Last Saturday evening, I took some much-needed me time and participated in the first cookbook group hosted by my friend and fellow food blogger, Simran of A Little Yumminess, at her home in the City.
I spent all of Saturday preparing for the gathering and what I regret most is that I didn’t charge my camera battery in advance. I have no photos to share, only vivid memories of the food I prepared (which kicked ass, I must say) and the amazingly delicious dishes I enjoyed at the potluck.
I welcomed the opportunity to spread my culinary wings, which I rarely get to do on harried weeknights when popping something frozen in the oven is standard procedure. For my contribution, I made three-hour tomatoes on crostini shmeared with Bellwether Farms ricotta; and pureed Moroccan chickpea soup, co-starring roasted butternut squash and saffron, and topped with a preserved Meyer lemon crème fraiche that I prepared. Oh and oatmeal raisin cookies. Take on much, Anya?
On Saturday, I ran around the kitchen like a headless chicken who loves to cook. While the beans were simmering on the stove top, I began the three-hour roasting process for the tomatoes. After halving, medium-sized, vine-ripened tomatoes, I cored them, then placed on a cookie sheet. Over the tomatoes, I lightly drizzled olive oil infused with crushed garlic and lemon zest, then a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. As soon as I could get these gorgeous little morsels out of the oven, I blew on one, then popped it in my mouth. I was floored by the concentration of flavors from three hours of cooking. The lightly toasted baguette slices brushed w/ olive oil, topped with fresh ricotta cheese were the perfect platform for these incredibly flavorful tomatoes.
As much as I love cooking with Caleb and Sadie, I also get much pleasure from having a little solitude in the kitchen – time just for me when I can let my inner ‘Alice Waters’ out. A kitchen of one’s own.
While the tomatoes and soup were cooking, Caleb and I made the oatmeal raisin cookies. I had been busily working away in the kitchen, almost to the point of exhaustion, and really needed to involve him somehow. I missed him. We stood side by side at the kitchen table preparing cookie dough together and once the tomatoes were done, we popped the cookie sheets in the oven.
Our house smelled like a small bakery and old Morocco combined. Not such a bad thing and the cookies were gobbled up almost as quickly as they came out of the oven. We sat on the couch together reading a book and shoving way-too-hot cookies in our mouths…what weekends are made for.
Once all the food was prepared, I kissed my family goodbye and headed to the City.
At Simran’s warm and welcoming home, I was treated to a host of delicious vegetarian dishes prepared by the other guests – all women who love to cook as much as I do. There was eggplant polpette (meatballs), roasted cauliflower and red onion with Indian spices, served with basmati and a delicious carrot raita, another more rustic version of Moroccan chickpea soup, a tomato eggplant gratin, peanut udon noodles, brown butter pound cake…I could go on. Everything was so flavorful and very well made. I only knew two of the women (and only slightly) but I left feeling like I had a roomful of like-minded friends, two of which went to my high school – Lowell – as it turns out. All of us homemade gourmets, most of us moms, and all were fantastic cooks.
I need to do things like this more often!
Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Moroccan Lemon Crème Fraiche
Makes 6 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
5 cups vegetable ‘Better than Bullion’ broth
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
5 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled butternut squash, roasted
1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1 15- to 16-ounce can chickpeas drained (or cook from raw)
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 container Bellwether Farms Crème Fraiche
Paprika to taste
1/8 tsp saffron threads dissolved in 1 TB of hot water
½ preserved lemon rind, finely minced and add brine to taste.
Mix ingredients together and put in a bottle with fine tip to garnish soup.
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add saffron; stir 1 minute. Add 5 cups broth and next 5 ingredients; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in chickpeas. Simmer 10 minutes. Puree to smooth or rough, depending on taste. Season with salt and white pepper and any more spices if needed. Ladle soup into bowls. Add small dollops of lemon crème fraiche, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.