What’s for supper? Vol. 321: Fly me to taboon (and let me play among za’atar)

Busy busy! Aren’t we all! Here’s what we had this week, including two birthday cakes (and this is why we don’t really do St. Lucy’s day or St. Nicholas day or what have you. December is already full up): 

SATURDAY
Benny’s birthday party! Pizza and cake

Benny had an ancient Egypt-themed birthday party. More guests than expected showed up, and it was a little bit bananas, and they were less interested in the activities we planned (making necklaces out of clay cartouches with their names in hieroglyphs; getting eye makeup and posing in the sarcophagus photo booth; and doing a toilet paper mummy wrapping contest) and more interested in running around screaming. But we powered through. We decorated with gold and blue plastic tablecloths tacked onto the walls, with details added with a Sharpie. 

and we did get a few sarcophagus shots

and the birthday girl was highly pleased with the cake.

I made two nine-inch square cakes and one deep loaf cake, and just kept carving them up and stacking the pieces on top of each other and sticking them together with icing, and by the time it looked like a pyramid, there was very little left over

I frosted it with tub frosting and pressed colored sugar into the sides, added lines with a toothpick, and then made some camels and trees with chocolate melting discs, and pressed those into the sides, with crushed graham crackers for sand. 

Uh, the reason it says “HAPY BIRTDAY” is because I showed her the cool golden letter candles I had bought, and asked if they were good for her cake, and she said, “Yes, as long as there are 11 of them.” Of course there are 13 letters in “happy birthday,” so I suggested “hapy birtday,” and that worked for her.

This is my #1 parenting rule: Discuss expectations ahead of time, and you will save everyone so much heartache. 

SUNDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, broccoli 

Aldi had a clearance on their bottles of that garlic aioli mayo stuff, so I bought several bottles. I complain a lot when people clutter up my limited cabinet space with unnecessary bottles, but we’re talking about garlic aioli may stuff here. I’m not sharing a picture of my chicken sandwich because I put a disgusting amount of mayo on and it looks obscene. 

I also got crafty real quick on Sunday and did a fast project I’ve been saving the materials for for a while: This pretty pinecone zinnia wreath. 

Some pinecones, not all, really look like zinnias on their undersides, especially if you paint them. I clipped the tops off with garden shears, leaving the central “spine” mostly intact; hot glued them to a grapevine wreath from the thrift store, painted them with tempera, and then picked out a few of the vines of the wreath in two shades of green. I considered adding ribbon or berries, but it’s so bright and simple, I think I like it this way.  The wreath has a kind of wild grass look, which reminds me of Cape Cod, which is where I gathered the pine cones. 

MONDAY
Ham, peas, garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Just in case they forgot who’s the best mother in the whole world: Ham, peas, and mashed potatoes, that’s who. 

Here’s my garlic parmesan mashed potato recipe, should you need it:

Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Mussakhan and taboon, feta cheese, pomegranates, meghli and sahlab

This meal really got away from me, in the best way. I had spotted this recipe for mussakhan a while back. It’s apparently the national Palestinian dish, and it’s easy and delicious: Sumac chicken with onions. If you like middle eastern food, this hits all those best notes. It has not just sumac, but allspice, cumin, cinnamon, lemon, and garlic. You slash the chicken (I used drumsticks and thighs) across the grain and rub the marinade in, and let it marinate several hours with sliced red onions, and then you just roast it in the oven. 

What puts it over the top is, right at the end, you brown up some pine nuts in olive oil and sprinkle these over the top, along with some flat leaf parsley and a little extra sumac. 

What puts it into the stratosphere is you serve it oven taboon, which is a dimpled, chewy flatbread which is supposed to be made in a clay oven or at least on a pizza stone, but guess what? I made one big giant slab o’ taboon on a sheet pan in my regular oven and it was AMAZING. 

I had to run out and buy bread flour, so I almost decided to just pick up some store bought pita instead, but I’m so glad I went for the homemade taboon.

Here’s the recipe:

Jump to Recipe

IT’S SO EASY. You guys know I’m kind of a dunce with baking and with bread in particular, but this was an unqualified success. I just mixed up the ingredients in my standing mixer, let it rise for an hour or so, scronched it and let it rest for ten minutes, and then rolled it out and stretched it into the pan, and baked it while the chicken finished cooking.

