Recently Travel Channel asked, what is your travel specialty, or what does traveling mean to you? To be honest in this increasingly hostile and poverty stricken world, paradoxically I think travel is more necessary than ever. In all of my travels, the memories I treasured most were of people rather than monuments. Experiencing different ways of life other than my own surpassed taking beautiful scenic pics. I will never forget one particular day in Paris, as I walked past the River Seine at 3:00 pm, on my way to a museum. I saw some scarf embellished French people, gathered around a cafe table, splitting a French baguette and a bottle of wine. Five hours later, I made the trek back to my hotel room, and I saw the same people, still talking, with just a little bit of bread and wine left at the table. It occurred to me that they were having a fabulous time, taking small sips of wine and savoring every bite of crusty bread goodness. Eating a 5 star meal was not necessary, it was the company they seemed to relish the most. When I flew back to the states, I wanted to channel the French lifestyle. I ate my meals very slowly, savoring every bite. I wore a scarf everyday in every color, just because. I made an attempt to connect with long lost friends at cafes, to catch up with their lives. I made sure to walk instead of drive if a destination was under 5 miles away. To me, that was the experiential souvenir that kept thriving well past my trip. This photo captures my joy climbing the Eiffel Tower:
Another travel memory I cherish took place in Haiti. I saw these beautiful Haitian women doing a native dance at the beach at sunset. The shades of crimson sky was a crown over these Haitian princesses, wearing vibrant colors, their glee emanating from their pristine white smiles Having been passionate about dance all my life, I stood to the side, trying to copy their choreography, mesmerized by the beat of the tribal drums. The ladies saw me and invited me to join them, and I was more than happy to do just that. In the video below you can see how I made that travel memory last well past my arrival home, even though I didn’t have any pictures to capture this spontaneous moment. When there are language barriers, the use of our senses can fill in the communication gaps. Appreciating cultural music, dancing together, sharing a meal–all of these sensorial experiences can bring people together in meaningful ways. So back to my original thought, how can people travel when they barely have enough money to cover their expenses? One can do some research at their local library, then seek those experiences in their neighborhood, or venture a few miles beyond their comfort zone to experience something new. Sometimes the most simple experiences can be the most life changing ones. I think there is too much hostility in the world because people aren’t able to step outside their comfort zone to step into and experience another person’s lifestyle. I like to think if people like John McCain for example, had dinner with a family in Yemen, or went to a Syrian wedding, or visited a museum in Iraq, he would not be so keen to support bombing campaigns on these people. Maybe I am being naive, but thinking about these possibilities can’t hurt. And with that said, here is my video, about what traveling means to me. I would love to hear about your travel experiences as well! Hugs– B
Now here’s a big reason to make your own hummus–possible listeria in store-bought varieties. Recently Sabra hummus recalled 30,000 cases of hummus for possible listeria. What is listeria? It’s a bacteria that can cause a serious or even fatal infection. Symptoms include fever, nausea, abdominal pain and headaches. Would you like some dysentery on those carrot sticks? Honestly, I think it is sacrilege to buy hummus for many reasons other than listeria. First, the ingredients are ridiculously cheap, and you can make a batch for under 2 dollars that can last you a week. Secondly, most store bought varieties use cheap GMO canola oil instead of good quality olive oil and leave out the tahini– the heart and soul of hummus. Why? Because it costs less to make hummus without tahini. However, a small jar of tahini can easily make about 6 batches of homemade hummus. Third, store bought hummus cannot reproduce the flavor of fresh lemons and garlic, essential to authentic creamy, heavenly hummus. And lastly–have you seen how easy it is to make this dip? I am making this hummus in real time in this video in 5 minutes! So go ahead, empower yourself, get that food processor out and whip up a batch of this silky dip and you will never need to buy it again. Just do it!
I know we are all up to our noses in quinoa–but is that necessarily a bad thing? Quinoa is still a protein and fiber powerhouse as far as seeds go, taking only minutes to cook, and easy on the wallet. The texture is not for everyone though, especially children, who tend to shy away from anything “grainy.” So, I set out to take a dish that was a familiar favorite with my kids like lasagna, and quinoize it (yeah that’s my new word) After experimenting with several variations, this lasagna got a two thumbs up from both of my children.
