Yule 2010 – Christmas Dinner

This year we weren’t dreaming of a White Christmas, we were having one! We have had snow on the ground for the past month or so, and although it wasn’t snowing on Christmas, it was beautiful, picturesque and quaint here on the homestead. Perfect for my mom who is visiting from Florida and hasn’t had a White Christmas for several years.

Although I don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, many people we know do, so we incorporate it into the 12 Days of Yule which begin on December 20th and ends on January 1st. The twelve days of Yule kicks off on December 20th, the night before the solstice, with Mother’s Night where we celebrate the divine feminine and our long line of female ancestors. I like to spend this night baking cookies and preparing foods that were dear to my ancestors, celebrating the long line of people who have contributed to making me who I am. This year I made Pfeffernusse Shortbread cookies to honor my newly found German heritage.

We always celebrate December 24th by setting out an offering of cookies and milk or eggnog for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.
On December 25th we often have another feast dinner, a feast to share with family, having the same intensity of fanfare are the feast we have on the Winter Solstice. This year we had lamb. I have never been a fan of the Christmas Ham, and it has only been a few weeks since our last turkey feast. So for our own household tradition, we have lamb on this night.

This year’s lamb was a very special dish – it came from a lamb that Roberto and I butchered this fall. Since moving to Vermont we have bought meat very differently. We either buy whole animals locally or join farm meat CSAs. We have in our storage freezer, half a lamb, parts of a pig as well as beef, veal and poultry from our monthly CSA. This should get us through the winter, happy and deeply nourished.
For Christmas dinner we prepared the leg of lamb. I marinated it in a mixture of red wine, balsamic vinegar, yogurt, lemon juice and rosemary. I prepared it in my tagine and made a layer of fresh lemon slices on top. It was slow cooked at 350 F for 2 hours. Then I took the lid off to allow it to brown for about 15 minutes. We served it au jus. It was absolutely simple and the lamb was incredibly juicy and succulent.

We served it with glazed carrots and a brown rice risotto with fresh cranberries, wilted spinach, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts.
It was a wonderful evening spent with family. Hope that all of my readers who celebrate the winter holidays are having a most wondrous time with your dear ones!

Wishing you all health, happiness and love this coming year – and of course full bellies!

Celebrating Yule (Jul, Jule, Winter Solstice)

I can be honest with all of you, my dear readers, right? I mean food blogging is all about sharing recipes, cultures and traditions, right? Well I would like to share with you some of my food traditions for this time of year, which are a bit personal.

I celebrate Yule. Yule is the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between December 21-23. I am Pagan. Which means I have my own rich traditions for this deeply special and sacred time of year.

Winter Solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, spanning many cultures. If most of us traced our family trees back far enough (and for some we might not have to go that far) we would likely find many ancestors who celebrated this feast of light – the return of the sun after the darkest times of the winter, when the days begin to lengthen. The ancient Romans knew the celebration as Saturnalia, the Hindus call it Diwali, the Jewish festival of light is called Hanukkah. For those of us who follow the pathways of our ancient Northern European ancestors, we call it Yule, Jul, or Jule.

Many traditions from lighted Christmas trees, to Yule logs and mistletoe are a part of this rich history and have influenced more modern winter holiday celebrations. These were all ways to celebrate the return of the sun and light after the bleak Northern winter. A time to celebrate brighter days ahead – hope for the future. There are still many of us today who continue these time-honored traditions.

In our home we celebrate by decorating 2 live trees – one outside with edible ornaments for the wildlife to enjoy and one indoors, potted that we can use year after year. We also burn a yule log, which is carefully chosen to represent maximum heat potential and longevity and then at midnight on the solstice we turn out all the lights for several minutes, and then turn them all back on to welcome the sun and the light.

In commemoration of this holiday, I also enjoy preparing a delicious feast. Isn’t that what all food obsessed people do? Did you know that the tradition of the Christmas Ham comes from ancient Scandinavians and Germanic peoples? The traditional meal for these proud people was a whole roasted hog, a tribute to the God, Frey, who is associated with boars.

