The Meat of the Matter

Here at the Gibson Ranch, we like to step outside the corral of meat and potatoes to try a little something different.  For Hanukkah this year, we indulged in one of our favorites:  Lebanese meat pies.  They’re perfect as an appetizer, a side dish, or even a main dish.  It’s all a matter of perspective, what you’re serving them with, and how many you want to eat!

This easy recipe is a great introduction to Middle Eastern cooking.  I’m sure you’ll end up making it part of your holiday traditions, too.

Lebanese Meat Pies

2 lb. ground beef or ground lamb

¾ c pine nuts, toasted

2 large sweet onions, diced

Juice of 2 lemons

½ – 1 t sea salt

½ t black pepper

Hearty dashes of cinnamon

Slight dash of allspice

36 frozen dinner rolls (I used Rhodes)

Egg white for glazing

Prepare the dinner rolls the night before.  Place them on baking sheets coated with cooking spray taking care to leave room for rising.  Cover with plastic wrap also coated with cooking spray and place the trays in the refrigerator.  The rolls will defrost in the refrigerator, but you will need to let them rise at room temperature until they are at least doubled in size.

When the rolls are ready, preheat your oven to 450° degrees.

Toast the pine nuts in a toaster oven at 325° for 5 minutes stirring at least once.  Pine nuts burn easily, so start with 5 minutes and only cook in additional minutes, if necessary, until they are golden.  You can do these in a conventional oven, but keep an eye on them.  Set aside to cool, and then chop or grind coarsely.

Dice the onion and place it in a skillet with the ground beef.  Cook until the meat is no longer red and the onions are translucent.  Drain thoroughly; there will be quite a bit of liquid.  Return the meat/onion mixture to the skillet and add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice.  Stir to mix and warm through.

To assemble the meat pies, take one roll, stretch it out round, and place a spoonful of meat mixture in the center.  Fold one side in toward the center, and then fold up another side.  Pinch the seam shut between the two sides.  Fold up the third side, and pinch the other two seams shut as well.  You will end up with a triangular-shaped pie.  Some people bake them seam down, but I’ve always baked them seam up.  If your seams are secure, I’ve found it really doesn’t matter.

Brush the sealed pies with beaten egg white taking care not to rip them open.  Bake for 10 – 11 minutes until golden brown, ending up more on the golden end of the color spectrum.  Depending on your oven, you may go 12 – 15 minutes, but do not burn the bottoms or overbake the tops.

Enjoy!

May I Take Your Order, Please?

I’m not a big fan of blog posts that are nothing but links, but a few people have requested this of me, and I dare not disappoint my loyal followers.  What they wanted to know was which recipes I featured from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, went together to create the meals.  I didn’t write the posts in order, and since my novel has yet to be published, I thought I’d do them this favor.

From Chapter One, I featured fried eggs and potatoes, ham and redeye gravy, buttermilk biscuits with butter and jelly, creamed peas, fried apples, and canned peaches for the breakfast celebrating my protagonist’s birth.

In Chapter Six, the first time Johnny Welles meets his Aunt Prudence, I had his stepmother, Collie, serve fried chicken, black eyed peas, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

The menu for the meal I created for Chapter Seven, when Johnny leaves the farm with his Aunt Prudence, includes cold fried chicken (See recipe above), fresh peaches, apple pie, and lemonade.

The pork chops I served in Chapter Nine went with the buttermilk biscuits, fried eggs, and fried apples from Chapter One.  If the food item appeared twice in my novel, I only featured the recipe once.

The brisket from Chapter Twelve, when John and Claude celebrated Hanukkah with their friend, Sam Feldman, was enjoyed with latkes.

John and his girlfriend, Garland, were served roast chicken, buttermilk biscuits (See recipe above), and peach pie by Garland’s father, Hugh Griffin, in Chapter Fifteen.  Those buttermilk biscuits were obviously a favorite of mine!

But then I must have liked the latkes, too, because they reappeared in Chapter Twenty Eight when John dined with the Hannah and Reuben Wise and I featured salmon patties topped with carrot slices and horseradish, latkes (See recipe above) with applesauce and sour cream, and homemade grape juice.

The last little meal I have to mention is the brown beans and cornbread served in Chapter Twenty Nine.  I assumed most people would figure out they go together, but they’re just too delicious not to mention.

I hope this satisfies the request to group my recipes as they were featured in my novel.  I still laugh to myself when I think how I feed my characters as if entertaining good friends.  It’s probably because I grew up with parents who can cook and enjoy doing so, and a grandmother whose simple food prepared with love forms some of my best memories.

There are only a handful of chapters that do not include a single mention of food.  As for the ones that do, and aren’t included here, I hope you’ll enjoy a trip through the Edible Fiction portion of my blog discovering the recipes.

What I Like About Being an American

What I Like About Being an AmericanI developed an interest in Indian cooking after watching the movie The Lunchbox. The main character, Ila, infused her cooking with beautiful, artistic expression in the form of spices. I enjoyed watching her hands move as she seasoned her culinary creations without the benefit of measuring spoons. Her spice box caught my attention and held my interest.

I mentioned this to a former co-worker, Bina, who is Indian. She was surprised that I enjoyed the movie, and we had a lovely discussion on Indian food. She suggested the movie The Hundred Foot Journey which further fueled my desire to learn Indian cooking. Bina invited me and three co-workers to her home for an introduction to the world of Indian cuisine.

