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Archive for January, 2012

Remember my mixer? The one that leapt to its death like a goldfish from its tank?

What? Am I the only one who had lemming-like goldfish growing up?

Well anyway, the old  has been been replaced  by a bigger, shinier model. I have not yet had a chance to make (or share the recipe for) the challah that challenged my mixer to a duel and won. But I have used my new toy twice already and I was very glad for the extra room in the big bowl. I broke it in with ka’ak b’sukar (yes, you do need to be careful when pronounching the name of these Syrian butter cookies). A pear frangipane tart quickly followed. The tart is on its way, but let’s first talk about the cookies.

I first tried sweet ka’ak b’sukar (sukar means sugar) in Israel when staying with my friend Zoe’s Syrian grandmother. Her Jedda (Arabic for grandmother) welcomed us into her home overlooking Jerusalem with a plate of pale twisted cookies and a pot of tea. My first impression was that they were a bit bland. By the fourth taste though, I was reaching for a fifth. I was hooked. Before going to bed, I’d find my hand making its way over to the cookie tin next to the stove. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d gingerly tip-toe across the cold ceramic floor, refreshing in the hot August night, and reach into that tin again. While waiting for the water to boil for coffee in the morning, I’d snag a few more. After three days, Zoe’s grandmother had to make another batch. The evening of my flight home, she gave me everything that was left in the tin.

I was so excited to find this ka’ak recipe that I didn’t look beyond the list of ingredients and the pretty cookies staring at me from the right side of the page. I threw four eggs and a cup and a half of sugar into my (new!) mixer bowl and started to beat. As I gathered the rest of the ingredients and finally read past the first step, I saw that the sugar was supposed to be divided – one cup in the mixer, the remaining half cup for coating the cookies.

The fix was easy — I made a larger batch. And it seemed fitting that my mixer’s six quart bowl easily fit the over seven cups of flour.

Ka’ak b’sukar (braided sugar cookies)

This is the recipe that I used, essentially one and a half times the original. If you have a smaller bowl, multiply all quantities by 2/3. Depending on how large you make you cookies, the full recipe makes about 50-60 cookies. They are meant to remain somewhat soft after baking (they’re not crispy at all).

- 6 eggs

- 1.5 C sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

- 1 orange (to make 1 T zest)

- 1 T vanilla extract

- 1.5 C vegetable oil

- 7.5 C flour

- 1.5 T baking powder

 Mix. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, zest, vanilla, and oil. Slowly add the flour and baking powder until you get a sticky well-blended dough.

Chill. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes.

Preheat. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Shape. If dough is too sticky to handle when you remove from the fridge, add a small amount of flour and mix everything together with your hands. Keep adding tablespoon by tablespoon of flour and mixing until it  no longer sticks to your fingers. Don’t flour the counter. Take a handful of dough and roll it on the counter into a strand about 1/2 inch thick. Bring the two ends together, folding the strand in half. Holding the folded over side, gently twist the doubled strand several times until it looks like a rope. Cut the rope into pieces that are 2 to 3 inches long. For me, most ropes yielded two cookies.

Roll. Pour some sugar onto a small plate. Lightly roll the twisted cookies in the sugar to coat.

Bake. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment. Place the cookies on the sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should remain very pale, with only a tiny bit of browning on the bottom where some of the sugar caramelizes.

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around and around

My last full day in Vienna, I woke up with the city. Before the cafes opened, I stepped out of my hotel into the misty haze hiding the slowly rising sun. I boarded a small bus and sat next to the driver as we made our way through the sleepy streets.  Past the men in light green jumpsuits sweeping the pavement. Past the early pedestrian commuters waiting on the curb for the light to turn before crossing the road, despite ours being the only car in sight.

Less than an hour into the drive, we watched from the highway as Bratislava approached and faded away. Hours before the time I normally wake up on a Sunday, we arrived in Budapest.

We spent the remainder of the morning criss-crossing the Danube from Buda to Pest and back again. We spent some time in the Castle District, roaming around the cobblestone streets and snagging glimpses of the buildings over on the Pest side.

