Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Weeknight Moroccan-fusion Menu for the Whole Family

This morning I didn't know what we were having for supper. I had a vague notion that something involving ground lamb would be about right, but that's as far as I had got. This is what happens when our regularly scheduled life gets hijacked by circumstances outside our control—I forego the weekly meal plan, and then it's Thursday morning and I don't know what to cook.

It was a long weekend here in Saskatchewan. We spent the weekend at my parents' place, house-sitting for them while they're in Mexico. It was a very nice Valentine's Day: steaks, baked potatoes and wedge salads and some quiet family time (much needed after several busy weeks) in a secluded log cabin.

And then the moment of calm was over. On Monday we drove back into the city, attended a beautiful brunch with friends in their new home, I took a two-hour work call, and then caught a plane to Edmonton so that I could drive to Slave Lake, AB for a work meeting the next day. A six hour round trip was followed by another plane ride to Regina, where I attended more meetings on Wednesday.

Hence the lack of a meal plan.

My husband did a great job of holding down the fort while I was away, and had slow cooker chicken in cream sauce waiting for us when we arrived home on Wednesday. I threw together some simple drop biscuits while he made a salad, and we had a lovely meal together.

Which brings me back to tonight. Lamb. What to do?

I did a search and landed on a cool concept on where you cook lamb burgers on the grill, right inside the pita. It looked easy and fun, and since my kids love quesadillas and burgers of all kinds, it looked like it might even be a hit with them.

I stopped at the store to pick up pita, and on a whim, also grabbed some eggplants. Why not Baba Ghanoush to go with the lamb burgers? I remembered that we had lots of carrots and cauliflower at home (thanks to my parents off-loading all their fresh produce before leaving for Mexico), so I decided to turn those into side dishes. And we were off.

The meal was a qualified success. The kids loved parts of it; the adults loved all of it. The kids were super excited by the burgers in the crunchy pitas. As my husband came in the door, he was greeted by D: "Dad! We're having these taco kinda lamb burger things and...what's it called? Baba ghanoush, which is like hummus except made with eggplants!" He gobbled up the baba ghanoush (first time either of my kids embraced eggplant), and politely explained that he didn't care for the carrot and date salad (much preferred to the hacking and gagging response we often get from his brother). He ate the roasted cauliflower with saffron, however. G did better with the burgers, avoided the eggplant and carrot salad, and picked the cauliflower out of the sauce studded with raisins and olives.

The adults loved the whole meal. And I will definitely be using the 'grill meat in pita' approach again. Here are the links so you can make it too, if you like!

Spiced Lamb Burger
Saffron Cauliflower  (don't be put off by the fancy name—this dish is super simple and forgiving. You could easily replace the saffron and water with vegetable broth. It won't be as pretty, but it will be more practical for most pantries.)
Date and Carrot Salad
Baba Ghanoush (dip extra pita in it before supper is ready, or serve it on your burgers. My husband piled his burger up with baba ghanoush and the carrot salad and declared it fabulous.)


Thursday, February 11, 2016

When There's One Kid Who's Gluten-Free

How many of you have been where I am tonight? The Valentine's Day party is happening at school tomorrow. I have conditioned my children to expect that 'we' (meaning me) do heart cookies as Valentines. And one of D's friends is gluten-free.

D says, "Just make one of those coconut cookies. A haystack." Like it's easy to make just one cookie.

I realized as I was pulling the heart cookies out of the oven this morning that this one child had still not been accounted for. I thought about it three times today, and hadn't come up with the time to address the issue. I got home from bootcamp at 9:30pm and realized that I still hadn't come up with a solution.

I confess, I looked for an easy way out. I went to the store, hoping to find a gluten-free cookie that would work for this little boy.

One gluten-free cookie
How many times do people with food
 allergies just have to sit out? I couldn't
 do that to D's friend on Valentine's Day.
Sometimes the Universe notes my attempt at a short cut, and says, "Tsk tsk. You can do better." There was not a single gluten-free cookie for purchase at my nearest grocery store, which was closing as I searched.

I considered just sending him a bag full of cinnamon hearts, but I knew that would appear less next to everyone else's homemade cookies (as would the purchased cookie, if I'm truthful). So I bucked up and decided to make a tiny batch of coconut macaroons.

Now that I've done it, I know I can do it again. It took mere minutes, and while I'm waiting up while they bake, it's so worth it to have the option of a tiny batch of gluten-free alternatives for the one person who can't eat the regular cookies.

So here it is. A recipe that makes only four cookies. But sometimes, when you just need that one cookie, that's all you need.

One-egg Coconut Macaroons (adapted from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life)

1 egg white
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 1/2 T. sugar
1/8 t. vanilla extract

Place egg white, coconut and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Heat and stir until the mixture begins to dry out and get stickier. You can tell when you're getting close because the mixture starts to look creamy and you can see individual coconut pieces. Once it's sticky, but still moist, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Spread out the mixture on a pie plate and place in the freezer to cool for about five minutes. Shape cooled mixture into four equal mounds. Top with a cinnamon heart, if you like, and bake at 300F until golden, about 20 minutes.

Makes 4.