turns into a delicacy. This dish is great for vegans and anybody on a low carb diet.

Shorbet Addas (Red lentil soup). If you are eating out for Iftar during Ramadan in Syria, any restaurant will give you this soup without you having to order it. It is an essential step in breaking your fast. It is the ultimate comfort food.

Mendi (Smoked rice) This recipe originated in Yemen. It is cooked underground using charcoal, which gives it its smokiness. It is usually served with a hot salsa.

Bamia (Lamb stew). This is a much-loved dish in the Euphrates area, where okra is cultivated. The lamb is usually part of an okra stew, but since I couldn’t find okra this time (our shelves are bare), I just used the lamb. It is no less delicious and perhaps I even prefer it without the okra. I will write the full recipe with the okra, but if you prefer it without the okra, you may just omit it. I serve it with the smoked rice on the side.

Samaka Harra (Spiced Fish). Despite the civil war that broke out in 2011, the beautiful coastal city of Latakia kept its coastal cuisine. It has been a site of protest activities and military restrictions limiting movement in and out of the city, but fish remained a common addition to the dinner table in these parts of the country. This oven baked whole fish is packed with juicy, luscious flavors.

Recipes will follow in my book under construction, Rustic.

Syrian cuisine is a diffusion of the cultures of civilizations that settled in Syria over time, particularly during and after the Islamic era beginning with the Arab Umayyad conquest, then the eventual Persian-influenced Abbasids and ending with the strong influences of Turkish cuisine, resulting from the coming of the Ottoman Turks. It is in many ways similar to other Levantine cuisines, mainly Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian and Iraqi.

Many Syrians alive today was born under French rule and they are masters of adversity. Despite the turmoil, they are fighting to keep their culture alive via food. They will let loose with sugar, caffeine, herbs and spices. A Syrian mother with barely a cent to rub together will miraculously produce six or seven dishes bursting with flavor. It consists of rolling vine leaves, frying huge batches of eggplant, finely chopping parsley. Away from the world economy, Syrians have always made their own yogurt, grown their own olives for oil and roses for rose water.

The food culture of Syria is vibrant. They don’t stint on flavor. When it is sweet, it is very sweet. When it is spicy, it is very spicy. They ladle the pomegranate and lemon molasses and they like their garlic raw.

They may all cook the same dish, but they all cook it in a different way, each with her own special ingredient or method. Each with her own special way of making a traditional dish.

Syrian food is glorious. It honors the brave women who fight back against the destruction of their homes with the only weapons they have: Pots and pans.

Dips and mezze dishes are the bedrock of Syrian food. No matter where you eat there, you cannot skip the mezze on your way to the main course. They’re not merely starters, but they’re just as much the focus as is what comes later. Cooking a single main course is pretty much unheard of. A proper meal consists of loads of dishes and you will always be armed with pieces of freshly baked bread.

Forget about what you think or feel when someone mentions Syria. Celebrate what this country does best. Cook and eat. The power of food connects Syrians to their past at a time where their culture is most at threat.

 

LEBANON IN MY KITCHEN

“At the souk, I met a woman named Mona al-Dorr selling her man’oushe, a puffed flatbread speckled with za’atar that she had made at home for years before finding an outlet at the souk. I saw Nada Saber, who was selling jars of hot pink pickled turnips, known as mouneh, or Lebanese preserves. There were Muslim women alongside Christian women, working together to highlight the culinary traditions of Lebanon.” -Bon Appetit Magazine, May 2019.

I love how food brings us together. It helps us set aside our differences and beliefs in order to just come together to eat, love and be tolerant. You can’t eat with someone and be angry at them at the same time.

A while back I watched a documentary on the foodie scene in Beirut. I couldn’t believe my eyes and was desperate to experience that scene. This of course, will not be possible, so when this month’s Bon Appetit magazine arrived on my doorstep with Lebanon’s food inside, I decided to bring Lebanon into my own USA kitchen. What a wonderful mix of ethnicity, simplicity, complexity and intense flavor. At first when I looked at the pictures and recipes, I thought it was going to be intricate, but it turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated. The prep time is lengthy and it took me about two days to prepare, marinade and execute. I share the recipes from Bon Appetit magazine with you below. The photos are my own.