So at dinner time, I put the piping hot taboon on the table and then I served the chicken right on top of the bread, and poured all the cooking juices over it, and sprinkled the sizzling pine nuts over that, and finished with the parsley and sumac. 

Everyone just grabbed some chicken and tore off whatever bread they wanted and, oh man, it was fantastic. 

I wish I had taken some pictures of the inside of the taboon, but it was just barely browned and crisp on the bottom; the top was a little bit chewy, and the inside was fluffy and pillowy. So nice. The little dimples sop up the juices. 

I also had some feta cheese because I bought too much for spanakopita for Thanksgiving; and I had a bunch of pomegranates I got for Benny’s Egypt party and forgot to serve. So that went perfectly. 

I also suddenly remembered that, this summer, I had bought two pudding mixes: meghli and sahlab.

I had no idea what either of these were; I just liked the names, and I love puddings of all kind. The sahlab required you to add four cups of milk and heat and stir until it thickens, and then you can either drink it as a hot beverage, or else chill and serve as a pudding; the meghli required four cups of cold water, heat and stir to boil, and then chill. 

I chilled them both and served them with dried coconut. (Sorry about the inelegant picture. I was absolutely stuffed with food and could not be bothered to get up and find a pretty ramekin at this point.)

The sahlab had a pleasant silky texture, but tasted very strongly of rosewater and not much else, and I’m not a big fan. Rosewater just tastes like perfume to me. The kids liked it, though. If you like rosewater, I definitely recommend this mix. It was very easy to make.

The meghli was weird but nice. I liked the flavor, which is apparently predominantly anise, caraway, and cinnamon. I didn’t really taste the anise, but really mainly the cinnamon. But the flavor wasn’t really strong enough, though, and it tasted watery, and that was a little off-putting. It was also kind of pulpy. It’s possible I made it wrong, although all I had to do was stir it, so I don’t know how I could have messed it up! I might try it again and see if it comes out different. 

But all in all, a fantastic meal, very popular. Four new foods! It was a little expensive just because of the pine nuts and sumac, but I’m going to shop around and see if I can find them for cheaper, because I want to make this whole meal again. 

WEDNESDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, fries 

It’s been a while. The olive salad turned out particularly nice, who knows why. I threw in two cans of black olives, one jar of green, and one jar of kalamata, a few pepproncini, some mild banana peppers, a bunch of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and a bunch of flat leaf parsley, and I think that’s it. I had some marinated red peppers, but they got shoved into the back of the fridge and froze. 

I served it on baguettes. For meats and cheese, I came up with leftover ham, genoa salami, hard salami, and some good provolone. None of this – not the olive salad, not the meats, not the bread, not the proportions of any of it – is authentic muffaletta, but it tasted good, and hardly anyone went and had cereal, so. 

I’m trying SO hard not to eat a meal’s worth of snacks while I wait for supper time, so instead I made a salami rose 

and that has made all the difference.

THURSDAY
My birthday!

Now I am 48! So far, it’s better than being dead.

The day started out a little squalid, and I drove the kids to school while Damien drove some to the dentist, then I drove to the dentist, while he drove one of them home because we got confused about the work schedule, then I drove some of them from the dentist to school, then I did a little Christmas shopping, then home, then drove the kid to work and picked up a prescription, then went home and had a telehealth doctor visit where I was like “I’m not really fine” and she was like “yes you are” and I was like “oh ok”; and then we had to go to a meeting where they were like, how are you suckers going to pay for your kid to go to Rome, eh? And we were like, duh, I dunno, she managed to sell three pots of poinsettias and we thought that would cover it, but apparently not.

BUT THEN, that was all the things we had to do! and Damien offered to take me wherever I wanted to go, and I really wanted to go get pizza. I chose eggplant, artichoke, anchovy, and garlic, and it was frickin delicious. 

I also laughed my head off because, as I ate, I watched as the cashier tell this teenage boy that he had been noticed trying to walk out with one of the restaurant’s two-foot glittery reindeer decorations hidden under his shirt, and they weren’t going to make a big deal about it because it was Christmas, but he needed to give it back. Teenage boys are so dumb. Just, so dumb. How are they even alive. 

And then we went home and everyone showered me with lovely, thoughtful presents

and Clara had baked me a spectacular cake

It was a coconut cream cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction, to which she had added lime zest and crushed pineapple, both brilliant ideas. Oh, what a moist, wonderful cake. So it was a great birthday! I felt very cherished and cared-for. Also, earlier, I was supposed to pick up the kids from school, but instead Damien did it, and I just took a nap. And he came home with flowers. 

