Hye Thyme Cafe: May 2011

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Amaretto Blondies with Pistachios, Cherries, and Chips

I either need to use less alcohol [Stop laughing - that is a possibility!] or use a bigger pan next time. Although my tester came out clean when poked into several spots, this obviously could have used a few more minutes. That did not, however, detract from the deliciousness! I have a "thing" about baking bars in glass for some reason. Maybe I just think they'll be too anemic looking if they're more spread out in a sheet tray. You would think after facing this problem with a number of different recipes I would have at least started removing some of the batter to a ramekin or something and baking it separately as a "sample."

I just felt like trying something different and have had Amaretto on the brain lately. I was in a Big Lots the other day and picked up some snacks - including a bag of dried cherries and a bag of pistachios, so I decided to put them to work with the Amaretto. It's super easy to make (assuming you use the right size pan), and you don't even need a mixer or a bowl. Just start in a big pot and keep adding to it.

10 T butter  (1 stick + 2T)
2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar
3 T Amaretto
3 eggs
2 2/3 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 c chopped pistachios
1 c chopped dried cherries
1/2 c white chocolate chips
1/2 c milk chocolate chips

Melt the butter, then remove from heat, stir in brown sugar and let cool to room temp. This will give the sugar a chance to dissolve somewhat and let the butter cool so it won't cook your eggs when you add them.   

This would be a good time to chop your pistachios and cherries and to grease or spray your baking pan. A 9x12 would be good. I think we have just about every size and shape of glassware imaginable except 9x12! Hmmmm, my birthday is in July ...

Wait at least 5", then touch the bottom of the pan. If it is cool to the touch, go ahead and stir in your eggs until well blended, then the Amaretto.

Rather than measuring my dry ingredients into a separate bowl, I mix in one cup of the flour until it's well blended, then dump in the rest of the flour, add the remaining dry ingredients on top and just sort of whisk them together before stirring into the batter below. You want to save on doing extra dishes but don't want to end up with all of your baking powder and salt in one spot!

Once the dry ingredients have been incorporated, go ahead and stir in your other goodies.

Pour into your prepared pan and bake at 350 for 25-30" until golden. By the way, this smells awesome!!

See how wet it still is?!? That makes me mad. Maybe I need to switch from using toothpicks to spaghetti? I use spaghetti for tube pans, etc. where the toothpicks are too short to reach the center, but I wonder if the pasta would actually be better at detecting the moisture...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thai Chicken Salad

Thai Chicken Salad : Hye Thyme Cafe

This is my translation of a number of copy-cat versions of one of my favorite restaurant salads. Did you follow that OK? The restaurant is Houston's, and the salad is their Grilled Chicken Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette. Sadly, they're not big on sharing their recipes, or I'd be making their Spinach and Artichoke Dip by the bathtub-ful!!  

Aside from the dip and salad, I also loved their Tortilla Soup, their Cous Cous, and their Cheeseburgers with Shoestring Fries. They changed the soup at some point. I could never get an answer out of the staff, and I couldn't put my finger on it, but whatever it was ruined it for me. They used to be jam-packed on Tuesdays and Thursday because of that soup. They alternate days, so on certain days they would serve their chili, on others the Tortilla, etc. It's one of the few places where I really love the burgers, but they are ginormous!! If you want the dip too (with a huge bowl of their awesome thin/crispy tortilla chips, salsa, and sour cream), plan to split and order of both with someone, or you'll end up with lots of leftovers. Another disappointment was when they started making their own fries. I don't know where they were getting them before that, but they were perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

Houston's is one of the handful of things I really miss from New Orleans. I was very pleasantly surprised when we got back to the City after Hurricane Katrina to find them open. There were probably only two or three places functioning in the area at that point, and it turned out we picked the perfect day because that was their first day too. They didn't disappoint! Unfortunately, when I was in Boston visiting a few years ago, I had a chance to go to the one at Faneuil Hall, but there was no comparison. The food was the same, but the attitude/ambiance was a whole other story! They apparently wanted to give that one a more upscale feel, but I think it lost its charm in the process.