This year I found out that I have some German and Scandinavian (Danish) roots of my own, and to celebrate this new-found heritage, and honor my ancestors, I decided to focus this Yule feast on those cuisines. Typical Jul fare in Denmark includes roast pork, potatoes and red cabbage. So I created a delicious Yule feast consisting of Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut, Red Cabbage and Mashed Purple Viking Potatoes with fresh local cream and butter.

For dessert we enjoyed a Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries. All washed down with some delicious local sparkling mead. (recipes below).

If you would like to celebrate the Winter Solstice and need some food for thought, here are some ideas from years past:

Norwegian Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (spiced meatballs in gravy)

Norwegian Mulled Wine and Sweet Porridge

Winter Solstice Cocktail Party

Yule Log cake or Bûche de Noël

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THIS YEAR’S RECIPES:

Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage

2 large bone-in pastured pork chops

1 TBS wild game blend (juniper, savory, mustard, brown sugar)

3 ½ cups shredded red cabbage

4 slices of dried apple snipped into strips

salt & pepper

1 ½ tsp Beau Monde- allspice, bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper

1 pint homemade winekraut

for Cherry Sauce

1 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

¼ cup fruity red wine

palmful of dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ tsp vanilla extract

black pepper to taste

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Season pork chops with wild game blend. In a large cast iron skillet sear pork chops on all sides in butter or bacon fat. In the bottom of a tagine or dutch oven, season the red cabbage with salt, pepper and beau monde. Place the chops on the cabbage and pour the winekraut over everything. Add the apple slices. Roast in oven for 2 hours.

After 1 ½ hours make the cherry sauce. In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil, over medium heat then reduce heat to low. Reduce the sauce until it is ½ of the original amount. Place in a small serving bowl for ladling on top of the pork. Serve with mashed potatoes. Serves 2.

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Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding (no sugar added, egg and gluten free)

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup of almonds (I soak my almonds in water and salt overnight and then store in the freezer)

¼ cup dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

¼ cup dried wild blueberries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ cup water

1 cup cooked brown rice

½ cup whole milk (preferably raw)

1/3 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

1 TBS pure vanilla extract

¼ cup Drambuie or brandy

METHOD:

Soak almonds one day ahead (optional). Soak cherries and blueberries in warm water for at least ½ hour. Also soak the rice in the milk. This will allow the berries to plump up and the rice to absorb some of the milk.

Right before serving, dump the berries and their soaking liquid in a small saucepan with the extra cherry juice, vanilla extract and booze. Heat up over medium heat, bring to a boil and then simmer until berries have soaked up most of the liquid.

To serve, pour the berry compote over the rice and milk mixture. Serves 2.

Cooking and Hanging Out with ValleyWriter and The Royal Foodie Joust Winners!

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We had a great time this fall in New England this year visiting family and friends. Thanksgiving is over, and posted, and so now the time has come to share some of the highlights in eating and visiting that we enjoyed in New England. We traveled from Connecticut to Vermont and back again. In fact we drove up to New England from Florida, stopping at my Aunt’s house in VA both on the way up and on the way back. We got to spend time with Roberto’s daughters Rachel and Gwen as well as many friends along the way. It was a wonderful time – a time I have looked forward to every year since we moved to Florida.

We spent a large portion of the trip in Western MA. I lived in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts for over 10 years. I came to live there by way of education, and then after 4 years of college, decided to stay. I was just so enamored of the place – the quaint towns, historic buildings, and good food, as well as all the cultural activities taking place due to all the colleges in the area. I made a lot of lifelong friends while I lived there and was definitely part of a community. When I think about that time in my life, I get a warm and fuzzy feeling – and I always enjoy spending time there. I have moved away from New England twice since I lived there, once to go back to my home state of Maryland for a few years, and the other when we moved to Florida three years ago. Each time I move away, I find myself missing it, and it doesn’t take long before New England re-claims me. I guess I am a New Englander at heart, and I am proud of it! :)

People in New England are just nice. It is a very eclectic kind of place sometimes, and so it is typical to have friends from all walks of life. People are just more accepting of paradoxes, creativity and uniqueness. I don’t know how to describe it, but I always find myself gravitating towards New Englanders wherever we are, and that is how we met Valley Writer and Mr. Valley Writer.

