Olive Tapenade with Sun Dried Tomatoes

My favorite foods tend to be something you can spread on bread. This is definitely one of them, next to hummus, slabs of good cheese, olive oil, tomato jam, ect. Its really simple to make, much less expensive than the jarred stuff. Try it!

Olive Tapenade

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
12 kalamata olives in brine, drained
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 springs rosemary
salt to taste
olive oil to taste

Directions:
Peel garlic and add to bowl. Toss in a pinch of salt and, using a pestle (or back of a spoon), grind the garlic into a paste. Pit and mince finely the olives. Mince the tomatoes into a paste. Toss together in the bowl. Mince the rosemary and add to the bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to taste (I used just a little, about 1 tablespoon). Salt to taste.

Tip: let it sit for a day or two so the flavors can blend well. Although it is still delicious immediately (I usually don’t wait).  Serve over toasted bread.

Whole Roasted Rosemary Garlic Chicken…My First!

I don’t know why this was always such an intimidating idea, but roasting a whole chicken always seemed a bit of a challenge. Too much time, too much preparation, too much experience and knowledge. I never really felt like getting my hands that involved in my food.

But we’ve been into these roasted chickens from Pricesmart lately. They are juicy and succulent and a pretty good price (3 lb chicken for 6 bucks? is that good?). But more and more I’ve felt a little defeated by this delicious chicken. So I decided that over the holidays I would take on the challenge of roasting my own bird. Finally today I had the time. I went and bought a scant-3-pounder from the market, and searched all my favorite websites for advice. I had no idea how to cook a bird. I dont have a thermometer, and when they all said “until the juices run clear” I was really really confused. What juices? What is the exact definition of clear? But I went for it.

I made a brine by grinding fresh rosemary, an entire head of garlic, and a generous amount of salt and olive oil. After washing the chicken inside and out — which I found to be a depressing procedure, considering how alive the non-dismembered meat appeared — I smeared the brine inside and out, even under the skin. (Its even sad to talk about). I stuffed it with quartered limes, onions, and a large bundle of rosemary, thyme, and an unplealed head of garlic. I drizzled everything with oil, preheated the oven to 375,  lined the toaster oven pan with foil, arranged some sliced potatoes onions, and limes around the endges, drizzled more olive oil, and place my cherished bird on top. I didn’t have “kitchen twine” (whatever that is) so I used dental floss. It worked perfectly, by the way. I put her in the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes.

When the alarm sounded, following some peoples advice, I poked a breast with a knife to see if the “juices ran clear”. To my surprise, they did! It was almsot like a fountain, and at the moment I wished I had had a thermometer instead so the succulent juices would have stayed within the meat.

I cranked the temperature up to 450 for another 10 minute just to brown the outside a little more (Hec really likes toasty chicken skin). I removed her from the oven, covered it with foil as my dear father always does with the thanksgiving bird, and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Then we cut her up and boy oh boy was this the juciest tenderest most delicious chicken I can remember eating in my life. I’m bragging here obviously, but it was delicious.

And so here is the dilemma. I really really enjoyed this meal. But it was heartbreaking to prepare. I just couldn’t imagine doing it again. It was too alive, too friendly. I think the chicken we ate this afternoon was a very happy bird, was named Clementina, and would have made a lovely pet.

But didn’t she turn out really pretty? And she really was succulent. Mom, aren’t you proud?!

Roasted Winter Squash with Rosemary

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I am a wimp when it comes to being cold, being wet, and especially both at the same time. Before my first visit to Guatemala my impression was that, because it was further south than Texas and Florida which are notoriously warm, it would be insanely hot — as the tropics should be, right?. My first summer here I brought all my favorite skirts, shorts, tank tops….but only one pair of jeans and one sweater. That was dumb. I obviously didn’t research, or even ask the simple question “what is the weather like”. So I was pretty chilly in those skirts. I believe they only made an appearance the first week or two, after I finally realized I looked ridiculous covered in goosebumps. Initially I was like a teenage girl, dying to wear her new spring clothes that she bought all the way back in February, and come April there is still snow on the ground, but by-golly its spring time so shes gonna wear her spring clothes, dangit! The weather won out, and I wore those poor jeans thin in the seat. Two months in I bought a cheap pair from the market because I feared one day playing rough with the children they might just split down the back.

Anyway, my point is that Guate isn’t so tropical as it is mild. It does get very hot in March and April, but when the rains begin in May it cools off a bit although there will still be days when it is hot and humid. In the middle of the rainy season there is a canicula, or a few week respite from the summer showers. But the rain can continue through October, even the beginning of November. Once November hits it actually gets cold. I remember the night Héc’s mom called telling us to bundle up, that the cold had arrived. I don’t know if it was the look in the clouds, or the feel of the wind, but she has an intuition like no other. And sure enough the rains blew away and the cold settled in. “What!” I thought. “Cold?!” Now it’s not Chicago winter by any means, but it can get down to 40ºF at night where we live up in the hills. And the homes don’t have central heat or even insulation, and the windows are vented and don’t entirely seal, so there is a draft. Sometimes inside out apartment it is colder than outside, so inside the house I’ll use my hat, scarf, and gloves (with tips cut off so I can write and cook, ect). It was a shock.

