Nut-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

One of my little pleasures in life is watching America’s Test Kitchen. While goofy and geeky (perhaps that’s why I like it), the team behind the show delivers interesting and informative recipes that make it easy to improve your cooking. Recently, I tried recreating their recipe for nut-crusted chicken cutlets and was very happy with the results.

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The recipe tackles the common pitfalls of nut-crusted chicken: flavorless chicken and bland, burnt, soggy, or oily crust. There are several tricks they suggest. One of the most interesting is to use panko (Japanese style breadcrumbs) which do a better job of remaining crisp. They also suggest browning the butter in a skillet and then toasting the nuts and breadcrumbs so they begin to caramelize before you ever bread the chicken cutlets.

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They further suggest salting the chicken and letting it rest for about thirty minutes before preparing the dish. This creates a dry brine, sealing in the chicken’s moisture. Finally, instead of frying in oil, you bake the breaded cutlets on a wire rack set above a baking sheet. This allows hot air to circulate, cooking and crisping the chicken on all sides without adding any more oil to the dish.

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The end result was fantastic – one of the first times I’ve had a breaded chicken cutlet that was actually moist and flavorful. The crust was crisp and buttery but not greasy or heavy. Definitely a good technique and one I will repeat!

The show is produced by the publishers of Cooks Illustrated magazine. They don’t accept advertising so all their evaluations of recipes, ingredients, and equipment are made based on quality alone. Their approach to recipes is to figure out how to achieve great results consistently, eliminating the pitfalls that plague some dishes.

The thing I like best about the show is that it is one of the few cooking shows on television that is actually about cooking. So much of what we see these days is about food and eating but not that much about the technique of preparing the food. It is a refreshing return to how cooking shows started out.

Down-home American Cuisine

Two weeks ago, Chow suggested we invite friends over to her house and cook a dinner that relied on a new cookbook she had received. The cookbook contained only “down-home” classic American dishes, organized on a state-by-state basis. Of course, I’m up for trying to cook almost anything in the kitchen, especially if it is someone else’s kitchen!

The main course of the meal was “Kansas Fried Chicken”. Having a lot of relatives in Kansas and having lived there a year before moving to Thailand, I can’t rightly say what distinguished fried chicken as “Kansas” fried chicken. This was only my second time trying to make fried chicken and I have to say, keeping the oil temperature consistent around the 350 F target is a pain in the neck.

The end result turned out pretty well. The chicken isn’t brined or marinated. Simply pat it dry, sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then dredge in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and I added some chile powder. The result was super. The chicken remained moist and with sufficient salt, very flavorful. Afterwards, I used a few tablespoons of the oil to make the best gravy I’ve ever made.

If you have gravy, you might as well have some biscuits, right? These were another recipe from the cookbook and, oddly, they used vegetable oil rather than a solid fat such as butter or Crisco. The texture was tender although I think my biscuit recipe (from my mother) is better. The Crisco in the recipe gives it a flakier texture.

Side dishes included a baked spinach casserole. The bread crumbs Chow used were panko, the Japanese bread crumbs used in tempura. The dish was very dry; not sure if something more was meant to be added to the greens. It was tasty, though.

The asparagus side dish was fantastic. It used cream of mushroom soup straight from the can, spread in alternating layers with the asparagus and then baked. On the top are crushed Cheese-It crackers. 

Used this opportunity to break out a jar of the pickled green tomatoes and shallots that I made a month ago. These were great. I need to figure out somewhere to get a larger quantity of green cherry tomatoes so I can pickle more.

Dessert was a cherry and blackberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nice and simple, keeping with our Americana theme.

 

Noodles with Honey Braised Chicken

Street food is one of the things that makes Bangkok a real pleasure to visit or to live in. There is such a variety of food, almost all of it of high quality and flavor. A recent favorite of mine is a long-standing Sukhumvit Road staple: Guaytiaw Pikgai Sai Nampung. This is a typical noodle shop selling honey-braised chicken.

This is a bowl of “dry” noodles (broth served in a separate bowl on the side) with a wing and drumstick. Some bean sprouts and chopped long beans. Many different types of noodles are available. I chose giam ee, a hand-rolled rice noodle similar to German spätzle. I like it because it is easier to eat than long noodles and holds onto the seasonings better, too.

The chicken is very tender, sweet and flavorful with the hint of honey to it. You can also choose other parts of the chicken if you prefer breast meat, for example. There are other ingredients available, too, in case you prefer further customization. Here in Thailand, the noodle shops are all about customization!