One of the first things she explained was masala. I assumed masala was a set combination of spices used in a particular recipe. I had seen garam masala and madras masala in markets selling exotic foods. However, like curry, masala changes depending on the country and regions within said country. Bina didn’t own anything among her spices bottled and labeled masala. What she had were individual spices that she knew how to blend perfectly without measuring to create the flavor the recipe required.

Still, I didn’t quite understand masala, but I kept Bina’s comments and instructions in mind, specifically when she said she has a dessert masala, a chicken masala, and a vegetable masala. I Googled a few Indian recipes and tried them. They were good, and many of the spices Bina owns and uses were featured, but something was missing. My desire to cook Indian food was stifled by a concept I wasn’t grasping. I took a break from pursuing it and kept making recipes with which I am familiar.

One day I decided to make chili for dinner. When it came time to season the chili, jars were opened and contents sprinkled over the simmering pot until the quantity on the surface looked right and I stirred them in. A little tasting, a few more dashes of this or that, and I allowed the chili to simmer for a while. I always taste again before it’s completely cooked just to see if the flavors are balanced and add anything as needed. That’s when it hit me: the combination of spices I used was my chili masala which I return to every time I make it. I know how chili should taste to me, but I’m sure if I visited Texas or other chili-making regions of America, I’d experience other spice combinations.

I laughed to myself as my favorite seasoning combination for chicken came to mind. Then I realized I had been on the cusp of understanding the beautiful concept of masala several years ago when I attempted to swap ground ginger for fresh. The ground variety tastes savory and what I describe as classically American. Think Thanksgiving. But the recipe I was making needed the lemony zestiness of fresh ginger, that classically Asian flavor, because I was cooking a Chinese dish. Herbs de Provence is another example of a spice combination that will reflect the nuances of the person cooking with it. Just like masala, there are some spices that will always appear in the mix, but people love to alter it based on their preferences or just to add a dash of mystery.

What I Like About Being an American 2What I learned about masala, about seasoning food in general, is why I like being an American. Where else can you experience a merging of cultures that bring amazing culinary skills from their own countries so that everyone can enjoy them in one place? The great American melting pot starts in our kitchens and ends with the united flavors of America. I have returned to Indian cooking, and while I use the spices to which Bina introduced me, I suspect that my masala may not taste exactly like what she would expect. But that’s okay.

Every Day Should Be Sundae

Not everything I read is in my favorite genre, historical fiction. Last week, while checking out a patron at the library, I happened upon a wonderful book called No-Churn Ice Cream by Leslie Bilderback. I didn’t have the opportunity to glance at the recipes, but the no-churn aspect caught my eye. I don’t own an ice cream maker and have no plan to buy one in the near future. I’ve also heard that the salt required for the freezing process with a machine can be costly. So, I placed a hold on the next available copy and waited.51G5hIs8XuL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

I’m such a skeptic that while I waited, I convinced myself that homemade ice cream would still be costly and that there is no possible way to make it without an investment in some sort of machinery. I am so glad I was completely wrong.

The ice cream recipes featured in Ms. Bilderback’s book are simple, elegant, and even without having made one yet, I’m sure they are delicious. They range from the basic vanilla and chocolate to the adventurous strawberry-rhubarb, pineapple-pepper, and lavender. The book also features sorbet and gelato in unique combinations.

My favorite part of the book is the ingredient list. You won’t be scouring the Internet for bizarre items available at an outrageous price from countries you’ve never heard of. This fact only strengthened my need to own this particular book.

If you love ice cream, and who doesn’t, No-Churn Ice Cream should be the next book you check out or purchase.

Get Your Italian On

Below are three fabulous websites I used while researching food for my short story “Italian Cooking.” If you don’t want to visit Italy or at least cook something Italian after reading these then all I can say is, you’re not enjoying food and/or cooking to its fullest. I was ready to hop a plane for Italy and sign up at Academia Barilla. I have no idea how I would pay for it, but who cares?

Buon appetito!

Saveur

Academia Barilla

Wine Weekly

The Debt to Pleasure – Book Review

Thank you, Lugo Mez (My Emerald Heart), for recommending The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester.  What a deliciously wicked tale, involving food, told from the villain’s perspective.  I enjoy a well-written bad character, the one I love to hate, and this book certainly doesn’t disappoint.  The clues leading up to the conclusion are well-placed within the ramblings of madman connoisseur, Tarquin Winot.  The recipes for food and drink are simple, elegant, and not to be ignored lest you bring the wrath of Tarquin down upon yourself.

I don’t own this book, but I must have it has part of my private library.  The fact that I’ve already read it doesn’t diminish its desirability in any way.  This one is definitely going on my Christmas list.

 

Edible Fiction

About a month ago, I had a brilliant idea for my blog:  feature the food in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. That very same day, a patron at the library where I work checked out a book called Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried.

I could have been bitter, believing my brilliant idea to have been stolen right out from under my nose, but realized I was on to something good. I placed the book on hold and waited another month for my turn to read it.

In the meantime, I scoured my own novel for every mention of food. There were plenty. I’m not really surprised because I have always enjoyed eating. Also in that vein of thought, I love to feed my family and friends. It made sense that I fed my fictional people as well.

Based on this discovery, I decided to provide recipes and pictures of the food in my book. My goal would be to immerse the reader into the world of my main character, John Welles. Not to mention, it has been and will be incredibly fun to create the food, photograph the food, and eat the food.

Bon appétit!

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