Moon Landing Cake

July 20: National Moon Day

“Houston, we’ve had problems.”

Our blog post to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (1969-2019) is late, the butter pecan boxed cake mix did not have actual nuts in it and the frosting nearly smeared the whole cake surface with crumbs! Despite these problems, and the fact that we have never baked and frosted a ball-shaped cake before, we think our mini moon cake turned out kind of cute (although it looks more like the fictional Star Wars planet Hoth or some sort of giant snowball-asteroid?).

We decided to make this moon cake centerpiece at the last minute for a small group gathering to celebrate National Moon Day and watch the TV specials together while eating moon-themed foods for dinner (moon drop grapes, Moon Pies, shrimp-flavored Full Moon chips, Moon Cheeses and basic chicken salad sandwiches on crescent-shaped bread). Our friends Karen and Ken B. also bought limited edition marshmallow moon Oreo cookies.

Nevertheless, everyone had a nice time celebrating the golden moments of the historical lunar landing, ate festive food and got the gist of our moon cake idea for National Moon Day.

Recipe

Ingredients

Directions

Grease each half of a 3D ball/sphere baking pan set (such as Sunny Side Up Bakery brand or Wilton brand). Prepare cake mix according to the directions on the package. Divide the batter in two, filling each half of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or more until the middle of the cake is cooked all the way through. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

When the cake halves are cooled, slice the top of the mounds to level them. On one of the cake halves, slice a small piece off the bottom to level it so that the cake can sit on its own. Make the vanilla buttercream frosting and stir until it is a spreadable consistency. Use a thin layer of frosting to attach both halves together to make one whole sphere.

Smear a little frosting on the bottom of a cake board and stick the cake in place. Frost the cake (we were unable to make it smooth so we just spiked it by pulling our spatula up randomly from the frosting). Top with a tiny astronaut toy and U.S. flag toothpick. Refrigerate to set. Bring to room temperature before slicing and serving (with ice cream!).

Notes

  • Tint the frosting with a little black gel color/food paste to make the moon surface gray instead of white, if desired.
  • Thanks to fellow Star Wars fan/friend Justin Q. for gifting us with the 3D ball/sphere cake pan. He attempted to make a Death Star cake and had problems so he hoped we would have better luck making Hoth a moon landing cake.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

July:Lebanese Tabbouleh Day (First Saturday in July)

We enjoyed attending the annual Lebanese festival at St. George Maronite Catholic Church when we used to live in San Antonio, Texas. The church was less than 10 minutes drive away from our house so we could easily get to the festival and enjoy the cultural and religious presentations. But, of course, we came mostly for the food!

We have also attended Lebanese, Middle Eastern and Arabic festivals in Houston, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. If available at the food vendor stalls, we would get a full sampler plate so we can taste everything: main entrée, side dishes and a dessert. We had tabbouleh in our combo plates a few times. It’s an affordable side salad to sell and also an easy one to make at home.

Traditionally made with bulgar (cracked wheat), our Arab-American friend Sol S. shared us his recipe version for making tabbouleh with quinoa instead. It is tasty, colorful and healthy and Sol encourages eating this as part of a Mediterranean Diet. Quinoa tabbouleh is also terrific for celebrating Lebanese Tabbouleh Day!

Recipe

From Sol S.

For the quinoa tabbouleh

  • ½ cup quinoa, uncooked and rinsed thoroughly
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, diced small
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 green onions/scallions, chopped
  • ½ bunch flat leaf parsley, stems trimmed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint, crushed
  • 1 Kirby or ½ cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced small
  • ¼ red of green bell pepper, diced small

Directions

Rinse the quinoa and drain. Set aside. In a sauce pan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add quinoa, salt, pepper and water. Simmer for 15 minutes and let rest for 5 minutes (all the water should have been absorbed by the quinoa; if not simmer gently till all water is absorbed). Fluff with fork and let cool.

In a mixing bowl, add the chopped tomatoes, green onions, parsley and mint.

Add the diced cucumber and bell peppers. Stir in the cooled quinoa.

 

For the dressing

  •  juice of large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

 Directions

In a small cup or bowl, mix together the lemon juice, cumin, olive oil and salt and pepper. Pour into the quinoa salad and mix gently. Refrigerate and rest the salad for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Notes

  • Our friend Sol S. is in the process of writing a cookbook and we are happy to test his recipes for our blog. We are adding a Middle Eastern section under our Theme Menus. Check back soon to see new recipes listed there.