More a picture of Tawn than of the shop, but you can see that it is neat and tidy, even though it has been opens for many years. The walls are hung with newspaper clippings, family photos, and photos of His Majesty the King. The laminated table tops have worn with age but are kept sparkling clean.

If you are interested in visiting, the restaurant is in Sukhumvit Soi 20/1, a small dog-legged alley that connects to Sukhumvit road just about 10 meters west of the mouth of Soi 20. The restaurant is the fourth or fifth shop in on the right-hand side. You will see the aunty cooking just outside the front of the shop, the smell of the chicken beckoning you.

 

Food in San Francisco – From Fried Chicken to Salt and Pepper Ice Cream

There was a fair amount of eating while we were in San Francisco, much of it good. Here are a trio of spots we visited.

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While still in Bangkok, Tawn and I had developed a hankering for fried chicken. Despite the preponderance of grilled chicken, there is very little fried chicken in Thailand outside of KFC (which isn’t that bad, actually). Doing some research, I stumbled across an entry on public television and radio channel KQED’s food blog about the best fried chicken in the Bay Area and planned on visiting Little Skillet.

This “restaurant” is just a walk-up window in an alley not far from the Caltrain station and AT&T Park. An offshoot of the “neo-soulfood” farmerbrown restaurant, Little Skillet is open only for extended lunchtime hours and keeps a short and simple menu. Fried chicken features prominently. You order at the window and wait for your name to be called. Eating options include sitting on the loading dock of a warehouse across the street or, if you buy some of their coffee, the java joint next door lets you use their tables.

The biscuits are tasty and buttery, although more crumbly and less flaky than the ones I make. Still, they were pretty good.

Tawn, who prefers his chicken drier than I do, opted for the fried chicken po’boy sandwich. Made with chicken breast, he exclaimed that it was the best fried chicken he had ever had. 

Aiming to evaluate Little Skillet by its ability with the classics, I ordered a two-piece fried chicken with waffles. Tawn’s exclamation was well-placed: this was amazing fried chicken. The meat was flavorful and extremely well-seasoned. The coating was crispy and adhered well to the skin. The homemade honey jalapeño hot sauce is a perfect foil for the juicy, crispy, deep-fried goodness of the chicken. While I’ve never understood the combination with chicken, the waffles were light with just the right amount of crispiness.

Little Skillet is on the must return to list!

 

Wise Sons Delicatessen 

Speaking of the must return to list, we made a return visit to Wise Sons Deli, located on 24th Street just east of South Van Ness Avenue.

After our first visit last June to this relatively new entrant to the San Francisco deli scene, we were eager to return. Exiled New Yorkers have long bemoaned the lack of good deli food in San Francisco but that has recently started to change, not least of all by the entry of Wise Sons’ proprietors Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman. Their meats are cured in-house and the quality of food, homey atmosphere, and friendly service make the place feel like it has been on this corner for decades.

On my last visit, I enjoyed a tasty pastrami sandwich. This time, I tried their corned beef Reuben. I’ve had a lot of Reubens in my life, many of which were made by my mother. This was simply the best one I’ve ever had, the one that came closest to recapturing my childhood memories, except that this corned beef was much better than any my mother ever made. Wise Sons cooks the brisket until fork tender and cuts it relatively thick. To say it “melts in your mouth” is accurate. Unlike a lot of brisket, this beef isn’t at all tough or chewy.

We also shared a plate of sinful pastrami cheese fries, minus the pastrami since Tawn isn’t a beef eater. The fries are loaded with Swiss bechamel sauce, caramelized onions, pickled cucumbers and jalapeño peppers, with a side of Russian dressing. Couldn’t eat this every day so that’s why we ate it this day!

 

Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream

While San Francisco isn’t known for its pastrami, it does have a great reputation for ice cream. Swensen’s, the global ice cream chain, was founded in San Francisco, and there are many small ice cream parlors that make interesting and innovative flavors from. One of the most prominent of these parlors is Humphrey Slocombe. Located just around the corner from Wise Sons, Humphrey Slocombe opened in 2008 and quickly gained notice for flavors like salted black licorice, hibiscus beet, and Jesus Juice.  

We were pretty full from lunch but Tawn ordered a Tin Roof Sundae: three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, candied peanuts, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Oh, boy!

Enjoying calories I didn’t really need. I also tried a taste of their salt and pepper ice cream, which tastes amazingly of… salt and pepper!

Well, hope that’s enough food porn to get your weekend off to a good start. There’s more to come!

