Tuesday, September 18, 2012

movin' to wordpress

hi, friends! 

i started my blog up on a new site! 

check it out: http://zeitouna.wordpress.com/ 


Sunday, September 9, 2012

prune plum cake

it’s september and portland has been my home for precisely two years

when i first moved here i did a lot of wandering. i remember pausing in front of houses for what felt like hours, dumbfounded at rosemary bushes the size of living room chairs, magenta dahlias, fig trees, lavender, artichoke

i still stop every time i see mount hood,

i can’t help it.

a few days ago, on my walk home from a trip to the grocery store, i noticed an italian prune plum tree in front of a small home. there was a sign out front, “for sale.” i couldn’t help but think to myself, “i want those plums,” quickly rationalizing my desire to steal by saying, “who is going to harvest this poor plum tree? what’s gonna happen to all the fruit? what’s gonna happen to the tree?!”

so the next night, i put on my cape and filled my bag high


. . .

italian prune plums are one of my favourite end of summer treats. they’re tart and sweet, slightly crunchy, perfect for afternoon snackin’

today, i wanted a little bit more than just a plum, so i turned on the oven, tied my apron and baked my favourite plum cake

billie sang for me

this plum cake recipe comes from a dear family friend, uwe pleban. when i think of uwe, i think of late night economics conversations after family dinner; walking near the river spotting woodland birds; sunday afternoon football games. uwe and his wife, sharbyn are incredible cooks. their home was always so comfortable - toasty with dinner aromas, soft with sunshine, tucked away in the woods. 

so, in celebration of two formative years in the misty pacific northwest, with plum cake in the oven, i’m happy to say that my home, too, feels this way

German Plum Cake
from uwe pleban, originally from his mother's dr. oetker kochbuch from the 1950’s

for the dough, you’ll need:

one stick plus one tablespoons butter (room temperature)
150 grams sugar (about 6 heaping tablespoons)
one half teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
pinch of salt
500 grams flour (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ to 1 cup of milk (the amount depends on a number of factors discussed later)

for the fruit topping, you’ll need:
2-3 pounds prune plums (only prune plums will work, other plums will make a mess in the oven)

beat the butter until it is smooth, then gradually add the sugar and salt.  

add the eggs one egg at the time

sift the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl

add a few tablespoons of the sifted flour to the batter, then some milk, and keep alternating, ending with the flour. the batter should "tear" from the wooden spoon; if it "drips", there is too much liquid, and more flour should be added. the last two rounds of stirring the batter will require a lot of muscle power, since the batter will be stiff.

butter a baking sheet (i use a rectangular pyrex baking dish). spread the batter evenly over the sheet.

preheat the oven to 375 F

preparing the plums
cut prune plums open enough so that you can remove the pit. Spread each plum and place it in the batter in rows. the rows will be close together. the plums should be at an angle such that the interior light colored side faces upward.

bake for about forty minutes

after the cake has cooled, optionally sprinkle confectioners sugar over it

serve it warm with,

whipping cream
1 ½ pint heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
whip with a hand held electric mixer until soft peaks form

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

last minute grilled jerk chicken

this past week i had an unexpected, late august visit to michigan.

it left me happier than any previous time i’ve wandered home

for many reasons, this time around, love seemed undeniable.

let’s be honest, look at this place
photographs from my uncle ron’s film minolta

so after a week of sticky heat and late night swims, track walkin’ and singin’ old tunes, i’ve found myself right where i need to be. 

from one home to the other.

going and coming made me realize that summer in portland is, indeed, all that everyone has ever told me it is:
hot, but not arid, not humid, just nice.

windy, sunny, vibrant, blue


to celebrate my labors, and the labors of others, yesterday the grill got pulled out. the charcoal lit. chicken marinated.