We met them, almost 2 years ago, when we were all newlyweds, spending our honeymoon in Jamaica. We originally met them at a social for newlyweds and then ended up running into them at breakfast one morning. So we decided to sit together. We found out we had a lot in common. She and I are both writers (this was before her now famous blog), we both have black cats with asthma, and we both were practically neighbors at one point without even knowing it, in a small New England town called Hatfield. She met her husband the same way I met Roberto – online, and in the same time frame. So likely I ran across Mr. Valley Writer’s profile in my searches…who knows. But there was just so much in common (besides the love of food and cooking) that we knew we were meant to be friends. We visited with Mr and Mrs. Valley Writer last year when we were in New England . Then this year, they graciously invited us to stay with them for a few days.

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When we arrived, the first thing we did was take a quick drive to a local farm, and pick up her last CSA of the year. We picked out some nice root veggies to make some roasted roots – my favorite – to go along with dinner that night. The plan for dinner that night was to make duck. Neither of us had ever made a duck before, so we were both very excited at the prospect. We were worried about the method of cooking, we didn’t want it to be dry.

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So we decided to do it beer can style, and used a raspberry wheat beer in the preparation. It turned out really delicious – although it did make the house a little smoky – all that delicious duck fat (which of course was reserved for later use)!

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We enlisted Roberto to cut the duck – and of course he had to wear Amber’s Flirty Apron that she won a few months back from The Foodie Blogroll.

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(Mr. Valley Writer likes to keep his identity hidden….just WHO is HE?)

The food was really good that night, but the company was the best part! We all had a great time getting re-acquainted with each other and getting to know each other better – and it was a breeze. Sometimes you just really hit it off with another couple, and this was one of those times!

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Unfortunately Mr. And Mrs. Valley Writer both had to work while we were visiting. So the next night, to thank them for their hospitality, Roberto and I decided to get some extra ingredients, and cook them dinner. There was already a pork tenderloin in the fridge, so we decided to add some wild rice, glazed carrots, and miniature carrot cakes from Whole Foods (which used to be called Bread and Circus in that part of the world) to complete the meal. We prepared the pork in a fresh apple cider and dijon mustard sauce, and it was delicious. When they got home from work, we all started working together in the kitchen! What else can you expect from a bunch of foodies? This time we had Mr. Valley Writer do the honors on cutting the meat.

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Again the food was great and the company spectacular! We had a wonderful few days spending time with them, and look forward to continuing our friendship when we move up to Vermont this spring!

Thanks Valley Writer family for your hospitality and friendship! Please check out her post about our visit together on her blog, Adventures in the Pioneer Valley !

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icon-foodie-joust

In addition to Finest Foodies Friday, I am also phasing the Royal Foodie Joust Winners and New Ingredients posts over to Foodieblogroll.com. So if you want to read about the winners and the new ingredients. Please visit Foodieblogroll.com.

Also for more foodie fun, don’t forget to join us at my friend Ben’s blog for a Homemade Party!

Beans and Rice: The Ultimate Leftover Meal

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I got a comment recently from a new reader. She said she was enjoying my blog, but didn’t see many recipes for leftovers. That comment kind of surprised me, because most of the food I make uses some kind of leftover component. However, I don’t always specify that when writing my posts. So I want to make more of an effort to point out the leftover components I am using, and to talk about other ways that my food philosophy extends, but yet still encompasses “leftover qualities”. Things like making food from scratch using what it in your pantry or fridge, making things you eat often like bread, cheese and yogurt, or preserving seasonal vegetables and making your own condiments. This is all part of the Leftover Queen philosophy – use what you have on hand, make substitutions whenever necessary, to be able to focus on what using what is on hand, and make as much as you can from scratch using wholesome basics.