Remember to join us at our dessert book launch on May 25th, 5-9pm at Lighthouse Coffee in Midlothian, TX. There is a Lebanese Orange Coconut Cake in the book made by Chef Craig, the dessert creator and photographer. Check us out on www.atasteofgorgeous.com

(The following recipes are courtesy of the May 2019 Bon Appetit Magazine.)

Crispy Pita with Chickpeas and Yogurt (Fattet Hummus)

4 SERVINGS. Typically eaten for breakfast this creamy, crunchy dish also pairs well with savory dishes come dinnertime.

2 garlic cloves, divided

15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed

Tbsp. plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

8″-diameter pitas, split in half, torn into 1″ pieces

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

½ cup chopped cashews

Sumac (for serving; optional)

INGREDIENT INFO: Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice generally sold in ground form, can befound at MiddleEastern markets, specialty food stores, and online.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Smash 1 garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and combine in medium saucepan with chickpeas and 2 Tbsp. oil. Pour in cold water to cover chickpeas. Season with salt and bring just barely to a simmer. As soon as you see bubbles, remove pan from heat and set aside. Spread out pitas on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil and toss to coat; seasonwith salt. Bake, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and· crisp, 8- 10 minutes. Remove pita chips from oven and set aside. Finely grate remaining garlic into a small bowl. Add yogurt and lemon juice and mix w ell to combine; season with salt. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add cashews and cook, stirring, until nuts and butter are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Divide pita chips among bowls and scoop some lemon yogurt over. Drain chickpeas and divide evenly among bowls, then spoon over some of the toasted cashews and brown butter. Sprinkle with sumac just before serving if desired.

Muhammara

4 SERVINGS

1 cup walnuts (I couldn’t find walnuts, so used pistachios. Turned out delish)

3 large red bell peppers

½ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. Red chili flakes

1 Tbsp. tahini

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. paprika

2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

INGREDIENT INFO: Pomegranate molasses, a thick pomegranate syrup, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets, and online.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and fragrant, 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Pick out a few walnuts for serving and coarsely chop; set aside. Meanwhile, place a rack in upper third of oven and heat broiler. Broil bell peppers on a rimmed baking sheet, turning occasionally, until skins are charred and flesh is softened, 12- 15 minutes. (Alternatively, you can char over a gas burner on medium­ high, turning occasionally with tongs, 12- 15 minutes.) Transfer bell peppers to a medium bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap so that they steam, 10 minutes (this extends the cooking and makes it easier to remove the skins). Remove skins from bellpeppers. Remove and discard ribs and seeds. Pulse bell peppers, breadcrumbs, oil, chili flakes, tahini, lemon juice,paprika, remaining walnuts, and 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses in a food processor until mostly smooth; season muhammara with salt. Transfer muhammara to a small bowl; drizzle with more pomegranate molasses and top with reserved chopped walnuts.

Smoky Eggplant Dip (Eggplant Moutabal)

4 SERVINGS. If you don’t have a grill or a gas stovetop, you can broil the eggplants in the oven, turning occasionally, until charred and tender. They might not end up assmoky, but the final dip will still taste great.

2 medium globe eggplants (about 1¾ lb.total)

1/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin oliveoil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

Pomegranate seeds and black sesame seeds (for serving)

Remove grate and prepare a charcoal grill for medium heat (coals should be covered with ash and glowing red with no black remaining). Place eggplants directly on coals and cook, turning occasionally, until skins are completely charred and flesh collapses,15-20 minutes. (Alternatively, you can char over a gas burner on medium-high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, 12- 15 minutes.) Transfer to a colander set over a medium bowl. Let cool 15 minutes. Remove skins from eggplants (it’s okay if some bits of charred skin don’t come off). Transfer flesh to a sieve set over a bowl and let drain 10 minutes. Transfer eggplant flesh to a food processor; add tahini, lemon juice, and 3 Tbsp. oil and process until creamy; season dip with salt. Transfer dip to a bowl and top with pomegranate seeds and black sesame seeds; drizzle with more oil. Dip can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Cabbage Tabbouleh