FRIDAY
Pizza

It is a snow day. A snow day that they told us about the day before, so we just turned off the alarms and slept in! I slept kind of late and now I’m scrambling to get caught up. Good thing we’re having pizza. 

 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

taboon bread

You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 4 packets yeast
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp + 3 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

  2. While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.

  5. If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.

  6. Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.

  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.

What’s for supper? Vol. 311: In which I go astray with lemons

Apparently it is Friday! I had no idea. Follow me for more organizational tips. 

Like most of the country, we’re feeling a bit pinched financially, so I’m trying to pare things down a bit. I stuck to my usual method (looking up the supermarket flyers and basing the menu around the meat and produce that’s on sale), but I was a little more severe about it than usual, and managed to slice quite a bit off the grocery bill this week, so that felt good. We still ate pretty well. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Fancy chicken sandwiches, raw broccoli, fake Pringles

Just regular chicken burgers, but on ciabatta rolls, with red onion, tomato, aioli mayo, and smoked gouda (which was on sale). A very pleasant, flavorful sandwich. 

If you are wondering what the difference is between aioli and mayo, aioli is made with garlic and olive oil and and mayo is made with egg yolks and canola oil. I suppose aioli mayo is made with eggs, olive oil, and garlic, although I didn’t check the label. Just slathered that stuff on.

SUNDAY
Apple pancakes, sausages, OJ; gingerbread cake with lemon frosting

Damien had to go to Florida for a quick business trip, so we did the ol’ “Daddy’s away, let’s just have pancakes” routine. You know how, when you’re making pancakes, the first batch turns out terrible? This was like that, except all the other batches were also terrible. I have no idea what my problem was, but I absolutely massacred these pancakes. I also got very frugal and chopped up and threw in some quite elderly apples that I probably should have just let go in peace. The kids were very gracious, though, and ate everything up. 

I had more success with dessert, which was a belated birthday cake for Clara. I used the King Arthur gingerbread cake recipe. I am a pretty poor baker, prone to mid-recipe panics and irrational sulks, but King Arthur has saved my bacon more than once, and I recommend them if you are a baker who lacks confidence.

This is a classic gingerbread cake recipe, with coffee, plenty of molasses, and all the cozy autumn spices.

I made a double recipe and baked it in silicone rounds, and they turned out lovely. 

You’re supposed to serve gingerbread with just a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or maybe some whipped cream, or possibly a light glaze, but this was a birthday cake, so I went whole hog and made a big batch of thick lemon buttercream frosting. I followed this Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe (it’s just a basic buttercream recipe, made with heavy cream, plus fresh lemon juice and lemon zest), and that, too, turned out lovely, very rich and lemony, and a pleasant pale yellow (more so than it looks in the photo below). Here I have just tossed a handful of lemon zest on top. 

Then I got the brilliant idea to candy some lemon slices for garnishes. I have candied lemon peel before, for lemon meringue pie, but I wanted something a little more flashy, so I bought a bunch of hard lemon candies, smashed them with the marble rolling pin I got at the dump

and — okay, here is where I went astray. 

First I sliced up some lemons and laid them on a pan on parchment paper. My first mistake is I should have laid them on paper towel, or something absorbent, because lemons do weep. My second mistake is that I smashed the candies and then decided I would melt them in the microwave and pour the melted candy over the lemon slices. This . . . kind of worked. 

But the candy started sort of boiling before it was completely melted all the way through, and I was afraid of ruining it, so I didn’t have a lot to work with. 

What I should have done, maybe, was sprinkle the crushed candy bits over the lemon slices and put the pan in the oven to melt it all together that way. I think. You can see that I also didn’t take out the seeds. I remember making the decision not to do this, and telling myself it would be more authentic or something, but obviously I just didn’t feel like picking the seeds out. 

Anyway, I ended up with more or less candied lemon slices that were a tiny bit floppier than I would have liked, and a little bit weepy. As someone who got a little bit weepy over a Gary Larson cartoon yesterday, I really cannot judge the lemons for this. 

Then I watched my ten millionth video on how to frost a cake, frosted the cake, loused it up completely like I always do, and decorated it with sort-of candied lemon slices, marigolds (which are edible), and some candied ginger slices. I also threw on some candy squiggles that I had the foresight to make, once I realized that the candy was going to end up squiggly whether I wanted it to or not. And it turned out kind of pretty!

