Hye Thyme Cafe: October 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! :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad

Curried Chicken Salad : Hye Thyme Cafe
Have you ever eaten something at a restaurant that you wanted to make at home, but there was a particular component you didn't know if you would get "right," so you kept putting it off? For me, it was this salad. I know, it seems silly that I have procrastinated making this for at least two years. When I was living in New Orleans (Metairie really, just outside of New Orleans), there was a coffee shop (Cafe Rani) where I would get this salad and the occasional pound of coffee. I loved pretty much everything I ever had there, but once I tried this salad, I was hooked! The only thing I didn't like is that they weren't big on sharing! I couldn't get them to tell me about the dressing they made for this salad, and when they switched from buying their coffees to roasting their own, they wouldn't tell me where they had been getting the Kahlua Kiss blend that I loved so much (especially with a shot of DiSaronno!).

I have been back to visit, but I left the area in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, so I'm not sure exactly when I last had this salad. I just couldn't hold out until my next visit. I finally had to break down and try it myself. What made me keep putting it off was the curry. I have eaten a number of curried dishes and enjoyed them all, but the first time I walked into an Indian restaurant and saw a display table out front with some 40 different curry blends, it blew my mind! When I see a recipe that calls for curry, that's all I can think of. With so many different blends, how do you know which you want to get the right result? It's like recipes that call for wine. It drives me crazy when it just says white or red. Not all wines taste the same, so could you be more specific for me?!? The response is always the same ... buy a wine you would want to drink. Thanks, but that still doesn't help me since I'm looking for a specific flavor! Some wines are dry, some are sweet or fruity, where others are more floral or earthy.

When it comes to curries, there are sweet curries, hot curries, and everything in between. The one I used, S&B Oriental Curry Powder, was hot, but not blow-the-top-of-your-head-off-hot like some. I was torn not only about the curry itself, but what kind of dressing it should be. I remember it as somewhat thick, with a color and texture that made me think it might have had some sort of jam in it, maybe apricot. We all really liked the one I made, so I'm not worried about theirs anymore!  ;)

The ingredients listed below served 3 of us - LARGE dinner salads.

2 heads romaine, torn
baby mixed salad greens (about the same amount as the romaine)
1 c shredded carrots (or matchstick cut) 
1 c shredded purple cabbage
3/4 c walnuts, rough chopped
2 c red seedless grapes (I prefer Dole when I can find them)
1/2 c raisins
1 lg crisp/sweet apple, diced with skins on (I used my fave - Macoun)
sliced cooked chicken
1/4 c sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

1/2 c plain yogurt
1 T S&B Oriental Curry Powder
1 t white balsamic vinegar
3 T milk
2 T sugar 

I knew that I didn't want honey in the dressing, but if I had any Agave Nectar left, I would have used that rather than sugar. You definitely need some sort of sweetener to balance out the heat from the curry.

Toss together all of the fruits/veggies/nuts, cutting the apples last so they don't have a chance to discolor. Plate up a serving, top with sliced chicken, then dressing, then finish off with a sprinkle of coconut .

Aside from the sugar maybe, this if a very healthy dinner with a great variety of nutrients, colors, and textures. I'm glad I finally broke down and took a stab at using the curry! We'll be eating this for dinner on a regular basis now.  :)

Curried Chicken Salad : Hye Thyme Cafe

Curried Chicken Salad : Hye Thyme Cafe


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds : Hye Thyme Cafe

This was actually supposed to be a post about Pumpkin Shepherd's Pie. I have had pumpkin on the brain lately, but I've never used fresh, just canned. I decided it was time I try working with a fresh pumpkin, but not having a good feel for it yet, I wanted to try a savory dish rather than a pastry or other dessert. I guess because of the texture of canned pumpkin, I always assumed that fresh pumpkin would cook sort of like a Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato. That's what gave me the idea to replace the Mashed Potatoes in a Shepherd's Pie with mashed Pumpkin. I was completely surprised to cut into it and see that it much more closely resembled Spaghetti Squash.

In any event, I cut the stem off a small pumpkin, scooped out as much of the seeds as I could reach, then roasted the pumpkin, whole, at 375 for about 40" until fork tender. After letting it sit for a few minutes, I was able to very easily peel away the skin. I cut the flesh into chunks, added a bit off butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon (not enough to make it taste like dessert - just to enhance the pumpkin's natural flavor) and mashed it. I spread it over the top of my Shepherd's Pie filling, sprinkled paprika over the top and popped it into the oven for about a half hour at 350 until it started to lightly brown and bubble around the edges.