In this vein I want to talk about beans and rice. I love beans and rice, and it is certainly a meal that embraces leftovers. Beyond the basic components of beans and rice (and even within those two ingredients there are many varieties), you can throw anything you have lying around in the fridge that needs using up. As usual I always soak my rice and beans ahead of time. I generally take a day during the weekend, and do large batches of soaking – grains, flours and legumes, and then cooking til almost done, so I can just package them up and throw them in the freezer for quick yet nourishing meals later on.

rice-and-beans_cooking

The week before vacation is always a busy time, so I was happy to be greeted by beans, rice and other grains when I opened the freezer that I could throw together for a quick meal. For this particular batch of beans and rice I added some chopped up organic kielbasa and sauteed it with the rice. Then I added about 2 cups of chopped kale, some spices like New Mexico green chili powder, cumin and coriander, a few tablespoons of homemade tomato sauce (also from the freezer) and water. I let everything come to a boil, and cooked on low heat for about 25 minutes, adding more liquid as necessary.

Beans and rice is a combination dish that is eaten all over the world. It is frugal, healthy and delicious, and you can constantly change it up to suit your tastes! Make it with leftover meat, or keep it vegetarian – the choice is up to you! Top it with shredded cheese, yogurt (or sour cream), salsa or even guacamole!

So enjoy some beans and rice for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast, today! :)

Stay tuned for some posts about The Foodbuzz Food Bloggers Festival that I will be attending this weekend! Looking forward to meeting many of you there! :)

Recipe: Gluten Free Lemon, Polenta, Nut Cake with Summer Solstice Preserves

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I have been really thinking about food, health, diet, and other related topics for some months now. Yeah, I know, you thought I always think about food, and that is true, but I am talking about on a more cerebral level. I go through these stages every so often and since I have been really concerned with fitness and making my body the best body it can be, I have had to really think a lot lately.

I believe that you are what you eat, that different people have different dietary needs based on a variety of factors, and it is best for individuals to evaluate what works best for them. Once in a while you have to re-evaluate things, and make sure everything is still working to your standards.

I am always looking to improve myself, and I listen to my body, and take its advice on what may need to be tweaked and changed.

Lately I have been feeling like I need to take a bit of a break from wheat. I know this really flies in the face of my bread making endeavors , and the fact that Roberto could eat pasta and bread until the end of time. But for me, and looking over the back pages of my life and my relationship to wheat, things have been kind of shoddy between us on many levels. Therefore, I have decided to do a gluten free experiment…and when I say experiment, I mean, experiment. I get everyone in on it – like my mom (helping me make this cake). Oh and speaking of my mom, she is starting to help me with my other blog – Travel Closeup. She has written several posts and is now listed on the about page as well. Go check it out! :)

blueberry-jam-and-cake_jenn-and-mom-making-cake

Anyway, back from family promotion and onto the food…I am not a person that tends to be into grains very much anyway, unless it is fresh baked breads or cakes and pastries. I don’t eat cakes and pastries very often, but I do eat bread. So it is time to see if gluten free is the way to go for me. So I have been experimenting with grains like quinoa, and buckwheat (which I already love) and eating more corn and rice based things – and trying to find non GMO versions of the corn based.

However, this weekend was the Summer Solstice, and as I mentioned last year, it is an event that we like to celebrate. I always bake for special occasions, and so I decided to challenge myself by making a GF cake. I just did a google search on gluten free lemon cakes from blogs, and happened across Joy, The Baker‘s Blog where she blogged this delicious, crumbly cake recipe . She had made it in a bundt shape, but said it crumbled too easy. So I decided to bake mine in a bread baking dish.