4 SERVINGS.

¼ cup bulgur (not quick-cooking)

¼ medium head of green cabbage, cored, very thinly sliced (about cups)

½ medium white onion, very thinly sliced

2 cups very finely chopped parsley

1 cup mint leaves, torn

1 tsp ground allspice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

Fresh green chilis (Optional)

Place bulgur in a small bowl; pour in boiling water to cover by 2”. Let soak until tender, about 50 minutes; drain. Toss cabbage, onion, parsley, mint, allspice and half of the bulgur in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice oer tabbouleh and season with salt; toss again to combine. Transfer tabbouleh to a platter and sprinkle with remaining bulgur. Serve with chilis alongside if desired. They’re meant to add some heat in between bites of the cooling tabbouleh.

Tomato Salad with Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Molasses

2 SERVINGS

1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 lb. small tomatoes

1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 cup basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

INGREDIENT INFO: Pomegranate molasses, a thick pomegranate syrup, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets and online.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine raisins and vinegar in a large bowl; let sit until raisins soften, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile toast pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through until golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Let cool. Add pine nuts, tomatoes, red onion and oil to bowl with raisins; season with salt and gently toss to combine. Add basil and toss some more. Transfer salad to a platter and drizzle pomegranate molasses over. 

Grilled Chicken Skewers with Toum (Shish Taouk)

2 SERVINGS. Toum, an intense garlic sauce usually paired with shawarma, is used as both marinade and condiment in this chicken dish.

TOUM

6 garlic cloves

2 large egg whites

2 Tbs p. fresh lemon juice 1 ½ cups vegetable oil

Kosher salt

Pulse garlic, egg whites, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. With motor running, very gradually stream in half of the oil (this will help the emulsion staytogether). Scrape down sides of processor and continue to process, gradually adding remaining oil, until mixture thickens and becomes light and airy (it should cling to a spoon). Season withsalt. Toum can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

CHICKEN AND ASSEMBLY

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 Tbsp. ground coriander

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for grill

1 ¼ lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Kosher salt

pitas, warmed

Mix lemon juice, tomato paste, coriander , ¼ cup toum, and 3 Tbsp oil in a large bowl to combine. Transfer marinade to

a large resealable plastic bag. Save remaining toum for serving.

Working one at a time, slice chicken thighs in half lengthwise and season generously with salt. Add to bag with marinade, seal bag and massage marinade into chicken. Chill at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours. Let chicken sit at room temperature one hour before grilling. Prepare a grill for medium heat; oil grate. Thread chicken onto skewers. Grill, turning occasionally, until browned and beginning to char in spots, about 10-12 minutes. Serve chicken with toum.

Seven-Spice Grilled Lamb Chops with Parsley Salad

4 SERVINGS

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. paprika

½ tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

12 untrimmed lamb rib chops (about 3 lb.), potteddry

Kosher salt

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped parsley

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. sumac

INGREDIENT INFO: Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice generally sold in ground form, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, specialty food stores, and online.

Mix yogurt, black pepper, coriander, cumin, paprika,cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Season both sides of lamb chops generously with salt and add to bowl with marinade. Turn lamb in marinade to coat; cover and chill at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours. Let lamb sit at room temperature 1 hour before grilling. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Grill lamb to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Let rest 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, toss onion, parsley, lemon juice, and sumac with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Serve lamb chops with parsley salad on top.

Enjoy the delicious food of Lebanon in your kitchen this evening.

¡TE QUIERO MEXICO!

CANCUN, Mexico. Day five. My birthday. “Eight dead bodies were found decapitated and dismembered.”

I look around, perplexed. Everything is peaceful. People around us are happy and relaxed. Everyone is smiling. No dead bodies. No guns. No drugs. The media has pulled things out of proportion. Most of all, I’m in a state of bliss because I’m less than arm distance away from a gentle giant. A plankton eating whale shark. I’m swimming my butt off on snorkel, taking photographs. The experience nearly blows my mind and I walk on Cloud 9 all day.

