Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Castle Siege

What would Christmas be without creating something ridiculous out of cookie? A few years ago, there was the Great Gingerbread Massacre, and last year, my friends and I recreated the movie Zombieland with gingerbread. After "castle siege" was suggested this year, I knew I would have to attempt it. I immediately googled "gingerbread trebuchet" and got some great ideas. (Click the picture above to embiggen.)

(By the way, in my googling, I found the most amazing recreations of scenes from the Lord of the Rings, done entirely in candy. Check them out.)

My friend Melody was along for the whole ride, and many of her suggestions are what made this thing so awesome. While I was baking the pieces, she pulled out a toy horse cookie cutter and said that we had to make a Trojan horse. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE nerd about the Trojan war, so how could I not make one after she pointed it out? I put a little platform between the two horse cookies and loaded it up with little men. There's even a ladder on the back for them to climb.

There are just so many awesome things in this scene, and they make me laugh just thinking about them. There's a prisoner who's being set on fire, men on top of the wall with vats of hot pitch, a ladder thrown over the castle wall, a guy sneakily trying to set the castle on fire, and a few men impaled by thrown javelins.

And of course, there's the gingerbread trebuchet. The thing actually moves!! The counterweight is a little house-shaped box attached to a pretzel rod with a toothpick, and the basket is a mini cupcake wrapper attached to the pretzel with string licorice and loaded with Whoppers. The pretzel itself is attached to the base via a wooden skewer, and it moves up and down. The only thing missing is a mechanism to secure the basket pre-firing. Hey, I'm no engineer.

By the way, this whole thing was made with one batch of my favorite gingerbread and one batch of royal icing. It was all pretty easy (although I am aware that my definition of "easy" is a bit skewed.)

I love having fun with gingerbread. Have any good gingerbread creations to share?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Za'atar-Crusted Chicken with Pomegranate Tabouli

A few months ago, I heard the rumbling about a new site that would pair food bloggers with products in order to create unique recipes. Little did I know that I would be joining in the fun that is Kitchen Play so soon!

I was sent a link to, this month's sponsor, with the instructions that I was to pick out something to use for an entree. Immediately, my mind was racing. With an entire spice store at my fingertips, how was I to narrow down my recipes? I wasn't sure what to do, so in the end, I just picked a wild (and not often used) spice, za'atar, figuring it could use a little love, and started brainstorming.

Za'atar is a blend of dried herbs ( uses thyme), sesame seeds, and salt. There are as many variations on this blend as there are cooks who use it (and can include oregano, marjoram, sumac, savory, cumin, coriander, fennel, or caraway), but those three ingredients are what makes za'atar za'atar. I opted to add some sumac to my mix to give it a lighter, fruitier flavor. Of course, if you like the base flavor of the spice mix, the real fun comes in blending your own to get exactly the flavors you like.

When it came to actually using the za'atar, though, I was a little stumped. The only place I've ever seen it used was on bread, much like foccacia, at my local Armenian grocery store - definitely not something to make an entree out of. So I opted to stick with the Armenian flavors and pull out a little trick that my mother had used in my childhood.

Whenever my mother and I would go through the effort of making boreg (either sou boreg or the crispy version that is much like spanakopita triangles), there would inevitably be leftover cheese filling. Instead of just throwing it away, she would combine it with chicken and bake it up for dinner, like a nice little preview of the special-occasion appetizers we had slaved over all day. I don't know why I never thought to ask her just to make that for dinner without having to go through all the other cooking.

So here we are: crazy Middle Eastern spice + childhood memories = a dish that is perfect for any dinner party (or any dinner, really). I paired the chicken with a winter-y version of tabouli, incorporating pomegranate seeds, more sumac (which may be my new favorite spice after this challenge), and just a hint of spicy cayenne pepper (ok, I added more than just a hint to my final dish, but you don't have to go as far as me). The chicken reheats wonderfully, and the tabouli is almost better the second day, so don't worry about having leftovers around.

You can join in the fun of the Progressive Party and earn a chance to win $100 by recreating this and other recipes at home. Check out the contest page of Kitchen Play for more details.

Za'atar-Crusted Chicken
2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded muenster cheese
1/2 cup cottage cheese
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
6 chicken breasts
1/2 cup za'atar
1/2 cup panko
1 Tbsp sumac
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 13x9 glass baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. Combine shredded muenster cheese, cottage cheese, and parsley, stirring well to evenly distribute, and set aside.

Place one chicken breast between two sheets of wax paper and, using the flat end of a meat tenderizer, a rolling pin, or the flat bottom of a pan, pound the chicken until it is uniformly flat. Don't hit it too hard or the meat will tear. Place 1/6th of the cheese mixture in the center of the flattened chicken and pull the sides up around the cheese. Use toothpicks to secure the chicken closed. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

In a shallow bowl, combine za'atar, panko, and sumac. Dip chicken in egg white, then za'atar mixture, making sure to evenly cover all the sides. Place chicken in the prepared baking dish, seam-side down. Bake for 40 minutes. Make sure to remove the toothpicks before serving.

Pomegranate Tabouli
1 cup fine bulgur wheat
2 cups hot water
1 tsp salt
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice*
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
salt and pepper

Place bulgur wheat in a large bowl and pour in water. Stir in salt and cover with a kitchen towel. After 30 minutes, drain off any excess water. Stir in parsley and mint. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sumac, and cayenne and pour over the salad. Add pomegranate seeds and salt and pepper to taste; mix well to combine. Best served at room temperature.

*Microwave your lemon for about 10 seconds to get more juice out of it - 1/4 cup juice should be about one lemon.