I won't bother posting amounts, since it will obviously vary with how many people you're feeding. The dressing and sauce are plenty for a good sized volume of "stuff." 

Chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces
Romaine lettuce, torn
Mesclun mix, at least 1/3 the amount of romaine used
A big handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Carrots, cut into matchsticks
Scallions, sliced
Red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, sliced
Peapods or Sugar Snaps, cut on the bias

1/3 c lime juice
1 T honey mustard
4-5 T honey
4 T canola oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t black pepper
1/2 t sea salt

3 T creamy peanut butter
3 T soy sauce
3 T hot water
2 t sesame oil
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1 t New Mexico dried diced chiles

Chopped peanuts
Fried corn tortilla strips (might find them at grocery store already made)
Cajun or other spicy seasoning blend if making your own tortilla chips
Oil for frying (I used canola)

  1. Toss together your chicken and veggies in a big bowl.
  2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour enough over the salad to lightly coat, tossing gently to combine.
  3. Whisk together your peanut sauce, chop your peanuts, and set both aside.
  4. If you are making your own tortilla strips, just slice a stack of corn tortillas into thin strips and fry until golden. When you remove them from the pot, transfer them to a brown paper bag or paper-towel lined plate to drain and sprinkle with a spicy seasoning blend. If the spice blend doesn't have any salt in it, you might want to hit them with a little salt too.
  5. Pile some of the dressed salad in each bowl/plate, then drizzle with a little peanut sauce, sprinkle with peanuts, and top with a pile of tortilla strips in the middle ... then dig in and enjoy!!  

Thai Chicken Salad : Hye Thyme Cafe

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Limoncello Brown Sugar Panna Cotta

Limoncello Brown Sugar Panna Cotta : Hye Thyme Cafe

I had never actually tasted Limoncello on its own until yesterday. I think the only time I've had it at all was stealing a bite of someone's dessert at The Cheesecake Factory. One of the attorneys I used to work for had given me his family's recipe, so I was stockpiling lemon peels for a while to try it, but the recipe called for Everclear, and you apparently can't buy that where I live. I know other people make it with rum or vodka. I just haven't gotten around to trying it yet.

I was out running errands with my sister last week, and she wanted to pop in the liquor store for something. I knew there was something I wanted to pick up as well, but couldn't for the life of me remember what (still haven't)! I wandered aimlessly, hoping something would spark a memory, but nope. I did, however, spot a bottle of Limoncello and decided it was high time I tried it. WOW, this stuff is good!

I had been wanting to try Panna Cotta for a while now. Hmmm, now that I'm thinking about it, that's another thing I've only ever had by stealing a bite of someone else's dessert. I don't usually order dessert, but after a nephew's graduation dinner a few years ago, there was so much "Mmmmmm" ing going on at the table, I broke down and took a taste. I decided to pair the two things and try a Limconello Panna Cotta. It's certainly warm enough here this week to warrant a cool, after-dinner treat.

My problem was that we had somehow managed to use ALL of the white sugar in the house, and I didn't feel like going out yesterday, so I decided to use brown sugar. I had no idea if that would work, or if the molasses would mess with the texture, but I decided to forge ahead without looking into the matter. Turned out great! And yes, if you search "panna cotta" with "brown sugar," plenty of recipes will turn up. Apparently I had no cause for concern.

1 packet unflavored gelatin
3 T cold water
2 c heavy cream
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c Limoncello
1/2 t vanilla 
PAM cooking spray

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and set aside to absorb.

Over medium heat, being sure to stir or whisk frequently to prevent sticking or scorching, cook the cream and brown sugar until it starts to thicken and just begins go bubble.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla and Limoncello, then the gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved.

If you plan to eat your Panna Cotta straight out of glasses or bowls, there is no need for cooking spray. If you want to invert it, you should spray the inside of your container(s). I chose to use small stainless prep bowls. They each hold 3/4 c, and this recipe produced five servings. Chill until set.