I ended up being totally ambivalent about the dish. That's why I'm not posting the recipe. It looked good to me, and it smelled great, but the flavor just wasn't there. Even with onion, garlic, carrots, oregano, worcestershire, tomato paste, etc. It was ehhh. I just wanted to post this in case it gives you and idea of how you might like to play around with it.  

As for the seeds ...

When I scooped the seeds out of the pumpkin, I put them in a bowl, then covered them with water. I then sort of squeezed my way around the bowl to get the seeds to release the fibers that were attached to them, poured out the water, and dumped the seeds onto paper towels so I could blot them dry.

When I was contemplating how I wanted to flavor them, whether I was just going to salt them or add some kind of spice, I suddenly remembered that I had recently picked up a few things at the local Amish store I hadn't used yet. Two of those items were ranch dressing powder and powdered jalapeno. Sounded like an interesting mix to me!

I put the pumpkin seeds back in the bowl, then drizzled on just a tiny bit of olive oil to help in the browning/crisping process and to help distribute the flavorings. I sprinkled on a little of each powder (and some kosher salt) and stirred well to coat all the seeds.

I spread the seeds into a single layer on a sheet of parchment and baked them off at 275 for about 45", giving them a shake once or twice along the way, until they started to brown. I ate a few and decided they were still a little too soft. I didn't want them to burn, so I just turned off the oven and let them hang out in there while it cooled down so they would finish drying. Turns out that ranch/jalapeno is a great match. I was munching on these watching horror movies last night and had a hard time putting them down!

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds : Hye Thyme Cafe

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds : Hye Thyme Cafe

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guacamole ... and a Question ...

Guacamole : Hye Thyme Cafe

I opened the fridge this afternoon, and starting at me were an avocado, a bundle of cilantro, a red onion and a tomato. I don't know about you, but to me, that says Guacamole! The problem was that I'm the only one around today, and I've never made Guacamole before. As a matter of fact, I absolutely detested Guacamole growing up. Because of that, I thought I didn't like avocado and just steered clear of it. When I moved to New Orleans and started ordering lunch from a little restaurant by my office, they would include avocado in their sandwiches and salads. While eating a chicken salad one day, I inadvertently scooped up a piece of avocado and thought hmmm, that's not so bad! I tried another bite and realized it was actually good, so I stopped avoiding avocado after that and just decided I didn't like Guacamole.

It wasn't until I moved here to NY and tried my sister's homemade Guacamole that I realized what the problem was... it was the mushy, tasteless, crappy version offered up by most of the Mexican restaurants I grew up eating at. Turns out I loooooooove Guacamole!! But again, I could eat my sister's version by the gallon, but I had never made it, or even paid much attention to what was in it. I do remember that she puts a little salsa in hers ... and there's definitely red onion. Not sure about tomatoes, seasonings, etc.

So anyhow, that leads to my question. Do other people do this, or is it just us? It's not like we're territorial or anything, and it's not all recipes - we share recipes by the bazillion - but there are certain things that if one of us makes it, the other doesn't. Heck, I never made Corn Chowder until last year, and I stillllll haven't made French Onion Soup. Those are two things that she used to always make, so when she grew up and moved out of the house, I would love when she would send some over. It never even crossed my mind to make it. Heck, when I was living 1500 miles away, I still didn't make it. I knew she'd make it for me when I went to visit.

On the flip side, every once in a while, she'll comment about wanting some of my homemade yogurt, or she'll say "You know what I miss???" and I'll know she wants me to bake up a batch of tomatoes with cornbread and basil. It's the same thing on holidays.  I hardly ever make Cheesecake, because we all love Cheesecake, but it's just sort of known that she'll bring one ... and I'll bring the stuffed grape leaves, etc. So are we just weird, or does your family do the same thing?   

I resisted the impulse to call and ask how she makes her Guacamole, or even dig out my recipe box (it's more like a crate now, it's so heavy). I decided to just go for it. I knew one avocado wasn't going to be enough though, so when I ran out to pick up a pumpkin and a few other things to play with tomorrow, I grabbed another avocado - and a lime.   