But this year I’m feeling strong. It’s almost September, and the rain has barely touched us. We’re in the middle of a drought for sure, and I actually feel myself missing the rain. And when the days gets above 75º I complain that it’s too hot, and the chilly evenings I find refreshing. This is not typical Sarah behavior. I think this winter I’ll be ok. I honestly believe it.

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But even if I’m not strong this year, you know what makes those freezing winter nights bearable? Comfort food. A nice vegetarian chili with cornbread; hot chocolate; warm oatmeal. One of my all time favorite comfort foods is baked squash. My mom made this delicious butternut squash with gorgonzola cheese crumbled on top. It was heavenly. Eating a big warm bowl of it, with the rich flavors of the squash, olive oil, herbs, and cheese, fill you belly and send a surge of warmth throughout your limbs.

I haven’t seen butternut squash here in Guate, but there is güicoy (pictured above). I find it very similar to an acorn squash in flavor, but it really serves the purpose of either. The problem is that they are huge, so when we buy one we will eat it all week long. But it is so versatile. Sweet, savory, soups, casseroles. You can do a lot. But this is one of my all time favorite preparations, especially for the winter months. While it is still quite warm here and this dish isn’t exactly a summer food, I’ve been dreaming of the first chilly day, and we had the squash. So I made it anyway. But! Yesterday we got the first hard rain I can remember since May, and it didn’t reach above 70ºF the entire day. Today its hot and humid again. Anyway, even if its not appropriate for the season I see it as preparation: slowly building my repertoire of warming comfort foods for those day I just might not be able to bear it (although I still think I’m gonna be strong!)

This recipe combines winter squash diced into 1/2″ cubes, fresh chopped rosemary – my favorite herb, sliced red onion, plenty of olive oil for a rich taste, and fresh parmesan cheese. Next time I think I will use gorogonzola or goat cheese. I think the textures combine more pleasantly.

Roasted Winter Squash with Rosemary:

Ingredients:
One medium acorn squash (or small butternut)
1/2 red onion, thickly sliced
5 sprigs rosemary, coarsly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Large pinch of salt
Few turns of fresh cracked pepper
1/3 cup cheese (parmesan, gorgonzola, blue, ect).

Directions:
Cube squash and place in bowl. Add onions, rosemary, salt, pepper, and toss. Coat with oil and toss. Place in glass baking dish, and bake for about 45 minutes – until squash is tender. Add cheese on top, and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Red Onion Rosemary Flatbread

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I don’t know if I would call this a cracker, a flat bread, or just an attempt to save some leftover bread dough that didn’t fit into our tiny toaster oven. After I made a loaf of my bran bread, I had a softball-sized wad of dough just sitting in the fridge. I was going to bake a mini-loaf, but then thinking about the chickpea salad we were having for dinner, realized a cracker might for spreading the garlic and the juices at the bottom of the bowl. So I rolled the chilled dough out as flat as I could get it, and rubbed it with olive oil on both sides. Chopped some fresh rosemary from my herb garden (the first harvest yet!), slivered some red onion, and sprinkled on some queso seco (finely grated parmasean or romano would work perfectly), and sea salt. Baked it for 20 minutes until crisp, and cut into finger-length pedacitos.

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I won’t post the recipe, because it’s really all to your liking. You may use a bread dough you are comfortable with, you may use pre-made pizza dough, you may even just mix together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon instant yeast (or 1/2 teaspoon baking soda or nothing at all), 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil; mix, let rest for about an hour, and roll out into a thin thin sheet. You can use whatever toppings you like. Many fresh herbs would be lovely on this, such as sage or thyme, but I just wanted to use my new rosemary plant. Be creative, or use what you have around the house.

It’s delicious with hummus, babaganoush, roasted garlic spread, zucchini tatziki, an assortment of cheeses, ect. Yum!!

Bread-base suggestions: my healty bran bread, homemade or packaged pizza dough, a simple dough of flour water and olive oil (see above), or even puff pastry.

Topping suggestions: olive oil, large grain sea salt, cumin and zest of a lime, za’atar, paprika, cayenne, sesame seeds, pine nuts (pressed in), poppy seeds, sliced olives, thyme, rosemary, sage, a variety of cheeses (shredded), thinly sliced red onion.

Bake: 400ºF for 15-20 minutes until crispy, or according to other recipe instructions.