Just use your imagination when it comes to serving. Whether you decide to invert them or not, you can top them with (or use them to top) a sauce, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate...the possibilities are endless. 

Because lemon and raspberry go so well together, I decided to melt a little seedless raspberry jam and stir in a splash of Limoncello, setting them in a pool of that mixture. I had some chile threads in the spice drawer I hadn't tried yet, so that's what looks like saffron on the top, and just for the heck of it, I grated a little lime zest over the whole thing. I was very pleased with the result.  :)

Limoncello Brown Sugar Panna Cotta : Hye Thyme Cafe

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lahmejune (Armenian Pizza - Quick Version)

Lahmejune : Hye Thyme Cafe

As I mentioned in my Meatball Poppers post the other day, since we ended up having Spaghetti and Meatballs the night I picked up the ground beef for the poppers and used those meatballs rather than making the minis I had intended, we used the ground beef to make Lahmejune the next day instead. Some of you may be familiar with it as Lahmacun or Pide. This is most typically referred to as Armenian Meat Pizza. Whatever you want to call IT, just be sure to call ME when there is any around cuz I can't get enough! Unfortunately, my favorite Lahmejune is found at Massis Bakery and Specialty Store in Watertown, Massachusetts - just outside of Boston. I grew up in MA, so that was very convenient. Now that I live in NY, not so much. :(

You know it's good when you consider the childhood trauma I endured over it. Sniffle, sniffle, sob ... when other kids were trading Bologna sandwiches for their friend's PB&J, I was getting weird looks. LOL. Either that, or someone would dare to take a taste, which would spark someone else to jump in and I'd eventually end up with nothing. I even had teachers eating my lunch back in elementary school. What would Jamie Oliver have to say about that? ;)

I made it from scratch once or twice a million years ago with my Mom, but by the time you get through with everything, knowing that we could so easily get it from Massis back then, it hardly seemed worth the effort. Thanks to George Duran's common sense, we now have a "cheat" version using flour tortillas for the crust. I'm surprised that never occurred to me. For that matter, I'm surprised I never tried it with store-bought pizza dough. Then again, maybe it did occur to me at some point, but I assumed it wouldn't be close enough to the real deal. It was my sister who actually pushed to try this version.

You don't even need a bowl. Just a food processor, a spoon and some elbow room.

INGREDIENTS : (Slightly modified from GD's version.)
2 cloves garlic
1 med onion, roughly chopped
1 sm green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 lb ground lamb (or beef - pictured with beef)
6 oz tomato paste
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 c parsley
1 t cumin
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t allspice
1 t paprika
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
flour tortillas (makes about a dozen)

Pulse the garlic, onion, and bell pepper in the food processor to chop. If they give off a lot of liquid, go ahead and either pour some off, or blot it with a paper towel to soak some up. You don't want the mixture to end up so wet that it steams. Add everything but the tortillas to the bowl and process to a paste-like consistency.

Put a big spoonful in the center of a tortilla and use the back of a spoon to sort of press and spread it toward the edges. It should be just a thin layer, and you want to make sure you get pretty close to the edge because it will shrink up some as it cooks.

Lahmejune : Hye Thyme CafeLahmejune : Hye Thyme Cafe

Bake at 400 for 8-12" until the topping is cooked and the edges are golden. You want to be careful in placing them in your oven so they don't fall between the racks. If you have a cooling rack that fits in your oven, you might want to bake them on that since the rows are closer together (a little insurance against spills). I like mine any way I can get them - soft, crisp, hot, cold, you name it! If you like your pizza extra crispy around the edges, go ahead and pop the broiler on for a few seconds at the end.
 People eat these all kinds of ways. Sometimes I'll top them with thin slices of tomato, or add the tomato and melt cheese over the top. My sister loves them with String Cheese and Mint. Other people cover them with fresh herbs and roll them into a tube.

I just looked up and noticed the Dunkin Donuts cup in that last picture. I swear this site is NOT sponsored by Dunkin Donuts! LOL. I joke about being a Dunkin Junkie, but judging by the number of pictures I have cropped these cups out of, maybe I really am?? Heck, I even got hit by a car walking to my office a few years back and managed to hang onto my coffee!