Bastani

(Persian Saffron Ice Cream)

July: National Ice Cream Month

Before Highlander entered Islander’s life nearly three decades ago, she was friends at university with an Iranian-Persian Ph.D. student in the dorm. Ali M. used to joke and tell everyone that he would buy her hand in marriage with 12 white camels. She answered back that he could just buy her some ice cream! So they would walk off campus with a bunch of other dorm friends to an ice cream parlor and enjoy the frozen treats and everyone’s company. When Highlander moved into the same dorm a couple of years later, there were no hard feelings between him and Ali. In fact, he welcomed us in his physics lab where he was working on an experiment for his doctoral dissertation. And we all still went out to eat ice cream for a much needed study break afterwards! Always a funny guy, Ali said he wished the parlor could serve bastani as the 32nd flavor option. Bastani is a traditional Persian ice cream flavored with saffron, rosewater, cardamom and pistachios.

We do miss those dorm days and all our international university friends at the ice cream parlor. So we were happy to discover Persian and Middle Eastern restaurants where we now live and try bastani after all these years. Islander immediately searched for no churn bastani recipes and adapted one for our blog post. It is a delicious dessert to serve during the summer and throughout National Ice Cream Month.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream, divided use, cold
  • saffron, generous pinch
  • 1 tablespoon rose water
  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

Directions

In a small bowl, place two tablespoons of whipping cream. Heat in the microwave for 15 seconds. Stir in some saffron threads, pressing on the side of the bowl to release its flavor and color. Stir in the rose water. Chop the pistachio nuts into small pieces.

In a large bowl, pour the condensed milk. Stir in the saffron mixture. Beat the remaining whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into the condensed milk mixture.

Stir in the pistachios. Place in a loaf pan or ice cream container. Cover and freeze for at least six hours or overnight. Remove from the freezer. Scoop into dessert dishes or wafer cones or serve with wafer sheets.

Notes

  • Bastani is traditionally served with a wafer slice. The final food photo above shows a background of a wafer sheet that we bought at a Middle Eastern specialty grocery store. Bastani can be scooped in wafer ice cream cones for a similar taste.
  • Search our blog for other no churn ice cream recipes.

Cucumber-Cilantro Raita

June 14:National Cucumber Day

Our Indian friends, Govind and Vathsala S., cook hot and spicy vegetarian foods. While tasty and delicious, Islander cannot take the heat so they serve her raita to cool off her burning mouth (Highlander says she is a wimp)!

Raita is a creamy condiment that includes a mixture of yogurt or curd with fresh chopped vegetables (savory raita) and/or fruits (sweeter raita). We are more used to the savory version with cooling cucumbers to offset the fiery curries and dishes that our friends cook (even though they tone it down somewhat for Islander, she still thinks the food is too spicy for her).

As the weather heats up and the summer season approaches, keep cool as a cucumber with a raita recipe on National Cucumber Day.

Recipe

(Inspired by Govind and Vathsala S.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped

Directions

Wash, dry, peel and chop the cucumbers. Chop the tomatoes and onion. Place all in a large bowl.

Stir in the yogurt. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix in the cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavors to blend. Serve as a side dish garnished with a sprig of fresh cilantro leaves.

Notes

  • There are different variations of raita. Some recipes call for scallions instead of round onions, mint instead of cilantro and cumin or coriander instead of garlic powder. A few raitaare sprinkled with red chili pepper, which Islander thinks would defeat the dish’s cooling properties.
  • Eastern Europeans have a similar recipe to raita. One Polish recipe, mizeria, uses cucumbers mixed in sour cream instead of yogurt.
  • Search our blog for other cucumber recipes.

Falafel

June 12: International Falafel Day

Falafels are one of our all-time favorite Middle Eastern foods! We eat them at ethnic festivals and Mediterranean restaurants around the United States. But when we visited Egypt and United Arab Emirates, we were able to taste a variety of this vegetable-based appetizer. They were served during breakfast buffets at the finest luxury hotels as well as on the roadside as street snacks and at fast food courts. We prefer them plain with a dipping sauce but falafels may be eaten as a filling in sandwiches. Either way, cooking and eating falafels are a fabulous way to observe International Falafel Day!