We woke up at sparrow’s fart to catch a bus to the marina where we checked in and boarded a speed boat with a small private group of amazing people. The ride takes just over an hour when our guide yells that they’ve spotted what seems to be about thirty whale sharks. Within minutes we’re in the ocean next to them having a borderline spiritual experience. It is a hard swim to keep up and after three jumps overboard to swim with them we are all breathless with excitement and exhaustion. Giant manta rays arrive as well, but time has sped by and we move to chill in the crystal-clear waters of Playa Norte on tropical Isla Mujeres.

Here our guides cut up fresh fish and make grouper ceviche right there on the boat. The fish is so fresh that I can’t resist eating raw fish all day and that evening I dine on tuna and white fish carpaccio while watching crocodiles in the lagoon as the sun sets on an incredible day.

We were in Cancun for seven days and made the most of it by touring a distillery with tequila flights that made me sleep the whole following day. We spent a day sailing to Isla Mujeres while drinking Mexican champagne (Sol beer), we read on the beach, swam in the ocean with good friends and ate incredible food in incredible locations. We used mind-boggling cheap public transportation everywhere and I danced barefoot in the sand to a Mariachi band that played just for me at El Fish Fritanga. We loved this restaurant so much that we went back four times.

Things in Cancun are reasonably cheap and extremely clean, with the cleanest public rest rooms in the world. This was a surprise for me, as well as a very big deal. The people are amazing, friendly and polite and I felt safe at all times. Even more so than in my home town.

We fell in love with Cancun, so in love that we booked a week on Isla Mujeres for our twentieth wedding anniversary in December. Cancun, you stole my traveler’s heart. I cannot wait to come back.

Follow me on Instagram at johannaharlencooks for some Mexican food photos and for our book’s Instagram photo gallery follow us at tasteofgorgeous1

For additional photos of beautiful Cancun, follow the link below and don’t forget to check out our gorgeous dessert book at www.atasteofgorgeous.com

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Ode to a Caribbean Chef

GREEN BAY, Cancun. There is something about chefs that lights me up. They feed people with love and passion and their souls go into the food art that they create. They have a certain depth and seriousness about them, yet at the same time they know how to have fun. I like this balance and Chef Azael Flores is no exception. Their open-air tiki restaurant on the water at the Green Bay marina was undergoing renovations and construction and he was not in an ideal cooking environment as the kitchen is still under construction. This did not deter him. He remained upbeat and happy and this is where his depth and seriousness over his food came through. All he had to work with was skeleton equipment, a bar counter, a tiny counter top deep fryer and a half of an oil drum with a wood fire roaring inside. He dressed the fresh Caribbean fish beautifully and wrapped it up with tender loving care before it went onto the fire. His sous chef helped with a little Mexican traditional food including a fiery red-hot salsa with fresh tortillas thrown onto the side of the grill. It was rustic traditional cooking at its finest and as we were getting ready to leave, Chef Azael said: “Don’t go yet. I have something for you to taste.”

He had grated a pure white root vegetable with great fervor and added spice and an obscene amount of freshly chopped garlic to it. Then he deep fried it in fresh oil right in front of us on the bar counter and c’est voila! Taro fritters. These tasty morsels were our departure gift. A departure we made very reluctantly.

Señorita Erika, the manager, kept the cold beers coming fast all evening and before we knew it, we had drunk way more beer than planned. It was time to go as the next day we had to fly back to reality. That evening was the third time we strolled over here for drinks. Erika had told us before not to leave until we saw the sunset. This time we stayed long enough, and it was breath-taking. (Sunset photos will follow in an upcoming blog post)

Chef Azael told us he hopes that we will return so we can have the full experience of his kitchen and the beautiful new restaurant. I fervently share that hope and cannot wait to see this amazing place once it has been completely renovated.