Once we established that this recipe successfully served to curb our Lahmejune craving between trips to Boston, I started thinking about other "easy" applications. I decided to try an appetizer version replacing the tortillas with layers of biscuit dough. Yup, I resorted to a tube. Peel the biscuits apart into the thinnest layers you can and top with the meat mixture. You need to go all the way out to the edges if you use the biscuit dough because, not only does the meat mixture shrink some as it cooks, but the biscuit dough rises and expands. The first few I baked off looked like bullseyes! If you plan to try this version, be sure to bake them off just before serving. The biscuit dough is best fresh out of the oven. If it sits too long, it loses its light crispy texture.

Lahmejune : Hye Thyme Cafe

Lahmejune : Hye Thyme Cafe

Pictured here with a mint leaf and crumbled feta. You might want to try a cherry tomato half and string cheese, or some diced orange and yellow bell pepper ...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cookbook Review - On a Stick by Matt Armendariz

Have paper and pen handy, because within 30 seconds of opening this book, you'll be forming grocery and guest lists in your mind for the party these recipes cry out for!

I was not familiar with Matt's work until just recently, when I was given an opportunity to review Susan Russo's (FoodBlogga) latest offering, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. It was Matt who beautifully photographed those dishes, which were styled by Adam Pearson. In addition to being a food photographer, Matt teaches workshops on food photography and speaks at conferences on food styling and photography. He has also been blogging since 2005. You can find more of Matt's recipes and check out his photography and travel adventures at his blog, Matt Bites. With the help of Quirk Books, Matt and Adam teamed up again to give us On a Stick .......{80 Party-Perfect Recipes by Matt Armendariz}.......  

Being half Armenian, I've been skewering lamb for Shish Kebab since I was a kid, but that's about as far as it goes. Matt makes use of natural "sticks" such as sugarcane and rosemary spears, in addition to the universally recognizable kebab skewers and cocktail picks, to present both sweet and savory highbrow bites to fair-fare. He provides something for every palate.  Hmmm, I wonder if he and Adam were able to play on any of the rides at the state fair after indulging in all the inspiration those vendors provided??

Our family started a new tradition a few years back. Whoever is available on New Year's Eve gets together for a Fondue Night. We'll set up pots of melted cheeses, chocolates, etc. with platters of veggies, meats, breads, and fruits for dunking. I'm thinking we'll need to expand that to Stuff on Sticks Night. As a matter of fact, I was so drawn to some of the cocktail picks and other skewers that I think I need to start a new collection! When you get your copy of the book, check out the dual-action kebab skewers on p. 22 and tell me what you think. Those are my favorite; then the ones on pp. 106,  65, 66 ...  Heck, Matt even used a penny candy stick for a dipping stick to give us Chocolate-Tipped Peppermint Sticks! Although the idea of a deep-fried candy bar on a stick has me curious enough to try one some day, I think the candy-coated candy might be too much for me personally. Aside from that, I'm game to try all the other recipes Matt offers.

The book opens with a discussion on Sticks & Skewers, giving advice on the different types and which work best for different foods. We next turn to Dips & Sauces; no recipes yet, but an explanation and photograph of each, so your gears are already turning, mulling over what you might like to use them on before even seeing any of the recipes. As a matter of fact, I don't like cabbage, but he has a Sauerkraut Relish that is so pretty even I'm thinking of trying it!

The first half of the book focuses on savory dishes. One that I'm definitely planning to try (soon if an occasion arises) is his Fried Pickles with Ranch Dressing. Having lived in New Orleans for 13 years, I certainly ate my fair share of fried pickles, but they were always chips. I love the idea of the chip paired with a gherkin and a cocktail onion.