Look how pretty that is.  Nice and creamy. We like our Guacamole on the chunky side (which worked out especially well today since the avocado in the fridge was a little under-ripe), so I cut one into chunks, then lightly mashed the other one into it.

If you haven't cut open an avocado before, cut a slice all the way around it lengthwise and twist the halves to pry them apart. If the pit doesn't pop right out for you, either scoop it out with a spoon or hit it with the blade of your knife and twist to loosen it from the flesh. Then just scoop the avocado out of the peel with a spoon.  

Traditional Guacamole is made with a mortar and pestle, but I'll stick with this chunky version! Squeeze a lime over it and lightly mash with a large fork.

Stir in about 1/4 c finely diced red onion and 1 or 2 mashed cloves of garlic. Right about here, my stomach started growling.

Guacamole : Hye Thyme Cafe

I'm pretty sure my sister puts a little salsa in her Guacamole to bring in those flavors, so I was thinking I would need about 1/4 cup, but that's way too much. You really only need a tablespoon or two. Judging by the color, I was a little heavy handed, but I caught myself before really overdoing it. Chop up a good handful of cilantro and stir that in. As for the tomato, I didn't want the juice or seeds, just the flesh, so I sliced around the outside and finely diced the flesh of half a good-sized tomato.

Guacamole : Hye Thyme Cafe

Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. I advise waiting until the end to do this because some salsas are saltier than others. You may find that you don't need any salt at all. It also depends on what you'll be scooping it up with. If you'll be eating it with salty chips, you might want to skip the salt altogether.

Guacamole : Hye Thyme Cafe
If you're patient enough, throw it in the fridge for a while and let all those nice flavors come together. As for me, I wasn't that patient today. This was my dinner.  :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Phyllo Crusted Pizza

Since you can obviously put whatever you like on a pizza, this is really more of an idea or suggestion than an actual recipe. I just happened to have had some spare phyllo in the fridge, so I was playing around with new things to do with it. When I found some mini sweet peppers and multicolored grape tomatoes in the fridge, I already knew there was leftover chicken, so I decided to pull some homemade pesto out of the freezer and put them all together to make a pizza.

I know from experience (the first time I attempted to make spinach pie, it was a soggy mess) that you don't want to introduce too much liquid to the phyllo, or it will pretty much turn to paste. That's what prompted me to partially pre-cook the crust...and to blot my tomato slices on a paper towel.

Gather your ingredients.

Using 8-10 layers in total, place 2 layers in your pan,
brush with melted butter, sprinkle with Italian seasoning and
repeat - do NOT sprinkle the herbs on the very top layer.
You don't want them to burn while baking the crust.

Bake the crust at 375 for 10-15" until lightly golden
and nicely puffed up.  

My pizza was a half/half, so
I spread pizza sauce on one half and dotted pesto on
the other.  Add your toppings of choice.

Top with shredded mozzarella and some fresh
grated Parmesan and return to oven at 350.

Bake until mozzarella starts to bubble and brown, 15-20".

Because one diner had an issue with the "crust" layers sliding apart, I'm thinking of sprinkling a little mozzarella between the layers next time, along with the Italian seasoning, to sort of glue the sheets together. You could also layer the bottom sheets in such a way that you could wrap them over the top at the end, so the edges are covered. If you do that though, you might want to pre-cut your slices so the heat/air will get to the middle slices. Either that, or bake the crust longer on the front end, putting a sheet of foil over it so it doesn't brown too much. You just down want to end up with uncooked phyllo.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Marx Foods - Random Samples Recipe Challenge Entry

To all my fellow challenge contestants ... You're Welcome! Why are you thanking me? Because my little experiment was an epic fail, so I just narrowed the field for you.  ;)

I have to admit that when my package from Marx Foods arrived with my five random items for the challenge, I was a little disappointed. Mostly because two of the items were chilies, and I had vowed to steer clear of those posts for a while. Then there were the trumpet mushrooms - I don't eat mushrooms, so those are in the pantry patiently awaiting our next Japanese night. They can go in the Miso Soup and I'll just fish them out of mine. Then there was wild rice. Seriously?! What are you guys thinking sending an Armenian wild rice?! Don't you know we live on Pilaf??? What do I know about Wild Rice??  ;)

So let's see ... I had to come up with something using at least 2 of the 5 ingredients, which were:
  • Coconut Sap Sugar
  • Black Trumpet Mushrooms
  • Wild Rice
  • Guajillo Chilies
  • Granulated Dried Pasilla Chilies
Ruling out the chilies and mushrooms left me with coconut sugar and wild rice. I will admit that I have served wild rice a few times, but it doesn't really count since it was from a box rather than homemade. The only things I've ever seen done with wild rice, other than cooking it like Pilaf, are salads and soups. Someone suggested a rice pudding, but I wanted to do something more outside the box. I realize that Rice Krispie Treats aren't exactly outside the box in terms or originality, but I thought I could score some points with making both the Rice Krispies and the Marshmallow from scratch.

