Tag Archives: Cooking

Makarona bil-Bechamel

So, when I pulled up my schedule today, I realized that TUESDAY (not Wednesday, as I said in my previous blog post) is my blogging day.  Guess it’s going to take awhile to get used to this new routine!

Here is a recipe that I can’t believe I didn’t share earlier.  It was one of the first dishes I learned to make, from my Arabic teacher in Cairo.  It is also the first dish that ever earned me a true compliment, from an old, old woman who I visited with nearly every day.  Her only critique was that it needed more salt!  This is one of Hungry Husband’s favorite comfort foods, and in Cairo I would make it with camel meat, although ground beef is a fine substitute for those of you without a local camel market 😛

MAKARONA BIL-BECHAMEL (macaroni with bechamel sauce)

Ingredients:

For the meat filling:

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. ground beef

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Spices of your choice (for the meat): cinnamon, whole cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, allspice

Salt and pepper

For the noodles:

13-16 oz. penne pasta (it doesn’t have to be precise, just whatever size the container is at your grocery store)

For the bechamel sauce:

1 stick of butter or ghee

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken brother

2 cups milk

2 eggs

salt to taste

Directions:

1.  Brown the meat with the onions, tomato paste and spices.  You can vary the amount and type of spices depending on how savory you like your meat.  My teacher cooked the meat in a small pot for a long time, so that eventually it reabsorbed all the fat that initially ran out.  It was very, very tasty, but you can drain the meat if you prefer.  When the meat is done, remove any whole spices you used.

Meat browning.

Meat browning.

2.  Cook the noodles to al dente.  Drain and rinse them so that they cool enough to handle and don’t stick together, then return to their pot.

3.  In a pot, melt the butter or ghee over low heat, then add the flour and whisk together.  Cook it over a low heat for several minutes–you should be able to smell the flour cooking.  It may start to brown, in which case take it off the heat so that it doesn’t burn.  Add the chicken broth and whisk vigorously–the flour and broth will seize up and turn very firm, but you can add the milk right in and keep whisking, and it should smooth out.  Cook it for two or three more minutes.  It should be about the consistency of pudding.  Turn the heat off and let it cool for a minute, then whisk in the two eggs.

4.  Pour half the bechamel sauce onto the noodles in their pot and mix together thoroughly.  Spread half the noodles into an oiled 9 x 13 casserole dish, then add the meat layer.  Spread the rest of the noodles on top of the meat and cover with the remaining bechamel sauce, using a spatula to smooth it down.

Layers.

Layers.

Lulu spreads the bechamel sauce over the top.

Lulu spreads the top layer of noodles.

5.  Cook in a 375 F oven for 50-60 minutes, until it is heated through and the top is golden brown and firm.  If you can, let it cool in the pan for 20 or 30 minutes before you cut it, as this will help the layers solidify an be more casserole-like.  We never manage to wait that long, so it tends to fall apart a little bit when I am serving.

Finished!

Finished!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we're eating it anyway!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we’re eating it anyway!

No-Bake Cookies

My relationship with food has become very complicated during this pregnancy.  There are so many “guidelines” about what and when and how much pregnant women are supposed (or not supposed) to eat.  And don’t forget the cocktail of vitamins.

For instance:

  • I am supposed to get about 567% of the average person’s daily amount of iron and calcium.  But for optimal absorption, iron and calcium should not be consumed (whether in food or vitamin form) within two hours of each other.  So, if my breakfast cereal is fortified with iron but I eat it with calcium-rich milk, is it even worth counting the amounts of minerals in that meal?  And my three-times-a-day iron supplements, plus the regular prenatal vitamin…when do I take those?
  • Also, the midwife wants me eating 90 grams of protein each day.  Seriously?  Maybe I should consider this my free ticket to eat steak every day, but as much as I try to cram in dairy products and eggs and tofu and beans and reasonable (affordable) amounts of meat, I doubt I am anywhere close to 90 grams of protein.
  • Can we also discuss the fact that most protein-rich foods are also very high in calories?  Pregnant women only need 300 additional calories every day.
  • Don’t forget too the commandment to eat at least six servings of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Given these imperatives, it must be seen as a divine miracle that humanity has survived as long as we have without a mass proliferation of useless limbs, third eyes and missing organs.  And while I really do want a healthy baby and have worked very hard to follow these eating guidelines as much as possible, there comes the occasional moment when I just have to say, “Screw it.”  And then I make these no-bake cookies.  But only a half batch, because there’s no need to go overboard in indulgence 🙂

That's all I left for Hungry Husband.