Recipe

(Adapted from Sol. S.)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • ½ sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼tsp. ground cardamom
  • ½teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoons sesame seeds for coating (optional)
  • 3 cups oil for frying (vegetable, sunflower or other light oil)

Directions

In a large bowl, place the dried chickpeas and immerse them in water about twice as much their volume. Soak overnight to soften. Drain and rub off any leftover skins.

Chop the onions, crush the garlic cloves and chop the parsley and cilantro leaves. Zest the lemon.

In a food processor, grind the chickpeas with onion, garlic, parsley and lemon zest until fine and grainy but not mushy and pasty.

Place the mixture back in a bowl and mix with cilantro, spices (salt, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander and cardamom). Add the baking powder, water and flour. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Use a scoop to form 2-inch balls. Press gently so the mixture holds together. Flatten slightly into patties.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using. Deep fry in hot oil for 3-5 minutes until golden brown (make sure the centers of the falafels are cooked through). Drain on paper towels. Serve while still warm.

Notes

  • We like to freeze the uncooked falafels to hold their shapes better. On a baking sheet lined with waxed paper, put the uncooked falafels in a single layer. Freeze until firm. Transfer frozen uncooked falafels in a container and seal well until ready to deep fry.
  • Some people make falafels in mini sausage shapes or balls. Keep the mixture small so they cook through better and are crisp on the outside instead of bread-like (larger and thicker falafels might not cook all the way in the center).
  • Serve falafels warm with tahini, hummus or spiced yogurt dipping sauces or in a pita pocket with vegetables as a sandwich.

 

Oven Roasted Okra

bakedokra

June: National Okra Month

The lazy days of summer are upon us and we also get lazy about cooking complicated meals around this time of the year. So we keep things simple by oven-roasting seasonal vegetables like okra. We normally don’t go out of our way to make it because of okra’s “slimy reputation”. But because our neighbors and friends give us an abundance of organic okra from their garden and farm, we do not want their hard work of picking the pods to go unappreciated (besides, we are lazy to pick them ourselves, unless we pick them up in packages at the grocery store). We also find the easiest way to cook okra—in the oven. Just trim and toss them with a little olive oil and spices and roast them. Roasted okra is our lazy “ladies’ fingers” recipe post for National Okra Month.  

Recipe

 Ingredients 

  • 1 pound of okra
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon seasoning blend (see Notes)

Directions

Wash the okra and dry with paper towels. Trim off the top and end of each okra pod. Cut into ½-inch slices.

bakedokrasteps1

In a large mixing bowl, mix the olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the okra in the olive oil mixture. Sprinkle with seasoning blend (optional).

bakedokrasteps2

Spread them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Serve hot.

 bakedokrasteps3

 Notes

Double Ginger Scones

May 30: National Scone Day

Highlander’s Mum pronounces “scone” like the word “con” but we say it like “cone”. Either pronunciation is acceptable—and it also depends on the region, according to studies and surveys.

Highlander’s Mum is from Ontario, Canada. Her father (Highlander’s grandfather) emigrated from Scotland, where scones originated. Scone is pronounced like “con” there and in the majority of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. In the Republic of Ireland, Italy and USA, people pronounce scone like “cone”.

Inspired by the double pronunciation of scone, we made double ginger scones for National Scone Day. This recipe has both crystallized ginger and ground ginger as ingredients, which make this scone a spicy sweet treat for teatime.

Now, how do you pronounce scone?

Recipe

(Adapted from Tea Time Magazine)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour, all purpose
  • ½ cup sugar, granulated white
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, cold salted, cut into small pieces
  • 3-5 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped finely
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¾ cup almond milk, unsweetened
  • sliced or slivered almonds

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder, ground ginger and salt. Cut in the cold butter and mix into the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Blend in three tablespoons of chopped crystallized ginger. In a separate cup, beat the egg yolk with almond milk. Pour in the milk mixture into the flour and blend until smooth, being careful not to overwork the dough. Turn out dough onto a clean, slightly floured surface. Knead four or five times (if too dry, add a little more almond milk mixture; if too wet, add a little more flour).

Roll out to ¼ inch thickness and cut with a 2-inch round fluted cutter, re-rolling the scraps as necessary. Place scones two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Top with extra chopped crystallized ginger and almonds. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden brown, testing with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

 Notes

  • We like to get our ginger overload by drinking lemon ginger tea with double ginger scones.
  • Search our blog for other scones recipes.