Since quinoa is also a complete protein, there is really no reason to add meats. In the lasagna I usually make, I hide at least 5 veggies in the casserole, because my kids are not big fans of salad. I figure this way they get the salad and entree all in one. In the following video, I use onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh basil with an organic marinara sauce. Check the sugar on your marinara sauce–if it’s above 6 grams that is tomato jam, not tomato sauce-no need for that much sugar. Now for you multitasking parents out there who say you never get the time to work out…how about fitting in some exercise while your food bakes? I invited my fitness instructor cousin Mouna aka Moon Doggie Dog to do just that with me. Just pick 5 body weight exercises, like burpees, bicep curls, tricep kick backs, kettlebell swings, or planks, and do 5 sets of 10. Then before you know it, your food is done baking and you can enjoy your dinner that much more. You might be able to get your kids in the exercise mix too if they are driving you mad with will all of their extra energy. Once you settle down for your well deserved dinner, you will soon learn that this vegetarian lasagna is very filling. There’s extra protein from the cottage and mozzarella cheeses, and an egg which will help bind the layers together. If you decide to try this recipe please let me know what you think in the comments section!
Some cookies have the power to take you to distant lands with one bite. Whenever I travel to other countries, I love to visit their local bakeries, where I can experience the taste, smells, and traditions of that particular culture. Usually on the last day of my trip, I like to buy a little box of sweets to take home with me–the last taste of that country that I share with family. Middle Eastern sweet shops are filled with sensorial experiences: baklava dripping with nuts and honey, shredded filo layers filled with custard or cheese, buttery semolina shortbreads, and….barazek. Barazek cookies have elements of baklava, shortbread, and biscotti all in one. The base is a buttery crispy cookie, painted generously with honey, then dipped into salty pistachios on one side, and nutty sesame seeds on the other.. The result is an overload of taste and texture–sweet, salty, crispy, crumbly, and nutty all in one bite.
While these addictive cookies originated in Turkey, they can be found all over the Levant, (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon) where people enthusiastically dunk them into strong cups of tea. On my last trip to the Middle East, I made sure to stock up on these cookies in my carry on baggage. The flight attendants even became my friends after I gave them a sample. After I was down to my last cookie I knew I had to recreate these at home, so that I could continue to share this taste of the Middle East with friends and family–especially around the holidays. These cookies are meant to be thin and crispy, but if you prefer chewy cookies just make them thicker. As for the pistachios, you can use salted, or unsalted depending on your taste preference. The unexpected benefit of making these at home is you can create a kid-friendly cookie assembly station. One can use the cookie cutters, one can paint on the honey, and one can dip it in the nuts. There’s my sister’s hand helping out with the cookies, though she is too camera shy to appear in my videos:
So why not give these cookies a try this Valentine’s Day? Would love to hear your feedback if you try them. Here is a how-to video of these delights, to get you started :)
Hello dear subscribers–I hope you are all doing great during this fast paced and busy time of year! As each year goes by, I get more wary about buying unnecessary stuff, collecting stuff and giving stuff, especially in an age when we need to be more green. I try to buy fair trade gifts to support populations that really need the money to survive, and often their products are one of a kind and beautifully made. However, a gift can be something not necessarily tangible, but highly useful regardless. Enter https://Curious.com/ –a company that makes learning easy, accessible and affordable. From cooking and photography, to learning a new language or how to play an instrument, Curious has learning capsules for every interest you can imagine. I was thrilled when they approached me about having a cooking class package as a holiday gift idea. What sets my cooking classes on Curious apart from standard youtube videos, is the student gets more ingredient and recipe information, and more interactive elements in a classroom format. They would have access to these classes forever, (so if youtube implodes their recipe stash remains safe with Curious) If you are interested in giving the gift of Middle Eastern cooking lessons to a loved one, just click on this link: https://curious.com/feastinthemiddleeast/series/traditional-middle-eastern-dishes/gift-it and fill out the simple form. And here’s the cool thing, after you buy my course as a gift, a little elf will put $14.99 into your Curious account! You can use it for this course or to purchase any course on Curious for yourself! Please allow up to 3 business days for processing and you will be all set. It’s been a pleasure sharing my cooking journey with you, wish you memorable moments with friends and family and happy shopping!
