Anniversary Dinner In: Grilled Basil Chicken, Orzo Salad & Cocoa Cake


Anniversary Flowers from Raj

Today is our seventh wedding anniversary. Normally, we’d go out, exchange gifts, cards, go away for the weekend…but not this year. Dinner out during Ramadan means buffets for iftar, and I DO NOT DO buffets, especially on special occasions. So, to avoid the buffet bar, I’m cooking our meal tonight, which isn’t a problem, except for the ingredient thing that keeps getting in the way of good food. I searched through my paltry shelves of cookbooks last week, which prompted my previous post, and found a few things to make tonight that I’d normally not consider special:

  • Grilled Chicken with Basil Dressing
  • Orzo with Garbanzo Beans, Red Onion, Basil, and Mint
  • Rich Cocoa Cake
I went to Miles, the closest thing we have here to Balducci’s or Whole Foods, and bought most of the items off my list with the exception of  sour cream (is it really that exotic?). I was able to find sour cream at another store and you would have thought that I bought gold! It was about $3 JD’s for an itty bitty little plastic container–the size of a container of sour cream that you get at Mexican restaurant. The only basil I could find was brown and spotty, but I bought it anyway to avoid having to go to another store this morning. When I looked at it this morning it was beyond repair and smelled terrible. As a result, I had to practically strip my sole living plant–a basil plant–of almost all of its leaves. There was no alternative though. The basil was rancid!
Practically 'naked' basil plant
Here’s the recipe for the Chicken:
2/3 cup EVOO
3 tbl plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds (lightly crushed)
1 1/3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
6 boneless, skinless breast halves
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
In a resealable plastic bag, combine 1/3 cup of the oil. 3 tbl. of the lemon juice, the fennel seeds, 3/4 tsp. of the salt, and 1/2 tsp. of the pepper. Add the chicken and seal the bag. Massage the marinade into the chicken. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a blender, blend the basil, garlic, lemon zest, remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper until smooth. Gradually blend in the remaining 1/3 cup oil. Season with salt and pepper until smooth. Season the basil sauce to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired.
Prepare a grill for medium high heat (or a grill pan over medium high-heat). Grill the chicken until just cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a platter and drizzle with the basil sauce and serve.
The Pasta Salad:
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups mixed red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
3/4 cup red wine vinaigrette (below)
salt and pepper
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy sauce pan over high heat. Stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook, stirring frequently, until the orzo is tender but still firm to the bite, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo through a strainer. Transfer the orzo to a large, wide bowl and toss until the orzo cools slightly. Set aside to cool completely.
Toss the orzo with the beans, tomatoes, onion, basil, mint, and enough vinaigrette to coat; you may not need all 3/4 cup. Season the salad to taste with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.
For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (* called red grape vinegar here–no drinking!!!)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup EVOO
Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Rich Cocoa Cake:
1/2 cup cold water
2 tbl. (heaping) cocoa powder (I use Penzeys)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 tbl. unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
Icing:
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup cocoa powder
dash salt
6-8 cups powdered sugar (I only used about 3 cups)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-3 tbl. hot water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch cake pans and set aside (I used 4×2 cake pans and it made 4 little cakes. I froze two for a later date). In a small saucepan, mix together the cold water and cocoa powder. Heat over medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. The mix should be paste-like. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. Add the eggs, salt and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the cocoa mixture and beat well. In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, milk and baking soda. Gradually add the sour cream mix to the batter, alternating with the flour. Beat well after each addition. Pour into pans and bake at 350 degrees for 22-26 minutes. Use a toothpick to test or note that the cake is fully risen and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Remove from the pans and let cool thoroughly before icing.
For the icing, cream together the butter and cocoa powder until fluffy. Add the salt. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating well. Add the vanilla extract and mix well. Add just enough water to reach your desired consistency.
The consistency of the batter is like caramel
Aren’t these the cutest little cakes!
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Quick Fix Meal after a Day in Madaba: Moroccan Chicken Skewers with Couscous with Currents, Mint, and Parsley


Moroccan Chicken Skewers with Couscous with Currents, Barberries (if I could find them), Mint, and Parsley

We came home exhausted from our excursion to Madaba yesterday afternoon, but I’m not sure why because we didn’t really do much or even walk that far. Lucky for me, I had prepared the marinade Friday afternoon to let the chicken marinate overnight and only needed to prepare the couscous, which only took about 30 minutes.
I love this recipe from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes because it’s quick (with some advance planning), doesn’t require the use of my propane oven (it’s grilled) and it’s always good.
We sat on the back patio, enjoyed the cool breeze, and drank some excellent, inexpensive Rose (only $4 JD’s).

Moroccan Chicken Skewers

Marinade:

  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbl. ground cumin
  • 1 tbl. caraway seeds
  • 1 tbl. sambal oelek (or ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 1 tbl. paprika
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 pinch saffron threads

Chicken:

  • 2.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1.5 in. pieces
  • Salt & pepper
  • chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Marinade: Puree the marinade ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Thread the chicken onto bamboo skewers and place in a large baking dish. Pour marinade over chicken and turn to coat well. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

To make the chicken: Preheat the grill to medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and grill until no longer pink and cooked through, turning frequently, abut 10 minutes.

Transfer the skewers to a platter. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Couscous with Currents, Barberries, and Mint

  • 3 tbl. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • ¼ cup barberries (optional; found at Persian stores)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tbl. chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp. grated orange zest
  • Salt and pepper

Combine the olive oil, garlic, salt, turmeric, and 2.5 cups water in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer it to a large bowl. Cool slightly.

Stir in the green onions, pine nuts, currants, barberries, mint, orange zest, orange juice, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.