The Rice Krispies themselves are really cool. I was tempted to switch gears and use them in some sort of creepy Halloween treat since it looks kinda like worms or something, but I had already started the marshmallow, so I kept going.  

I haven't decided what the problem was, or whether it was a combination of things. For one thing, I knew that I was going to have more marshmallow than was required for the amount of rice I had, so I staged a separate vessel for the extra. Looking at it now, I think I probably drowned the Krispies in too much marshmallow. It ended up making those nice crunchy worms squishy and chewy. The other problem may have been the Karo I used. I thought we had two bottles in the pantry - that's what I get for not checking! What we had was a little regular Karo and a full bottle of Light Karo. The Light Karo says right on the label that you get better results in cereal bars using the regular. I was hoping that since I was using both, it would work out OK. Then there was the fact that I decided to incorporate some of the chilies after all, along with coco, since chilies and chocolate are a great pairing. I looked at one chocolate marshmallow recipe and saw that they mixed the coco into some hot water before incorporating it, rather than just adding the coco powder directly. I did likewise, but with less liquid. Maybe even that much was too much??

Sniffle, sniffle, sob ...

The rice was super easy!  The only problem I had was with my strainer. Some of the grains poked through and got stuck, so I had to scrape them off or risk double-dunking and burning them.

Apparently, if you want to try this with white rice, you are supposed to cook the rice the day before, then spread it out on a sheet tray and let it dry out overnight. The wild rice holds more moisture inside of it naturally, so that, along with the high heat from the oil (I used peanut), allows it to pop.

I saw a video online of someone puffing white rice in a wok, but I was afraid of splattering, so I used a small pot, filled with about an inch of oil. Dunk your strainer into it before you heat it to see if it's deep enough. Just like if you were making popcorn on the stove, heat the oil and when it starts to get swirly and you think it's hot enough, drop a grain of rice in to test it. If it doesn't pop right away, fish it out with a spoon and wait another minute or two before trying again. Unlike with popcorn, you can't leave it in. I think the moisture gets sucked out of it or something, because it will just sit there. I figured that out ... eventually ... threw in a "fresh" grain and it popped right away.

Only pop about a tablespoon of rice at a time, then dump it out onto paper towels to soak up the oil.  




Since the experiment as a whole was such a bust, I won't bother posting the marshmallow recipe. I was so mad when I tried it that I haven't bothered unearthing the pan of just plain marshmallows yet to see if that worked out at least. 

I bloomed gelatin in the mixing bowl with some water, separately steeped the chilies and coco in a little hot water, whipped the two together, then streamed in the Karo/coconut sugar mixture like you would for any marshmallow recipe and let it whip for 15". Looked marshmallowy to me.  

Here's where it started to go wrong ... added too much to the Krispies.


I don't feel bad about blowing a challenge, but I do feel bad about wasting that beautiful coconut sugar and the rice! When I first got them, I wasn't sure what to make of the coconut sugar (would it smell/taste like coconut?). It actually smelled like brown sugar with a hint of licorice. I have read that coconut sugar, which is extracted from the sap of the coconut palm, can be used completely interchangeably with "regular" cane sugar and has a lower glycemic index, so it's actually better for you. If you plan to look for it, check the labels on palm sugar; coconut sugar would be labeled as such, but since the coconut palm is a palm, some palm sugars are specifically coconut palm but just say palm, so read the fine print. I think that's a record for the use of "palm" in a sentence.

I see a Halloween graveyard cake in my future ... with an open grave and "maggots" surrounding the corpse. Or maybe even some monster pumpkin squares or brownies with maggoty wounds?? We'll see...

As always, a big thanks to the folks at Marx for the samples - sorry to have wasted some! On the up-side, now I have more chilies on hand for my next batch of Harissa Paste!  :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's Fair Trade Month - Get Your Java on with Green Mountain Coffee!

