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Every year, right around the holidays, I turn a year older (don’t I look so much older and wiser here snapping this poor green bean?!). Since most of my family has migrated to Florida over the past 10 years, we now make a point to celebrate birthdays together. Since my birthday is in December, right around the holidays, I usually save my family party for a time when most of my relatives are here – from Florida and from out of state. So in between Christmas and New Years and MOVING, we put this shindig on – nothing is getting in the way of a party with good food. So this year we celebrated my birthday on January 1st – New Year’s Day. Per tradition, the birthday person, (in this case, me) gets to choose the menu. The weather has turned a bit cold here in The Sunshine State and so I was after more hearty fare.

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I chose an Armenian Vegetable Stew, called Kharn Panchareghen, out of one of my favorite cookbooks called Secrets of Cooking: Armenian/Lebanese/Persian which is an Armenian, Lebanese and Persian cookbook, written by the sister of one of my mom’s friends. The stew was delicious. I added some Kalamata olives, dried prunes and about a ¼ TBS of ground cinnamon to the original recipe. I also opted for canned plum tomatoes as opposed to fresh, as tomatoes are out of season right now and not very flavorful. It was rich in flavor and the secret touches of sweetness really intrigued the palate. We served the stew with Rice Pilaf, Naan bread and Greek Salad.

Then there was the question of the cake. Now this next picture looks kinda weird, but don’t be scared…there is a story, rest assured.

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I am not normally a chocolate person, usually opting for spice cake or carrot cake on my birthday, but I saw Giada make chocolate espresso brownies recently. I LOVE espresso. My mom had given me a bundt cake pan shaped like a giant octopus (I know I am weird, I love octopi) and so a plan for chocolate chip espresso bundt cake with an espresso glaze came to life. My mom wanted to decorate the cake all in waves and pretty icing, but since I am not partial to icing, I requested just a glaze. Hence a pretty much unadorned Octopus cake. But it was good. :)

Now for the recipe:

Armenian Vegetable Stew
Kharn Panchareghen

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INGREDIENTS:

1lb of cubed lamb or beef
1 sm can of tomato paste
1 cup water
3 medium red skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ lb of fresh string beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 carrots, cut into 1-inch squares
6 scallions – bulbs and greens, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large onions, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 sm can of plum tomatoes and their juice
1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
salt & pepper to taste
¼ TBS ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped dried prunes
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
¼ cup shiraz
juice of one lemon

METHOD:

Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 TBS olive oil. Add meat to pan and brown on all sides. Once meat is browned, add to it the can of tomato paste mixed with 1 cup of water. Let simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. In the meantime prep all your veggies. Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a large hot skillet with 3 TBS of olive oil, brown potatoes on all sides. Transfer potatoes to stock pot with the meat. Repeat this process with all the veggies. Add water to the meat mixture if things begin to dry up. Once all the veggies have been added, add the plum tomatoes with their juices, salt and pepper the stew to taste, then add the cinnamon olives and prunes. Pour the shiraz into the skillet and scrape up any bits. Pour into the stew pot.

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Place lid on the stew pot and place in 400 F oven for 1 1/2 hours. After the first 45 minutes check stew for liquid. Add another ½ cup water if it is too dry. Before serving, pour juice of one lemon over stew and mix well.

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Serve with Rice pilaf, cheese and olives. Serves 6 (can be easily doubled. In my case the doubled recipe served 11 with lots of leftovers – Trust The Leftover Queen – you WANT leftovers!). So for all intents and purposes you could feed an army with this!

The Cake

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The cake is essentially one box of dark chocolate cake mix, one box of Ghiradelli brownie mix and one box of Ghiradelli chocolate chip muffin mix. I gotta tell you Ghiradelli makes some fine bake mixes, so don’t knock it. Don’t be afraid to use them and doctor them up to your liking, Mom followed the package directions, but omitted the oil from one of the packages. She mixed this all together in a stand mixer with 3 TBS ground espresso.

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The espresso glaze was made from 5 TBS of brewed espresso and powdered sugar with a little ground espresso mixed in for good measure.

This made one decorative bundt and one round cake. We slapped some melted chocolate in between the layers for glue. Yum!