 

Food in LA: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner

One of our dinners, per my sister’s request, was at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park.  Knott’s Berry Farm is “the other amusement park” in Orange County, located just up the road from Disneyland.  Jennifer requested that we go to Mrs. Knott’s as she had fond memories from a visit there when we were children.

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The history of Knott’s dates back to 1920, when Walter Knott and his family sold berries and preserves from a roadside stand.

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In 1934, to make ends meet, Knott’s wife Cordelia (1890–1974) reluctantly began serving fried chicken dinners on their wedding china. For dessert, Knott’s signature Boysenberry Pie was also served to guests dining in the small tea room. As Southern California developed, Highway 39 became the major north-south connection between Los Angeles County and the beaches of Orange County, and the restaurant’s location was a popular stopping point for drivers making the two hour trip in those days before freeways.

These days, the wait for dinner is still long.  Admittedly, we were a larger group than normal – about 10 people – but the wait was still about an hour.

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Prices have gone up over the years (by about 100 times) but the menu remains pretty much unchanged.  Frankly, this was more food than I wanted to have, as I was more interested in the boysenberry pie than anything else.  Walter Knott was responsible for naming and popularizing the boysenberry, a blackberry, raspberry, loganberry hybrid cross-bred by Rudolph Boysen of nearby Anaheim.

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The interior of the restaurant, made up of several medium sized dining rooms, looks very run-down, badly in need of a makeover or, at least, a deep cleaning.

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Buttermilk biscuit – okay, but not nearly as flaky or tasty as mine.

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Rhubarb compote served chilled as a starter.  Very, very sweet.

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Very sad salad.  “Farm fresh”?  Pathetic, really.

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The main course itself – three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn.  The food was okay, although I found the chicken a bit oily and, like pretty much all chicken in the US, the meat lacked any discernable flavor.

The dessert – the boysenberry pie with ice cream – was pretty good.  So good that I managed to not get a picture of it!  But overall, the meal proved the conventional wisdom that things are better in our memories than they are in real life.  At least I was surrounded by family, so in good company for an otherwise mediocre dinner.

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A nearly full moon climbs over the structure of GhostRider, the park’s wooden coaster.

 

Food in Bangkok – Khao Mok Gai on Convent

Flipping through Khun Chawadee’s book Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, I got an itching to try the Khao Mok Gai vendor on Soi Convent.  Khao Mok Gai, which alludes to a mountain of rice burying chicken, is the Thai take on chicken biryani.  Doubtlessly Indian in origin, the dish traces its more recent roots to the predominately Muslim south of Thailand.  It is a dish that is simultaneously simple and complex, one that rarely fails to satisfy.

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The vendor in question has long been a fixture on the sidewalk along Soi Convent, just off Silom Road.  Just down from the Starbucks and in front of an Irish Pub, the khao mok gai vendor’s cart perches on the edge of the curb with a half-dozen folding tables and plastic stools set out beneath umbrellas.

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The menu is rudimentary.  The khao mok gai comes in three ways: regular for 30 baht (US$1), rice special (extra rice) for 35 baht, chicken special (extra chicken) for 45 baht, or double-double for 50 baht.

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The dish is not fancy – a piece of chicken with a heaping pile of turmeric-stained rice.  Fried shallots and cucumber slices garnish and a dish of sweet chili sauce is on the side.  The rice is tasty and the chicken flavorful, though.

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Don’t skip the soup, which comes on the side.  Made with bits of chicken, herbs, and fried shallots, they serve this plain or spicy and its rich flavor hits the spot.

Like all street vendor places worth their salt, this cart gets very busy at lunchtime and they make their day’s wages or so. Don’t dilly-dally.  Eat your food, pay your tab, and get moving!

For an alternate (and Xangan) version of biryani, check out this video I made about a visit to the kitchen of Dr. Zakiah back in 2009!

 

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons

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In September I tried my hand at making preserved lemons.  The first batch has been sitting on the top shelf of my refrigerator ever since and I finally decided to pull them out and make something with them.  The obvious choice: a chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemons.  I captured the adventure on video.

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Preserved lemons are wonderful.  They have the bright lemony flavor with none of the acidic tartness.  I’ll have to try using them with other dishes.  I also need to make some more!

Per Matt’s recent request, I uploaded this video in high definition.  However, it seems a bit unwieldy to embed it in high definition as it will be twice as wide as my pictures normally are.  So if you want to see it in high definition, click here.  Otherwise, enjoy it as embedded.