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This cake makes A LOT of batter, and so I made a bread loaf, a round cake and 6 cupcakes! None of them fell apart! The only change I made was doing 4 ½ cups of nuts and 1 ½ cup of rice flour (because I ran out of nuts!).

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For the solstice I halved the bread loaf lengthwise and filled it with the delicious Summer Solstice Preserves and topped it with whipped cream! It was a delicious cake – VERY buttery and dense, but also so good.

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We sang Happy Birthday to summer, and feasted on this cake! I will write a post next week about what we ate besides this wonderful cake!

On a personal note, I may not be around visiting blogs as much in the next little while. Rest assured it is nothing personal. Roberto’s daughters are visiting us from Connecticut until the end of July (YAY!), and then we have family visiting from Italy during August, and so I will be spending more time with our guests than sitting at the computer! I hope everyone has a wonderful summer! Look forward to catching up with you later!

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FromTheFarm.com: Koda Farms Rice and Leftover Chicken Soup

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So remember that chicken I roasted in a tagine last week?
Well, after we ate most of the meat heated up again, I decided to make a chicken soup from the carcass, as I always do. Homemade chicken soup is just amazing stuff and a really easy way to get even more out of your whole chicken. One whole chicken usually is 4 or 5 meals for us, including the soup, a pretty good deal, when a nice free range, organic whole chicken is about $7- $8 – making it about .75 cents a meal…

Well it just so happened that the same day I set out to make my chicken soup, I got another package in the mail from FromTheFarm.com , the awesome company that is sponsoring one of our March and April giveaways on The Foodie Blogroll . For details on this giveaway, click here

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This package was from Koda Farms, which is a family farm and the oldest continuously run rice farm and mill in California. All facets of production are managed by members of the Koda family from growing and harvesting to milling and packaging.

They are well known for their Heirloom Kokuho Rose – Japanese style, medium grain rice. To this day they maintain their own seed program to preserve the purity of this heirloom rice strain. It is slow to mature, low in yield and tall in stature, making it a true heirloom. To plant this strain of rice every year requires a three year commitment to merely produce the seed. Koda Farms is also known for their Sho-Chiku Bai brand – which is a sweet rice.

In their own words, “One could aptly summarize that rice is our life”. They can trace back their rice growing ancestry back to the 1600′s in Japan. So it is more than their livelihood, it is the continuation of a family legacy and the preservation of their cultural heritage.

They are big on quality control, making sure that even in the processing, the entire rice drying and milling facility is cleaned of rice grains whenever production changes from one rice variety to another. They are also certified organic and all products are also certified kosher.

Besides these two rice varietals I also received three varieties of Organic Nirvana Heirloom Organic Rice and Grains. Each box contains artisan blends of certified organic, all natural ingredients in which whole brown rice is combined with other healthy and nutrient-rich grains and seeds. These rice mixes are prefect for vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic diets. I wanted to add one of these rice and grain mixes to the soup. So I decided to use the California Whole Grain Goodness which contains heirloom brown rice, pearled barley, millet, oat berries, quinoa and rye berries.

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Recipe: Pomodori e Riso Romano – Food 911 by The Leftover Queen

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I have been hearing about Pomodori e Riso (tomatoes and rice) for the past two years. This is one of Roberto’s favorite dishes that he misses the most since moving from Rome to the US. Like his mom’s Involtini, tortellini soup, and roasted potatoes from the Rosticceria, he mentions pomodori e riso often with a dreamy faraway look in his eyes. Pomodori e riso, roasted potatoes and roasted chickens are on offering in many a Rosticceria in Rome. I have been hearing about how great the food is from these places, that when I finally make it to the Eternal City, I imagine that they will be built of gold and marble. Not only this, but I really want to do my best to replicate Roberto’s favorite dishes and give him a sense of home. But Roman cuisine is all uncharted territory for me, as my Italian ancestors are from much farther South and therefore the cuisine is an entirely different animal! But I am always up for a good challenge in the kitchen!