there are a few things in this world i wouldn’t want to live without:

so last night, we made jamaican jerk chicken (stewed black beans and rice, grilled zucchini and poblano peppers and corn)

quick note before i share this recipe:

when i was in high school, a friend of mine and her mother shared a few journeys to jamaica with me. needless to say, these times were not only beautiful, but extremely engaging and educational. during those days, in total they amount to twenty or so, i learned about people. and by people i mean mankind, existence. some of the most wholesome people in the world taught me there. reading the book of job on benches. walking beneath mango trees into the homes of loved ones. so as i was laying down this meat on the grill yesterday, the aromas of molasses and allspice in the smoke, i couldn’t help but think of this:


jamaican jerk chicken
compliments of the worldwide web with my personal adaptations (in bold)

1 (5 or 6 pound) roasting chicken, cut in half, lengthwise

½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brandy
2 habaneros, with seeds, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 green onion tops, chopped
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons ground allspice
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons molasses

½ cup lime juice
salt and pepper

i. go to the butcher, purchase a 4-5 lb chicken, have them cut it in half for you

ii. at home, prepare all the ingredients through molasses. combine in a blender and blend until mixture is nearly smooth.

iii. taste it. i added about 2 tablespoons of red wine (shiraz-cab blend), just because. it helped deepen the smokiness of the spices and enhance the sweetness. of course, this is optional.

iv. in a plastic container, or bowl, whatever is most convenient, place your chicken down and cover with the lime juice. now bathe them in your jerk sauce. set aside.

ideally, this should marinate overnight. my roommate and i made it on a whim, marinated it for about an hour and a half, and i was still delicious and tender.

v. heat your coals on the grill, or turn your fancy gas grill to medium. when it’s all ready, lay the chicken down.

 this is the part where you just have to watch and wait and kind of play it by ear. after about ten minutes, i flipped the chicken. then after another 10 or fifteen minutes i flipped it again. the outside of the meat, skin included, will be very crispy and charred. i’d say in total, it will take about thirty to forty minutes over medium-high heat on a coal grill. for more specific grilling instructions, refer to the recipe i posted beneath the title, girl knows what she’s doin'.

so what's on the cart, sides n' all?

top left: grilled vegetables quarter 4 zucchini and 3 poblanos (removing stems and seeds). half 8-10 pearl onions. toss with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. grill in a basket pan over medium-low heat until they're cooked to your liking.

bottom left: stewed black beans over medium heat, 3 cans of black beans (omitting juices from one can), 4 minced garlic cloves, ground nutmeg, ground black pepper, salt, cinnamon, red wine, whole cayenne peppers, 3 bay leaves. simmer for an hour. add more spices to taste.

bottom right: white rice. cook how you like to, using chicken stock as opposed to water. 

top right: but of course, jerk chicken. as prepared using recipe above. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

heat wave chocolate buttercream cake

it’s been hot here. big blue skies and 100 degree days.

this morning it was hazy, cold like an autumn morning. it sprinkled.

i must be turning into a real pacific northwesterner, relieved to have a few hours from the sunshine.

the heat sure does make me sluggish out here.

but i’ll tell you what, no matter how hot it gets, how sunny and sweaty and still, i just can’t stop baking.

i’ve got my oven packed with peach pie and moroccan cookies and almond biscotti

it’s hot, sure, but ain’t nothing like a biscotti on a cool morning like today.


last weekend i trucked out to hood river, east of portland, on the columbia river gorge. i have dear friend, keely, who lives in a country home with her husband on the outskirts of her family’s vineyard, wy'east

wy’east is the native name for mount hood, which can be seen like so, from their rolling vineyards

i’ve always loved the countryside, so being out there is like going home.

not to mention, it’s beautiful, and when i woke up in the morning, mount adams greeted me

it sure is something to be out there – purple martins just barely touching the ponds edge, crickets all night, meteor showers, windy afternoons, quiet.

keely’s family was having us for dinner, and at her father’s request, we were to make chocolate chip cookies. we decided it would be more fun to make chocolate buttercream cake.

so we pulled the shades, plugged in the fans, and pulled out a few bowls, a whisk, a wooden spoon, and other cake-baking amenities.