I was selected by BzzAgent to participate in their Green Mountain Coffee® Fair Trade campaign.  The reason I signed on to this campaign is that I truly enjoy Green Mountain Coffee, and I was interested in learning a little about Fair Trade.  I have to admit to being pretty ignorant in that regard.  Fair Trade products is one of those things that I would hear about from time to time, and it sounded like a good thing, but I never actively sought out information or Fair Trade products.  Since I do actually drink Green Mountain, I was honestly more interested in the literature I would be receiving than the coffee samples -- but don’t kid yourself, I’m all about sampling.  Just ask the folks over at Marx Foods!  And, as it turns out, October is Fair Trade Month.

I have never considered myself a “coffee person” per se.  I know, some of you are making a confused face right now.  That means you’ve been reading my blog for a while and know that I’m a Dunkin Junkie.  The thing is, Dunkin Donuts Coffee has it’s own flavor.  It doesn’t taste like any other coffee, so I don’t really think of it that way.  I just love the taste, so I’ll drink it any time, but I’m not someone who needs that first cup of coffee to wake up in the morning, or drinks coffee to stay awake.  I drink Dunkin for the taste.  Besides, I grew up in Massachusetts, so it’s practically a law.  I think they put that stuff in baby bottles there.  ;)

That said, there are times when I go out to dinner and want a cup of coffee to end off the meal, or when I have company over and want to be able to offer them coffee (I usually hit the drive-thru for myself, so I don’t make it at home often).  Then there are the days when my car is blocked in the driveway, or the weather is crappy and I don’t want to go out.  What do I do then?  I pop a K-Cup® in the Keurig.  

There are only a few brands of coffee that I’ll drink.  Most coffees are too bitter or acidic for me.  Don’t even get me started on the chicory coffee when I was living in New Orleans!  Actually, there are really only two brands that I like to have on hand at home.  One is Paul deLima, and the other is Green Mountain.  As it turns out, all three brands feature Fair Trade options, with Green Mountain having the largest selection of Fair Trade Certified™ coffees in the U.S.  They were actually one of the first brands to sign on with Fair Trade USA.

According to Fair Trade USA:

“Fair Trade began modestly in the 1940s when a few small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets. Later, a fictional Dutch character, Max Havelaar, was developed as an advocate for exploited coffee pickers. Today, Fair Trade is a global effort. Fair Trade USA and the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) have extended their reach beyond crafts and coffee. Consumers can enliven developing countries, relieve exploitation and promote environmental sustainability by purchasing Fair Trade-labeled tea, cocoa, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, sugar, honey, wine, flowers, grains and rubber products.“

Green Mountain not only has great-tasting coffee, they:

  • Have the largest selection of Fair Trade Certified™  coffees in the U.S.
  • Are a division of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., the largest roaster of Fair Trade Certified Coffee in the world
  • Have been supporting Fair Trade for more than a decade
  • Are the leading brand in K-Cup® portion packs for Keurig® (but don't worry, if you don't have a Keurig, they sell regular beans/ground as well)

Still not sure about Fair Trade and how it applies to you and your coffee?  Here’s “The Inside Scoop” according to Green Mountain:

How does Fair Trade make a difference:  Fair Trade provides a direct link between farmers and Green Mountain Coffee, cutting out the middlemen known as “cayotes.”  Here are some other good-to-know Fair Trade benefits:

Farmers are paid a fair price for their harvest:  Fair Trade farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee, and if market prices exceed the minimum, they receive current  market prices plus a separate payment called a premium.

Farming families and communities are supported:  Farmers within a co-op vote to determine how to invest their Fair Trade premiums to best benefit their own communities’ funding projects like schools, roads, health clinics, and safe drinking water.

Sustainable farming practices are promoted:  To become Fair Trade Certified™, farmers must adhere to a number of environmental standards, like protecting water resources, and restricting the use of pesticides and certain chemicals.

Working conditions are bettered:  Fair Trade Certified™ communities must follow strict labor laws and practices that are in place to protect workers.

You get high-quality coffee:  Farmers use their Fair Trade premiums to invest in their businesses for things like drying patios and mineral-rich compost.  These investments and requirements result in higher-quality coffee for you and your family.

As you can see, it’s a circle effect.  Not only does Fair Trade help the farmers but it also circles back to provide you us with the highest-quality coffee, all while providing support to local communities.  It’s definitely a win-win.