 

Home Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Frying foods at home is one of those “beyond my comfort zone” aspects of frying.  It tends to make a mess and smells up the house.  More than a year ago I tried a cold oil method to fry French fries, and that turned out pretty well.  But I haven’t done much frying since.  Last week my attention was caught by a Cooks Illustrated recipe for fried chicken that uses less oil.

The long and the short of it is that they decided on a method that uses frying in a shallow amount of oil to help form a nice crust on the exterior, followed by oven baking to finish cooking it through. The results is supposed to be a evenly cooked chicken with nice exterior crunch without as much oil and without as much hassle from deep frying.

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You start by placing the chicken pieces – I used boneless breasts – in a buttermilk and salt brine, combined with cayenne pepper and other spices for several hours.  Would you believe I cannot buy bone-in chicken breasts at the store?  I have to get a whole chicken for that.  Obviously they aren’t butchering their own chickens.

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While waiting, I prepped some long bean.  These two-foot long beans look like green beans and are just a little less crispy.  Good alternative, though.  I stir-fried these with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and some slivered almonds.

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Next, prepare a coating of flour, baking powder, a little salt, and more spices.  The trick here is that you add just a bit of buttermilk and start stirring it, so you form little clumps that make the chicken’s crust more substantial.

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Take the chicken out of the brine and dredge it in the flour mixture, being sure to pat on a nice thick coating.  Easier said than done!

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While waiting for the oil to heat, I finished the mashed potatoes.  These keep nicely covered at a very low heat with a bit of butter on top.

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Time to fry!  Temperature control is a pain.  My thermometer doesn’t reach to the bottom of the pan so when there isn’t much oil, I don’t get an accurate read.  I ended up scorching the bottoms of the chicken just a little.  D’oh…  After about five minutes in the oil (turning half way through the time) I transferred the chicken to a rack placed in a baking tray and finished for about twenty minutes in the oven.

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Despite the slightly burned exterior, the end result looked pretty nice.  Tasted good, too!

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Inside was nice and juice, thanks to the brining.  Yum.

 

Weeknight Roast Chicken

By Wednesday night, the leftovers were finished.  The black bean chili was gone.  The braised pork in star anise and ginger was gone.  The refrigerator was looking bare and it was time to cook again.  Wanting the warmth of a homemade meal without too much hassle, I opted for weeknight roast chicken.

What makes it perfect for the weeknight?  For starters, it doesn’t use a whole chicken but instead uses pieces.  This cuts down on a whole lot of roasting time.  Additionally, I can make a double batch just about as easily as I make a single batch, so I can get plenty of leftovers – leftovers that can be repurposed into other dishes!

The first step when you walk into the door is to get your chicken ready.  There are a variety of ways you can do this depending upon how much effort you want to put into it.  My favorite way is to take a couple of cups of buttermilk, a tablespoon of salt, and a couple of hearty dashes of cayenne pepper and mix them together in a plastic zipper bag.  Dump in the chicken, shake it up so the chicken is completely coated, and then set it aside to marinate.  If the buttermilk brine is too much work, just sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces generously with salt and set in a bowl to give the salt a chance to work its magic. 

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Turn the oven on to about 350 F / 180 C.  While it is heating, prepare some root veggies.  I had some potatoes, carrots, and Japanese pumpkin on hand.  Other tubers or root veggies would be fine, too.  No need to peel potatoes and carrots if you don’t want to – a good scrub of the exterior is fine.  Now, when it comes roast chicken with root veggies, the veggies are the things that can take some time.  A shortcut, if you want to take it, is to boil a pan of water with some salt in it and parboil (pre-cook by boiling) the veggies.  The softer things (pumpkin) only need a few minutes then pull them out.  Potatoes need more time and carrots could use eight minutes or so.

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Put the parboiled veggies in a bowl or save yourself the washing and put them directly into a baking dish.  This is a good time to throw in some sliced onions and/or some whole cloves of garlic, if you would like.  Add a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil, another sprinkling of salt, several turns of the pepper mill, and then you can add some herbs, too.  Rosemary makes the kitchen smell marvelous and some thyme (I happened to have fresh on hand) is really nice, too.  Stir the veggies a few times so they are coated with the oil, salt, etc.

If you haven’t parboiled the veggies, you should go ahead and put the dish into the oven and give them about fifteen minutes head start on the chicken, covered with aluminum foil.