Have you checked the ingredient list of store-bought veggie burgers lately? Many of them are teeming with GMO soy, GMO canola oil, funky fillers, and chemicals I cannot pronounce ((gasp)) The human body would recognize an organic, grass fed beef burger more than the frozen veggie monstrosities you see in the supermarket frozen section. It really isn’t difficult to make your own veggie burgers, and store the leftover patties in your freezer for later enjoyment. I love Middle Eastern flavors in my burger, so I thought why not transform the meaty appetizer called “kibbeh” into a veggie burger?
Kibbeh is a Levantine dish made of bulgur or cracked wheat, minced onions and finely ground lean beef, or lamb. Lebanese varieties use chicken and even fish instead of meat. The word kibbeh in Arabic means “ball,” popular in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. The best-known variety is a football-shaped fried croquette stuffed with minced beef or lamb.
Other types of kibbeh may be shaped into balls or patties, and baked or cooked in broth. When the kibbeh is baked casserole style, there is usually a layer of brazed lamb, onions, and pine nuts in between the layers of kibbeh:
There is also the “Kibbeh Niya” variety, which is raw kibbeh, the Middle Eastern equivalent to steak tartar. Spread on a plate with a drizzle of olive oil, this plate of goodness is popular as an appetizer.
Kibbeh is considered to be the national dish of many Middle-Eastern countries and usually contains some kind of meat. I have found that lentils do a fantastic job of mimicking a hearty, meaty flavor when ground in the food processor. You can split this recipe in half. One half dedicated to the “Niya” style, or “raw” as a dip with crackers. The other half can go to those mouth watering veggie patties. You can even prepare this kebab style, molding the mixture onto skewers, and brushing with olive oil. Freeze the patties for later use if you made too much for one sitting. Regardless of your serving method, you won’t miss the meat, and neither will your meat loving friends (just ask my brother) Cucumber yogurt sauce makes a fine condiment, as well as a cucumber, garlic and tomato salsa. Subscribe to my youtube page at http://www.youtube.com/blanchetv for dip and salad recipes. And now, here is my latest video for this treat, leave your comments below if you think you will give this a try or want to see more veggie recipes. One warning about the video, at around 6 minutes things got a little crazy off camera, and my brother makes me laugh so much I cannot control myself. Such is the crazy dynamic of my family. :D
Forget falling leaves, autumn is the most frenetic time of year for me. Perhaps mothers reading this can relate. Okay inhale: now dive into days packed with working, writing, bill paying, prepping school lunches, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, soccer practice, Zumba teaching, ballet rehearsals, swimming lessons, piano lessons, school volunteering, fundraising for charities, and cooking…now exhale. Regardless of all of these tugs on my time, cooking takes a back seat and my pots and pans seem to give me attitude like they’re saying “Wanna piece of me?” How do I squeeze in easy, healthy dinners without relying on processed food or take out? The crock pot, one of the best inventions ever (sorry pots and pans.) I have to admit when I first used a crock pot I went to work with this paranoia that the pot was going to explode while I was gone. (I even asked a fireman once if crockpots ever caused a home fire and he looked at me like I was a crackpot myself). I like to think of my crock pot as my little personal assistant, making sure my ingredients are playing nicely with each other while I am gone. Now fasoolya is one of the most traditional weeknight meals in the Middle East, popular in the Levantine region, which includes Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan. This one pot meal features an aromatic tomato broth with the addition of either lamb or chicken, and green beans, usually served over rice.
The traditional method uses a regular pot, but the crockpot is my twist adapted for today’s busy lifestyle. Crockpot cooking allows the lamb to cook slowly, so once done it’s fork tender and falls of the bone. For the green beans, you can use fresh in the summer, or frozen in the winter. My favorite type of green bean are the skinny haricot vert, because they have few if any “strings” on the beans. You can use any leftover garden tomatoes for the tomato puree, or you can use canned tomato sauce in the winter. The reason why I take the extra step to sear the meat and saute the onions is to give the dish a richer flavor and appearance. Placing any kind of meat in a crockpot without searing it first will result in gray looking meat, not very appetizing in my book. I also use very simple spices–basically salt, pepper, and allspice. However, Jordanians add a dash of cumin, and Palestinians add coriander to this dish, so you can experiment with flavors that you prefer. Serve this over rice, quinoa, couscous, or with no starch at all if you are watching your carbs. Regardless of how you serve it, fasoolya is a satisfying meal for the whole family. So here’s the video of how to make this hearty and satisfying dish. Leave me a comment–I would love to know what you think!