My attempts at making the tortellini soup went over pretty big a few years ago (before I had this blog), so when we found ginormous tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market last week, and he got the pomodori e riso bug, I was all for it. I put on my proverbial chef hat, and my geeky researcher glasses and in a very Food 911 fashion, I asked a lot of questions about how it was supposed to taste and why his past attempts just didn’t do it for him.

Here were the problems with his past attempts:

1) The tomatoes and potatoes were too hard – the ideal texture is soft on the inside, but crispy on the top of the tomatoes and the outsides of the potatoes from sitting in the rosticceria all day getting nice and slowly cooked.

2) The tomatoes were too small and therefore not up to par

3) The sauce needed some help – it had been too bland in the past

4) Rice was not the right texture

So I thought about how to improve on the recipe, and came up with these solutions:

1) I have perfected roasted potatoes. So I knew how I was going to cook them (see recipe method), as for the tomatoes, they needed to be cooked a little ahead of time to get them to the right texture and then but under the broiler (with a little grated parm) at the end to get the crispy top.

2) Use the season’s bounty of beautiful big tomatoes (I don’t think these kinds of tomatoes grow very much in New England)

3) I made the sauce by using the insides of the tomatoes, some Pomi tomato sauce, fresh basil, fresh garlic and salt, sugar, balsamic and pepper to make a delicious and fresh tasting sauce

4) I used arborio rice and pre-cooked it, but added a little extra water so that when it was baked inside the tomatoes, it wouldn’t get hard

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Foodie Event: Eat To The Beat

Man, I am getting in a lot of blog posts this week! I guess there is just so much good stuff going on in the food blogoshpere that I want to support and be a part of. Sometimes, I get so backed up with other food related posts that I wait until the last minute to get my entry in for a Foodie Event. I wish I had time to do them all! I just love the creativity in this community! Food Bloggers ROCK!

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Which leads me exactly to this post and this Foodie Event which is called Eat To The Beat and is the brainchild of my friend
Elly from Elly Says Opa! Elly says she was inspired to create this event because her love of music is about as big as her love for food! I completely concur. I have always believed that my life would be so much better if it had a soundtrack. So since I have started working from home, I can listen to music all day long and it just makes my life so complete. I can’t imagine cooking without music, dinner parties or meals without some kind of music playing the the background. So in a way, I have created a soundtrack for myself!

Press Play:

As you all who are regular readers of this blog know, I do bellydancing and I love it. Due to this fact, much of my music collection is what we call in this house “bellydancing music”. If the music hails from the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey or any of the places in between it is referred to as such.

And as all of you know who read this blog, I love all the foods from those regions as well…coincidence? Most likely not.

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So this gets me to the meat of this post. We were having friends over for dinner last week, and I wanted to create a fun atmosphere – so we did small plates-  meze, antipasti, tapas, whatever you want to call it. I was really getting into all the dolmas or stuffed grape leaves people were making in the weeks leading up to it.  So I decided to combine Peter’s from Kalofagas and Mag’s from Hommus w/ Tabbouli to make my own version. I also made the Labneh from Mag’s blog as well, which is a soft Lebanese yogurt cheese, plus I re-created the Middle Eastern Meatballs with Orzo I had made last year. However, this time I made my own meatballs with the leftover ground meat from the gyros the week before. I just added and egg and some bread crumbs and baked the meatballs in the oven at 400 F for about 25 minutes. The meal was a huge hit and we had a great evening.

I chose this song, Desert Rose, click here to see the original video, the partnership of Sting and Cheb Mami, who is one of my most favorite artists and who is a very big star in his native Algeria and much of the “bellydancing music” world. His voice is unique and beautifully haunting. I also love Sting and give him major props for introducing Cheb’s beautiful voice to the western world through this song.

For more by Cheb Mami, click here.
To hear more of his music, click below.

Now for the recipes:
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