My blood may be mostly Scandinavian, my appearance may be Irish-dominant, but in my heart I’m way more exotic. Sometimes my heart is Greek, sometimes it’s Italian, and every now and then it flirts with the Middle East. This Middle Eastern flirtation began, as with many food discoveries, in my college cafeteria. The hit-or-miss “Grains” (read: vegetarian) line was suspiciously popular one day, so I decided to investigate. The overwhelmed student worker filled my plate with the donut-hole sized fried balls that my classmates were clamoring after, topped with a mysterious tangy white sauce.
It was love at first falafel. With some googling, I learned that my dear falafels were just a magically balanced blend of chickpeas and spices, rolled into balls and fried to a golden brown. The mysterious white sauce, tzatziki, would later become an obsession of mine on a study-abroad trip to Greece, but this first taste in my MN homeland was what started the tzatziki and falafel fever.
Post-graduation, there were several attempts at recreating the cafeteria falafel experience: boxed mixes that tasted…boxed, scratch-made recipes that made my falafel balls collapse and break so they were balls no more, and an overly fried, poorly seasoned falafel stick at the MN State Fair. Nothing was up to snuff. In fact, nothing even came close, until one fateful day when I stumbled across a falafel burger recipe from Rachel Ray. So, today I bring you the best falafel recipe I’ve found over the past 4 years, along with a quick tzatziki lime sauce that, when drizzled over top, is sure to make your heart feel Middle Eastern, even if you are but a petite Irish Scandinavian.
There’s no gray area when it comes to opinions on coconut. It seems you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it with all my heart,to the point where I get rather offended when someone disagrees. “You just haven’t had it in the right thing,” I’ll say, “Let’s go get a big, chocolate dipped macaroon and THEN you’ll understand.” Of course, despite my best efforts, it turns out most folks really do know what they like. So, I’ve decided to back down and say that if you don’t like coconut, that’s cool, but you can stop reading right here right now, because this blog post isn’t for you. This blog post is about shameless coconut l.o.v.e.
Coconut haters aren’t new to me. Two of my closest friends hate coconut: my sister and my ex-roomie (note: it was an amicable roomie split not brought on by irreconcilable coconut differences). Fortunately, I do have a partner in coconut-love in my mother. When it comes to food, my mom and I disagree about basically everything, with two firm exceptions: meat-free meals and coconut-laden desserts. When I find a new place that has a coconut sweet, I call her immediately. As soon as I find a new coconut recipe to try, I email it to her. It’s kind of our thing. So, when I stumbled across Smitten Kitchen’s Double Coconut Muffins, my fingers flew to my gmail: copypaste,cutemessagetomom, aaand done. It was decided, I was going to make these muffins for my mom and I to share, and we were going to bond in our special way that coconut haters (like my sister) can never understand.
I haven’t always been a big cook. In high school, I rotated between phases of grilled peanut butter sandwiches, tortillas filled with cheddar and nuked in the microwave until crispy, and nighttime bowls of cereal. In college my palate expanded a bit, due to the blessing of a well-stocked cafeteria, but it’s not a stretch to say that I never so much as looked at an oven for those four years. Post college, I found myself living in an apartment with no cafeteria, and since there are only so many nights you can eat cereal for dinner before you realize you have a problem, I decided I needed to learn a thing or two.
One of the first recipes I learned and loved involved sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and barley, which happen to be three of my favorite things (“favorite things” post high school, of course). Until recently, I hadn’t made the recipe in a couple of years, and decided it needed to be brought back, but adapted to fill the needs of my super sophisticated taste. See, my “sophisticated taste” had gone through a cereal-for-dinner relapse while feeling sick for a couple weeks, so I wanted some extra veggies to make up for the nutrient deficit (In my mind this is how things work…don’t ruin it for me). To provide some vitamin oomph, I added a couple more of my favorite things: spinach and artichokes… Remember how I feel about artichokes? Yeah, it’s an intense love. Anyway, read on for a throwback recipe delicious enough to convert a kitchen novice into, well, someone who tries really hard.
As someone who likes to be perpetually busy, I don’t find myself with many nights all to myself with nothing to do. I prefer it this way, but relaxing nights at home are necessary every once in a while. Of course, being the way I am, I’m not great at sitting still during these nights at home. Instead of ordering takeout and watching reruns on Netflix, I usually make a fun, somewhat time-intensive dinner…and then watch reruns on Netflix while basking in my culinary accomplishment, and then probably cleaning the entire apartment…or you know, whatever.
Last week I knew I had an upcoming night of nothing, so I planned for the occasion by preparing some pizza dough the night before. My mom gave me a pizza and flatbread cookbook for my birthday in January, along with a pizza stone and pizza peel. As a true pizza freak, I started playing with my new toys right away. However, since homemade pizza dough was unfamiliar territory, and I tend to be a toe-dipper with new things, I had only made the book’s “Master Recipe.” How very vanilla of me, I know.
On the eve of my solitary evening, I decided I wanted to go crazy and make a new recipe from the book. That’s right folks, watch out for this girl. So, I took the bookmark off of the Master Recipe, and turned several pages until I found the instructions for whole wheat pizza dough. Why mess with Master Recipe perfection, you ask? Although I can’t deny my love of comfort food, I do like to make decadent things healthier whenever possible. I knew the wheat dough might not come together as seamlessly as the white dough, but I’d make it work. After all, I’m not above eating imperfectly crusted pizza…it’s still pizza and I’m still human. (Spoiler alert: I ate perfect pizza that was fit for a Superhuman, but I’m not above sharing it with mere humans, so proceed.)