Make sure to go to Green Bay Marina for wonderful sunsets, amazing service, friendly staff, cold beers, a generous portion of Mexican food and a scary amount of tequila.     For more photos, follow the Facebook link below this paragraph and don’t forget to check out our gorgeous dessert cookbook at www.atasteofgorgeous.com

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Key Lime Pie Deconstructed

Key Lime Deconstructed-2

Below follows a little teaser for you from our cookbook that has 50 delectable and easy to make desserts. We hope that this will entice you to make all the recipes from the book and that you will be excited to add it to your cookbook collection. Check back regularly for the grand opening of the bookstore on our new website http://www.atasteofgorgeous.com

This recipe was born because Craig’s dad – my husband – challenged him to take my favorite dessert, run with it and deconstruct it like he did with the traditional s’mores and traditional lemon meringue pie desserts. Craig used the recipe on page 15 to create this, and when I saw what he made with this, it inspired me to design a recipe to go with the gorgeous image. The recipe is extremely easy to execute, no baking necessary and fresh with the flavors of summer. This is made for you to have fun with. Design your own plate and wow your friends.

The Recipe

  • Whisk together 1 tin of condensed milk and half a cup of freshly squeezed key lime juice in a large mixing bowl until well blended.
  • Place mixture into 4 individual ramekins.
  • Place ramekins in the fridge for at least eight hours or overnight.
  • While the key lime mixture is setting, crush up 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix in 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar and 1/3 cup melted butter.
  • Place in the fridge until the key lime mixture is ready to use.
  • Once the mixture is ready to use, set out 4 individual plates.

To Design Your Plate

  • Use a tablespoon to swoop a few lines of pre-made berry puree across the plate. Crumble the graham cracker mixture across each plate in small heaps.
  • Place a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream on each plate. I love using coconut cream to give it a true tropical summary feel.
  • Spoon the key lime mixture out of each ramekin on top of some of the graham cracker mixture and shape to your liking with a tablespoon.
  • Decorate the plate with fresh berries, edible flowers, candied limes (recipe follows below) and white chocolate swirls. You may also use the white chocolate leaves recipe from the white chocolate cake on page 75 instead of the white chocolate swirls.

To Make Candied Limes

Slice limes into thin rounds, blanch in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes and drain. In the same pot, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar has melted. Add lime slices. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until white pith looks translucent. Cool in the fridge until ready to use. Cut rounds in half and place on plates.

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Searching For Food Nirvana

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain. “Oysters and champagne is all you need. The rest is just BS.”

I think we may have found food nirvana. The night before we ate in a quaint hotel restaurant after a long plane ride from the USA and Israel, followed by a long car ride from Madrid. The jet lag weighed heavy, but we only have a few days and have to make the most of it. It is worth it. The following day we start eating at 1pm. There are pinxthos everywhere and we are spoiled for choice. It was wise to start early. We hop from bar to bar to grab a taste here and there and soon we have standing room only. We indulge in acorn fed Iberian ham, sea urchin, calamari, squid and octopus, to name but a few. The smell of seafood wafts from every corner and we feel the need to find the place where the aroma is coming from so we can indulge in the fruits of the ocean. Soon we find our first oysters. They’re enormous and they simply cannot go without a little Moet et Chandon. “Just a small bottle” soon becomes three small bottles and before you know it, we have a heavily oaked, full bodied red to wash down the lobster and langoustine we chose fresh from the tank. The morsels arrive with large wedges of lemon and I look for the various sauces that normally accompany them. None. It’s not necessary. The shellfish is cooked to perfection and sweet and juicy. A squeeze of lemon is all that’s needed.

“Oysters and champagne is all you need. The rest is just BS.” At Bare Bare restaurant, our server Xabi makes sure our evening is one of the most memorable nights of my life and when it comes time to leave, we do so reluctantly. The sun has set. We’ve been eating all afternoon. It’s time for dessert and we walk into a small chocolaterie where we sample creamy assorted hand made chocolates. Nobody’s in the mood to end the day. Cocktail hour has arrived. Thankfully we find somewhere to sit and the tasting begins. The mixologist is an expert and the various cocktails arrive fast and furious, each shared by the three of us. It has become a production line of tasting and soon the evening blurs into a sea of herbaceous cocktails. I have no idea when cocktail hour ended, but I do know that it was the appropriate end to a glorious day in San Sebastian’s Food Nirvana.