No-Bake Cookies (makes about 3 dozen)

  • 1 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 4 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c. crunchy peanut butter
  • 3 c. quick-cooking oats
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 90 seconds, stirring.  (These 90 seconds are really the key…if you cook this for too little time, the cookies will not set, and if you overcook it they will be dry and crumbly.)
Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the peanut butter, oats, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.
Drop by spoonful onto waxed paper (or, if you are like me and don’t have waxed paper, a regular plate/platter will do just fine) and let cool.

What I’ve Been Up To…

Hi there.

Yes, it’s been a long time.  Longer than I ever would have expected.  When I started this blog, I vowed I would not be “one of those people.”  You know, the ones who start going strong and then suddenly drop off the face of the virtual world.

But, that’s what happened.  Multiple moves, one (very healthy, pleasant, and still ongoing) pregnancy, and a very uncertain future have taken the vast majority of my physical, mental and emotional energy over the past few months.

Still, I’ve come up with a few things worth sharing.  The first (which I only tell you about because it was something new to me) falls into the category of “church potluck casserole.”  That is, it contains canned cream of (anything) soup and some sort of crust on top–often, french-fried onions, but in this case, crumbled crackers.  I thought it absolutely revolting and wrong in so many ways, but Hungry Husband liked it, and so did the people at the homeless shelter.  But I threw the recipe away.  Quickly.  Because canned cream of (anything) soup is not real food.

Church Potluck Casserole

Fortunately, I have had better luck since then.  In the midst of what has been a long and very stormy spring, I have been yearning for summer and light, fresh flavors.  First, I came up with a lovely black bean-based salad.  It’s the sort of thing that does not have a recipe…I just threw in things that reminded me of the Caribbean: black beans, mango, celery, red peppers, red onions, cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, chicken, corn, jalapeno, garlic, cumin.  It is very flexible and tasty.  I took a big bowl to a friend’s graduation party last weekend and the dish was cleaned out rather quickly.

So pretty!

Finally, another recipe-less dish based on one of my favorite marinades: olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, and garlic.  I whipped up some penne pasta, opened a can of salmon (fresh salmon is way out of our budget right now–boo!) and had Hungry Husband chunk the meat, and turned the marinade ingredients–plus a slab of butter) into a sauce.  When the pasta was ready I threw everything together and voila!  A fresh and flavorful pasta dish that pairs perfectly with sauteed or grilled vegetables.

A perfect pasta for summertime longings

Tonight, I am having Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce (from Sweet Peas and Pumpkins), and I’m secretly glad that Hungry Husband is away for the night, because I may eat the whole pan myself.  Good thing I only made a half recipe!

What do YOU eat in Winter?

Toast slathered with butter.  Couscous porridge with butter and whole fat milk.  Potatoes mashed with butter, whole fat milk, and an entire head of garlic.

See a theme here?  For me, winter is all about fat and carbohydrates.  I have no qualms confessing that my diet is highly influenced by the season; I know I’m not alone here.  Most of humanity begins thinking this way as evening falls earlier and earlier and we all huddle about wondering how to survive another long, cold winter.  We may not be able to hibernate for the entire three or four months, but we can sure eat like we’re preparing to!

Tonight I made a cheesy potato-corn-white bean chowder.  It started out with onion cooked in a large chunk of butter until translucent, then a few minced cloves of garlic, two smallish diced potatoes, and about 2 1/2 cups each chicken broth and fully fat and wonderful milk, brought to a boil and simmered gently.  Oh, it smelled heavenly!  Once the potatoes were tender I added one (drained) can each of corn and white beans, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and some cubed cheese, maybe 1/3 cup, which led to the only slightly disappointing part of the whole shebang.  In my extreme cheapness, I had forsaken the real cheese and bought processed cheese.  I was thinking Velveeta; what I got instead was a sticky white brick that refused to melt even when cut into very small pieces, meaning that instead of a consistently gooey cheesy broth, I ended up with a milky broth with bursts of cheesy(ish) goodness.

(That’s all the recipe you’re getting for this.  It’s so very simple.  And soup is really something that was made for adaptation and improvisation, so you can take this idea and recreate it yourself in whatever manner works for you.  I would suggest better cheese, though!)

And I ate it out of a mug, because it is a well known fact that soup (umm, or chowder, whatever the difference may be) always tastes best when eaten out of either a mug or a bread bowl.  Bread bowls being in short supply round these parts, I happily grasped my mug in both hands (giving the additional benefit of warm to my chilly little fingers) and soaked up my leftover broth with a warm wheat roll.  (And no, I did not butter the roll.  But I did consider it…)