Interested in learning more?  Check out the following links, and keep an eye out for these logos:

Fair Trade USA
Green Mountain Coffee
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.
And don’t forget to “Like” Green Mountain on Facebook to keep up with news and events and to find even more information on Fair Trade.

With all this talk about coffee, I think I'll go brew myself a cup.  Ciao for now ...

** Green Mountain Coffee samples were provided to me through BzzAgent, along with the information quoted above, and some coupons to share with my friends and co-workers.  I have not otherwise been compensated for this post, and my opinion of Green Mountain is strictly my own. **


Monday, October 10, 2011

Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies

I was invited to dinner at a neighbor's last night, so I automatically asked what I could bring. She insisted that I just bring myself, but I couldn't do that! Not knowing what was on the menu, I didn't want to step on any toes by making a salad or some sort of dinner rolls, so I figured I'd play it safe and bring a dessert. That made me think about the cookbook I recently reviewed, Cookiepedia, and that there were a few recipes in it that I wanted to try. I settled on the Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies.

citrus zest (optional)
3/4 c butter - room temp
1/2 c sugar
2 yolks
1 t vanilla
1 1/4 c flour
1/2 c cornmeal
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

If you plan to include citrus zest, she recommended incorporating it into the butter at the start. I whipped 2t lemon zest into the butter before creaming it together with the sugar, but I will definitely increase that next time.  

Once that mixture is light and fluffy, add the egg yolks, then the vanilla, beating well.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add 1/3 at a time to the butter mixture. Form into ball, wrap in plastic and chill 1'.

The original directions recommending rolling out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to 1/4" thick. Cut using 2 1/2" cutter and place 1" apart on parchment. Sprinkle with rosemary, pressing to adhere. Bake until edges start to brown, 10-12".

I had already planned to cut the cookies with a pizza wheel rather than cutters, so I was thinking I could roll it right on the parchment, transfer the parchment to the baking sheet and separate the cookies to give them growing room. What I didn't count on was how soft the dough was. First it kept pulling up as I was rolling it. That was fine because it was so easy to just press it back in, but I didn't think trying to slide them around on the parchment would work well, so I ended up using a mini spatula to transfer them to another sheet. 

I don't know why, but for some reason, it popped into my head to whip out my gnocchi board (no, I still haven't actually made gnocchi) to press lines into the cookies. I ended up being pleasantly surprised that it only stuck to a few.  

All in all, I like these cookies and would make them again, but I'll increase the lemon zest and cut back a little on the cornmeal. I like that the cornmeal added a different texture, but it was actually a little too much for these delicate cookies.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Play on Spaghetti & Meatballs (Spaghetti Squash with Chicken Meatballs)

Spaghetti Squash with Chicken Meatballs : Hye Thyme Cafe

I was shocked to get a Google Alert on my calendar this morning telling me it was my blog’s one-year anniversary. I really can’t believe it has been that long. I remember when some friends tried to nudge me into starting; I assumed there was no way I cooked/baked enough to post regularly, especially since I’m not the only foodie in this wacky household. I was even more shocked to look back at what my first posts were and see Porov Kufte (Bombs) among them. I think that was the last time I made them. I’ll have to remedy that soon!! My very first was Yelanchi(Stuffed Grape Leaves), then the Bombs, then Baked Tomatoes with Cornbread andBasil. The tomatoes reminded me to share a tip with you later in this recipe. If I didn’t already have a dessert in mind for tonight, and it wasn’t the season premiere of House, I would be tempted to bake something celebratory – oh well.

A year or two ago, I had Giada DeLaurentis’s Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Mayonnaise for the first time. Everyone loved them, even a friend who is not fond of mayonnaise. They immediately made me think about an appetizer application - using the mixture to form mini-meatballs and serving them with a dipping sauce. I have had that thought tucked away for a while now, and when I was recently contemplating a spaghetti squash, the idea hit me – combine the two into a twist on Spaghetti and Meatballs.

I modified Giada’s chicken mixture to suit my own needs and came up with this recipe to serve four. Not wanting to overpower the squash by using my usual homemade spaghetti sauce (thick and on the spicy side), I decided to use some fresh tomatoes to create a lighter option.