so here’s a copy of chocolate buttercream cake that i found a many years ago in a barefoot contessa cookbook

it is, of course, to be enjoyed on a cool summer night, after swimmin’ and snoozin’ and workin’ and lovin’

bon appétit

chocolate buttercream cake

for the cakes, you'll need:

1 ¾ cup al purpose flour
1 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons coffee, cooled

ideally, with this recipe you should use a stand-up kitchen aid mixer. however, this piece of equipment is, indeed, a luxury, so a hand mixer will be just fine

preheat oven to 350. butter two 8 inch round cake pans, and dust them with flour

in a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. set aside. in a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. set this aside, too.

in a big bowl, cream butter and sugars. add eggs and vanilla. add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in thirds.  

divide batter between your 2 pans and bake in on middle rack for about 25-30 minutes, or until the center of the cake doesn't spring when you lightly touch it with your fingers

meanwhile, take a break, enjoy the sunshine, and make your frosting

for the frosting, you'll need:

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tsp water
2 tablespoon dark rum, optional

chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler (in french we call these bain-marie, or, a water bath, you don't need anything fancy - just one big pot filled about half way with water, and a smaller pot that fits over top.  the water heats the top pot and thus, melts the chocolate without burning). once chocolate is completely melted, set aside and let it cool.

in a medium sized bowl, heat the egg whites in your bain-marie until they are warm to touch. throw in your sugar and salt with heated egg whites and begin to whisk with your mixer until the meringue is col and holds stiff peaks.

add butter one tablespoon at a time, scrape the bowl and add melted chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and rum (if using).


and there ya have it, chocolate buttercream frosting! if its too soft (because it's over 100 degrees outside...), don't freight! you can throw it into the fridge for a little bit and re-whip it up before frosting your cakes.

the most important thing to note when frosting cakes is this: the cakes must be completely cooled. if they're not, the frosting will melt, and your cakes will fall all over the place. believe me, it's happened to me more times that one. so don't jump the punch folks, wait it out, enjoy the afternoon, and frost them when they're ready.

and so, to end my weekend at the vineyard, even though the buttercream was soft, it held up just fine in all that heat, and we brought it out to her folks, and their friends, and shared it in the breezy evening, beneath the stars (sans city glow) with willamette valley dessert wine.

Friday, August 3, 2012

my papa's djej emshermel

for as beautiful as the pacific northwest is, my heart is in michigan.

sometimes when i’m riding my bike to work early in the morning, past big old houses with wisteria wrapped around the porches, and artichoke plants lining the sidewalks, i think of home. i push the wheels back and forth and back and forth, and in my mind, i spot a downy woodpecker on the huron river, i watch the lilac bloom on the shore, i see the maples turn golden.

nostalgia is comforting.

because i’m all the way out here, i try to embrace all of the wonders of this place – the explosive produce, the wild rosemary bushes, the lavendar, the snowy mountain sides, the mossy hikes, the bald eagles along the columbia.

but sometimes, no matter what i do, i can’t help but think of home.

i think about the smells of my parents kitchen:

boiling tomatoes
mint tea
orange zest
toasted almonds

besides a good old midwestern casserole, my favourite comfort food is my fathers chicken and olive tagine.

my father is one of the best people i know. he also happens to be one of the best cooks i know, too. he’s always calm in his kitchen. rolling almond cookies, stirring applesauce, chopping cilantro, washing peaches, listening to npr.

my father is from morocco, and i can imagine that although he has made a nice life for himself across the ocean, he too, gets homesick.

so whenever i’m feeling a little blue, and nostalgia just isn’t enough, i pull out his scribbled and stained recipes.

this one in particular always does the trick:

papa’s djej emshermel

you'll need:

1 4 lb chicken – unless you have a cleaver, ask the butcher to quarter the bird
*make sure you get the livers, too!
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, minced
¼ tsp pulverized saffron
½ cup chopped cilantro and parsley (mixed)
½ cup green olives
2 preserved lemons
1 fresh lemon

rinse meat in cold water, set aside

over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with ¼ cup olive oil. when butter melts, sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes. add chopped herbs and spices, mixing with a wooden smooth until evenly dispersed.  place chicken and livers in casserole, add water to cover.

bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about thirty minutes.

turn meat in sauce, giving it a good stir. now for my favourite – and probably the most important part - remove livers from casserole. mash with a mortar and pestle, and return to sauce. this adds a certain richness, a creaminess to the sauce that makes the dish.


add water, if necessary, and continue to cook the meat for another 30 minutes.

meanwhile, rinse your preserved lemons and quarter them. you can discard the pulp if you prefer, i usually leave it.

after the chicken has cooked in it’s sauce for about an hour, or an hour and a half, add the olives and preserved lemons. continue to cook another 5 or 10 minutes.

at this point, turn your oven to 325. place chicken on a baking sheet - or a cast iron skillet, as shown below - spreading out evenly. 

when the oven is ready, bake the chicken, briefly, for about 5 minutes. while it is in the oven, turn the heat up on your sauce, stirring it, scraping the bottom to reduce the sauce to half.

remove the chicken from the oven and place it on a platter, pour our sauce over top.

serve immediately with fresh bread 

now here's the thing: moroccan food is not to be eaten alone

there is a lot to say about moroccan food, and morocco in general. it is difficult to summarize a culture, a history, a people, a cuisine. although for the sake of a greater understanding here is what i can say - from what i have learned from my family, my father, and my visits to north africa, i have gathered this: moroccan culture is a mirror of it’s food - rich, multi-faceted, colourful, wholesome, complex, thoughtful. it is a culture of hospitality, of giving. 

so whenever i make moroccan food, i do so for people i love. this time, dinner was a gift for my new roommate, jasmín, and her friend gregor.

i guess you could say, it was my little moroccan-american way of fending off homesickness, and saying: 

marhaba, jass!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

misty mountain

even at the end of july, northwest oregon is grey.

in spite of the potential – or, inevitable – soft rain, it’s summertime, and all i want to do is go the coast and walk, bare feet, along the icy water, spotting pelicans and drift wood and half broken sand dollars.

the pacific is beautiful – dark and rugged and gusty, spotted with blackberries and hydrangea.

by the time brian, a close friend of mine, and i left portland, the coastal mountains were covered in clouds. we’d both forgotten rain coats, tricked by the sunny city.

a little rain never hurt no one, so off we went. ella, our friends dog, lead the way, forest bound.

without the clear sky, it’s easier to notice what’s on the path, as opposed to what lies in the distance.

i love the way the flowers hold mist.


we climbed and climbed and climbed.

and climbed.

walking in clouds.

by the time we reached the top, our ankles muddy, ella panting, humidity clung to our cheeks, we were hungry as ever. 

i pulled out a little snack i’d prepared the day before.

this recipe is originally from a favourite blog of mine, smitten kitchen. the version that follows has my own alterations, and can be made with any nuts and dried fruit you have stored in the cupboard.

(this time, i was lucky enough to spot jars of pignoli and goji berries, both special and rare treats to add a little something different)

so if you're walkin' through the mountains anytime soon, here's a treat for the top:

Saddle Mountain Granola Bars

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oat flour (made by processing 1/3 cup oats in food processor)
1/3 cup goji berries (or any other dried fruit, i especially love cranberries)
3/4 cup almonds (add pecans or walnuts, if you’ve got ‘em)
6 tablespoon melted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon water

preheat oven to 350

line an 8 by 8 baking pan with parchment paper

in a medium bowl, toss together the following ingredients: oats, oat flour, sugar, dried fruit, almonds

whisk together butter, peanut butter, honey, and water

pour butter mixture over dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined

place in pan and press down so ingredients reach the corners and are spread out evenly

bake for thirty minutes

remove from oven, cool over night

the next morning, cut into squares