If you marinated the chicken, take it out of the buttermilk, rinse the pieces off, and pat dry with paper towels.  If you didn’t use the buttermilk, you can just pat dry with the towels.  Add some fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of the olive oil, and then place on top of the veggies with the skin side of the chicken facing up, and bake, covered with foil, for about twenty minutes.  After twenty minutes, remove the foil and continue cooking until the chicken is nicely browned, about another twenty to twenty-five minutes.

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Check the veggies with a knife – they should be cooked to the tenderness you like.  I like mine to still have a little firmness to them but not too much.  Check the chicken with a thermometer – you’re looking for an internal temperature of 165 F.  Pull the dish out and let it rest for about five minutes before serving.  There you have it – a healthy and easy weeknight dinner.

 

Sunday Date Brunch

This is going to be the final word on dates for the time being.  I invited two couples, Doug and Bee and Ken and Chai, over for Sunday brunch.  Since I had been on such a roll this week with date-themed recipes, it became something like an Iron Chef challenge.  This meal’s challenge ingredient: dates.  In all humility, it turned out pretty darn good.  Let me share the menu with you.

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An amuse bouche of sedai dates stuffed with a little French chèvre (soft goat cheese) and a sliver of almond.  What a tasty combination!  The orange rind, which I should have salted, was more for presentation than flavor.  Had it been salted, I think it would have been a nice contrast and would have really stimulated the appetite.

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Two of our four guests – Doug and Bee.  Doug is a fellow American who lives in our neighborhood.  Credit goes to Tawn for the elegantly understated table setting.

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Two types of flatbreads.  Both were brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.  The one of the left has freshly chopped rosemary.  The one of the right has za’atar, a Middle Easter spice mixture that contains oregano, thyme, basil, savory, and sesame seeds.

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Greek style salad with fresh romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives and Feta cheese.  Served with a homemade lemon vinaigrette dressing.  (The dressing recipe is here)

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The main course was the Moroccan style braised chicken.  This picture doesn’t quite flatter the dish, which I thought was the standout of the meal.  Wednesday’s Moroccan Pork Chop dinner (my blog entry about it and the original recipe I followed) was the starting point.  Based on what I learned from that recipe, I repurposed it for chicken.  Zakiah suggested a recipe for tamarind-date sauce (thank you – what a great idea!) and I extrapolated from that and braised the chicken instead of just pan frying it. 

The chicken was brined for four hours in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, and cayenne pepper.  While it was brining, I created a tamarind-date sauce.  This was a learning experience as I haven’t worked with tamarind paste before.

Tamarind paste comes from the flesh of the ripe fruit of the tropical Tamarind tree.  The flesh is very sour with just a hint of sweetness.  Mashing the paste in a little warm water, you can extract a thick liquid with which you cook.  A little goes a long way!  To make the sauce, I sauteed an onion with the same spices I used for the chicken.  Once the onion was soft I blended it with chopped dates and the tamarind water.  Then I thinned this mixture with broth and cooked it down for a few minutes.

While the sauce reduced, I rinsed, patted dry, and dredged the chicken pieces with a spice mixture, then pan fried them a few pieces at a time.  Once all the pieces had formed a nice crust, I returned them to the pot and added the tamarind-date sauce, covered the pot and cooked for an hour at low heat until the chicken was tender and cooked through.  The nice thing about this recipe was that it could be prepared the day before then reheated.  Tender, flavorful, and convenient.

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To accompany the chicken, I made another batch of the Moroccan style rice.  (Recipe I started with but I modified it a lot as I don’t cook with a microwave.)  I was out of apricots so used dates, raisins, and dried mango to accompany the rice.  Interestingly, this batch turned out much softer and mushier than the one I made Wednesday.  I used the same type of rice and proportion of rice to liquid as before, but the rice was from a new bag.  All I can figure is that this bag of rice was younger and didn’t need as much liquid.  Still, plenty tasty!

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For dessert, we has two items.  The first was a date nute bread (recipe) from Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa series of cookbooks.  This is a quick bread similar to banana bread or zucchini bread.  I think I overcooked it a little as it was dry.  Tawn, however, likes his food drier than I do, so he thought it was perfect!  Toasted, I think it would make no difference.  On the side is a tub of butter whipped with a little honey and orange zest.

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The final dish was a Greek Yoghurt Panna Cotta with dried apricots reconstituted in a white wine and honey sauce.  (Recipe) This turned out very nice as the panna cotta is not overly sweet and has a nice tanginess from the yoghurt.  Of course, by this point we were stuffed, and smaller servings would have been fine!

All in all, the brunch was a success.  Pleasant company and conversation, most importantly, and the food turned out nicely, too!