Fried Pickles
with Ranch Dressing

8 wooden cocktail picks
1 qt vegetable oil
23 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp dill, minced
112 cups seasoned bread crumbs
8 gherkins
8 cocktail onions
8 pickle chips
Salt and pepper
1 cup store-bought ranch dressing

If you’ve never tried fried pickles, you’re in for a treat. A staple of state fairs countrywide, these crunchy nuggets might seem like an oddity—until you take that first bite. The heat tempers the pickles’ vinegary-ness, resulting in a mellow, almost zucchini-like taste. I’ve kicked it up a notch by pairing sweet gherkins with cocktail onions and pickle chips. This trio of fried snacks skewered on a stick makes for a beautiful presentation. Serves 4

1. Preheat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

2. Mix flour and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and dill. Place bread crumbs in a
second shallow dish.

3. Thread 1 gherkin, 1 cocktail onion, and 1 pickle chip on each cocktail pick. Once oil reaches 350ÅãF, toss skewers in flour
mixture, shaking off excess; dip in egg and then dredge in bread crumbs until fully coated.

4. Drop skewers gently into oil and fry 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with
ranch dressing.

I think he also just made our Japanese Night a lot easier! A few times a year, we'll all get together for a Japanese dinner, making Miso Soup, Salad with the traditional (in Japanese restaurants in the US anyhow) Orange/Ginger Dressing, White Rice, Sushi, Sukiyaki, Tempura, and plenty of Sake and Plum Wine (no, we don't make the booze ourselves). It never occurred to me to skewer a variety of veggies together and tempura them as a unit.  Thanks Matt!!

Another of my favorites in this section is the idea of Spaghetti and Meatballs on a stick! Since seeing this, I have felt a strong compulsion to make them, although I'm thinking about wrapping the pasta around the meatballs like those rubber band balls you see on people's desks, and skewering them with a skinny breadstick, served alongside a nice herb butter for dipping the rest of the breadstick.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

8 pop sticks
Homemade Meatballs
12 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp minced yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 egg white
2 tbsp seasoned bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups plus 3 tbsp vegetable oil,
12 lb cooked spaghetti
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

I know what you’re thinking: Spaghetti and meatballs on a stick? What was wrong with them on a plate? Well, you can relax. This recipe takes everyone’s favorite, pops it on a stick, fries it, and increases the fun factor by about a million. Seriously. Serves 4

1. Line a baking sheet and a shallow baking dish with parchment paper.

2. Make the meatballs: Place all meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. Shape into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.

3. Warm 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and cook, turning to brown all sides, until just cooked through. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. Gently toss meatballs, spaghetti, marinara sauce, and Parmesan in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Place mixture in the prepared baking dish, cover, and refrigerate at least 12 hours or up to overnight.

5. Preheat the remaining 5 cups of oil to 350ÅãF.  Cut chilled pasta mixture into 8 equal squares.  Remove squares from baking dish and insert a pop stick into each. Carefully place spaghetti sticks in pot, one at a time, and fry about 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.

How fun is that? From shrimp to corndogs, salad to mac n' cheese, Matt covers the gamut in the savory arena before moving on to even more fun in the sweet section.

Here we see everyone's childhood favorites, from Candy Apples to Caramel Popcorn Balls (no more sticky fingers). Then there are the not-so-orderinary Fudge Puppies (waffle sticks dipped in chocolate and toppings), Sweet Tofu Dango (tofu dumplings with Sesame Sugar and Sweet Soy Sauce). See, I wasn't kidding when I said there was something for every palate.

Matt even managed to slip in a few cocktails, offering up Margarita Jell-O Shots and frozen Red and White Sangria Pops!

This cookbook gets a big F from me ... for FUN of course! Got kids? Bring out the blunt spears and set them to work. Come on people, we've got Cake Pops to poke, Shortcakes to skewer and Ice Cream Sandwiches to impale ... get out there and Stick It!

On a Stick .......{80 Party-Perfect Recipes by Matt Armendariz}.......  
ISBN: 9781594744891
Book Dimensions: 10 x 7
Page Count: 176
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Book Price: $16.95
Available at:

NOTE:  A review copy of the cookbook was provided to me by Quirk Books.  The photographs and recipes were re-printed with their permission.

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