Weird, but pretty. The candy squiggles give it a bit of a doctor’s signature look, which I always think is nice. And see, you can see how the lemons are weeping.

There there, lemons. 

Actually, I think it’s the lemon candy that’s weeping. It’s too bright to be lemon juice. I don’t know. Well, the cake itself was good. Moist and dense, but still tender, and not gummy.

The lemon frosting was maybe a little too sweet, but that’s buttercream for you. A successful cake overall, I thought. 

MONDAY
Pasta with meat sauce

Damien was still away, so I reverted to an old kid-friendly meal: twisty pasta with jarred spaghetti sauce and ground beef. I did fry up a chopped onion, but I think that’s as far as I went with the seasoning. And wow, was it bland. I used to cook like this all the time.

TUESDAY
Pizza

Tuesday was a little experiment: I made just three pizzas, to see if it would be enough. In our heyday, I would make six extra-large pizzas, and there would only be scanty leftovers. As the family shifts and the birdies fly the next, I keep decreasing how many pizzas I make, and this week I had to acknowledge that, when I make four pizzas, there are leftovers hanging around all week long. So I made three, and there were three or four pieces left after everyone ate. This does not sit right, but the data is in. 

Here is a pie chart demonstrating how much pizza our family ate:

Tee hee. (Then we ate the rest of it.)

WEDNESDAY
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits

Last week, while frying chicken for the chicken biryani, I thought to myself that I really ought to try frying chicken for a main course again, because it was surprisingly simple and easy, and why not? 

So, the answer to this question is: Frying up six or seven pieces of chicken to go in a larger dish later in the day is one thing. Frying up 24 pieces of chicken while everyone hungrily waits for dinner on a school night is quite another. It was not simple! It was not easy! And also I forgot that only one of the big burners on the stove works properly, and the other one just stays on high and burns everything, and the other two are tiny and useless. So, that’s why not. 

I don’t have regrets, though. But I’m starting much earlier in the day, next time. I more or less followed this recipe, except that I dredged the milk-soaked chicken in regular flour seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. I have to admit, it was frrrrrreaking delicious. 

I over cooked it somewhat, so the outside wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was tasty as heck, the meat was juicy, and all the kids said it was great and I should make it again. So that’s a win! Here’s my unbeautiful but tasty plate:

As you can see, I also made garlic mashed potatoes that were kind of not great. They were very small potatoes and I was rushing, so I decided not to peel them, which works okay if you are going to mash them very thoroughly, which I did not. Oh well. I make mashed potatoes infrequently enough that the kids consider them a treat and were happy to have them. Here’s the recipe, if you want to do it right:

Jump to Recipe

I also made a few dozen biscuits that turned out pretty well.

I have a reliable biscuit recipe that calls for cream of tartar and egg, and the biscuits come out rich and fluffy, with a fragile, buttery crust.

Jump to Recipe

Overall a popular meal. Gravy would have been great, but I just ran out of time. I also wished I had some sauteed spinach, but again, time. 

THURSDAY
Leftover fried chicken, fries, corn

I was planning (well, “planning”) Greek chicken something something yogurt sauce I dunno, but there was a lot of fried chicken left over, so we just picked up some frozen fries, heated up some frozen corn, and had chicken again. 

You can see that the coating adhered nicely, even unto the second day, so I’ll definitely stick with this recipe next time. Maybe even make some gravy.

FRIDAY
Quesadillas, chips, salsa

And then, like I said, apparently it is Friday! At least that’s what it says here. And now I’m headed to the windowsill. 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

moron biscuits

Because I've been trying all my life to make nice biscuits and I was too much of a moron, until I discovered this recipe. It has egg and cream of tartar, which is weird, but they come out great every time. Flaky little crust, lovely, lofty insides, rich, buttery taste.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, chilled
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450.

  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar.

  3. Grate the chilled butter with a box grater into the dry ingredients.

  4. Stir in the milk and egg and mix until just combined. Don't overwork it. It's fine to see little bits of butter.

  5. On a floured surface, knead the dough 10-15 times. If it's very sticky, add a little flour.

  6. With your hands, press the dough out until it's about an inch thick. Cut biscuits. Depending on the size, you can probably get 20 medium-sized biscuits with this recipe.

  7. Grease a pan and bake for 10-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.