1/3 c Hellmann’s Mayonnaise
4 t finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 t roasted garlic paste (optional – had fresh in the fridge)
1 t Better than Bouillon Chicken Stock Base
1/2 c fresh bread crumbs  *
Pinch of salt
1/4 t pepper
1 lb ground chicken

2 spaghetti squash
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

5-6 plum tomatoes
1 t jarred minced garlic with red peppers
1 shallot, diced fine
Italian seasoning

Fresh chopped parsley
Fresh grated Parmesan

MEATBALLS:  Start with the chicken mixture so you can get that nice rosemary flavor infused into the mayo. Actually, if you know ahead that you’ll be making these, you can do that the day before just to save you time. Mix the rosemary, garlic paste, and stock base into the mayo and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. If you’re going to do it all at the same time, mix all of that together to get it nicely blended, then add the crumbs and chicken and mix to incorporate. The mixture will be very loose and “goopy” for lack of a better word. I actually cut back on the mayo from Giada’s original burger recipe, and added the bread crumbs, and it’s still goopy.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to brown these on the stove without them slumping out of shape. You can make the burgers that way, but burgers are flat. I thought maybe if I formed the meatballs and let them set for a little while, I’d stand a better chance, so I lined them all up next to my pan on a sheet of foil. I figured if it didn’t work, I could just slide the foil onto a baking sheet, but as it turned out, it worked just fine. I sprayed an oven-proof pan with PAM Olive Oil, heated the pan to med-high and started adding the meatballs. I used a spoon thinking that would enable me to roll them around the pan without pressing them out of shape. Once they had a nice brown on them, I tossed the whole pan in the oven to finish. The time and temp will vary, depending on how big you roll your meatballs, how long you cooked them on the stove, and how long your squash has left to cook so they can be done at the same time.

SQUASH:  If you look online, pretty much every recipe calls for cooking the squash in a different manner – baked whole, then split open and seeded; baked whole, with holes skewered through it, then split open and seeded; split and scooped out then baked cut-side up; split and scooped out then baked cut-side down; microwaved whole; microwaved quartered….  Phew!!

If you have a preference, by all means, knock yourself out. What I did was split the squash in half lengthwise, scraped out all of the seeds with a spoon, brushed the cut side with olive oil, and a little salt and pepper, and baked them at 375 until tender. I started them off cut-side down, then flipped them over about half-way through so the edges would have a chance to caramelize a little. A few of the recipes I looked at called for baking them for 40” at 375, but mine definitely needed a full hour. If you haven’t cooked spaghetti squash before, to test for doneness, grab a fork and try scraping the flesh away from the rind. It should pull away easily, forming your strands of “spaghetti.” If it pulls away easily at first, but you meet with resistance when you get closer to the rind, give it another few minutes.

When the squash is cooked through, top each with a few thin pats of butter, let that melt in, then use your fork to shred/string them all. I kept mine right in the shell, but you could certainly transfer it to a bowl or plate if you’d rather.

TOMATO SAUCE:  Cut an “X” through the skin at the top of each tomato, then drop them into boiling water for about a minute. Pour out the water and run cold water over them until they are cool enough to handle. The skins should peel right off for you when you pull the little tabs left from the cuts you made. Petite dice the tomatoes and set aside, then finely dice your shallot. Sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil until just starting to brown, then add the tomatoes, some Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper to taste. The tomatoes will start to break down and give off a lot of liquid. I just turned it to low and let that cook down until the squash and meatballs were done. Give it a stir every now and again so it doesn’t stick.

To serve, fluff the squash, dot with meatballs, top with the tomato mixture, then sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.

* When it comes to breadcrumbs, I always try to keep a bag handy in the freezer for chicken croquettes and that sort of thing. When you have bread that will otherwise go to waste  – maybe it’s starting to dry out and nobody will eat it; or you’ve got extra hot dog buns because you can never match up the right number of buns with the number of dogs that come in a package; or the end slices in the loaf get passed up, etc. Just pulse them in the food processor and dump them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. You can just keep adding to it as you go along. It doesn’t really matter what’s in there. I think my current bag has a mixture of dinner rolls, white bread, French bread, even a few slices of rye. You can do this with muffins too, but keep them separate! I mentioned a tomato recipe at the beginning of this post; that recipe calls for crumbled corn muffins. If I have leftover muffins or cornbread that will go to waste, they get turned into crumbs and head for the deep freeze to go on veggies, desserts, macaroni and cheese, whatever works.

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