A few minutes scaling the walls and I was ready to eat.

I was planning to step into the oldest cafe in Budapest for a slice of cake and tea, but got sidetracked by the scent of caramelizing sugar wafting from an open window. I entered the little bakery and watched as the woman in the white and black polka dot apron made Kürtőskalács, also known as chimney cakes. She rolled out the soft sweet dough and used a pizza cutter to separate out long strips. She methodically spiralled the strips of dough around a small long-handled rolling pin. She rolled the pin on the counter to smooth out the edges. She brushed the dough with butter and rolled it in sugar. She placed the pins of dough in the oven  hearth. A motor in the back turned them slowly as the caramelizing sugar crept around and around the dough.

Prompted more by my unwavering daze than the several Euros I dropped on the counter with a clink, she placed the still crackling brûléed sweet in a cellophane sleeve and then in my outstretched hands. I walked out, unraveling my snack as steam puffed out of the center like the chimney it was named after.

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the weekend end

As I send this post out into the world, I’m sure most of you are getting ready for the weekend. I like to think that if weekend were a Jewish holiday, Thursday night would be “erev weekend” – the night before the weekend begins and the time to start celebrating.

But, I’m not here to talk about the beginning of the weekend or Friday night dinner. Today, we’re talking about the end of the weekend ritual. The Sunday search through the fridge, quick look on the web, consultation with a towering stack of cookbooks followed by a flurry of knives and cutting boards and pots and pans.

Soup is almost always on the agenda these days as the temperature drops below freezing and I am oh so thankful that I have an indoor parking garage.

For the past two weeks, the weekend end ritual fell on a Monday. A Monday! Twice in a row!

Last Monday, I came home to an empty fridge after hours and hours of flying back from Vienna. A quick trip to the store with an idea or two in mind, and a beautiful parsnip parsley soup emerged (thanks Jess).

This Monday was the end of another particularly joyously long weekend. After waking up late,  I settled on my sofa with a steaming cup of coffee, some toast spread with cheese that tastes better than butter, a pile of cookbooks, and my laptop.

The rummaging turned up a few pounds of  butternut squash, already cleaned and peeled and begging to be used. On the door of the fridge, a bouquet of cilantro in a glass of water. In a mason jar, preserved lemons that I made a few weeks ago, awaiting their debut. In the freezer, broth made last month from a couple of roasted chickens.

The flipping through pages, both virtual and real, turned up a hearty squash soup with a kick (you know how I like a kick).

The hearty would come from beans.

The kick from Middle Eastern spice.

Deciding to hibernate for the day, I made everything the slow, (almost) no shortcuts, from scratch way. I soaked and boiled and cooked and roasted and processed and blended.

The soup warmed the apartment and filled it with the scent of delicious.

Happy erev weekend!

Butternut squash and cannellini soup with chermoula

This soup is a mesh of a few difference recipes I found. The idea for using cannellini beans came from Bon Appetit. The spice mixture is based on Maroud Lahlou‘s red chermoula (Moroccan spice paste)and Yotam Ottolenghi‘s ultimate winter couscous.

This soup is a whole day affair, at least the way I made it with dried beans, oven-roasted squash, and chermoula.  But don’t be daunted. There are a few shortcuts you can take that should give you a very good soup in around an hour tops. First, use canned beans – you’ll just need to saute the onion and garlic in the soup pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. Second, don’t roast the squash. Third, skip the chermoula spice paste and just add half the amount of each of the spices directly to the soup with the squash.  

I use preserved lemons here. You can buy them jarred or make them from scratch. To make then from scratch, quarter lemons (regular or meyers) and layer them in a jar with tons of salt. Make sure the lemons are really tightly packed and have enough juice and salt to completely fill the jar. Let the jar sit in a cabinet for about a week and then transfer to the fridge for three weeks. Every few days, flip the jar upside down to mix everything around. Once the lemon rinds soften, they’re ready to use. When you want to add them to something, discard the pulp and only use the peel.

For the beans:

- 1 1/2 C dried cannellini beans or 4 C canned cannellini beans

- 1 bay leaf

- 1 onion

- 4 garlic cloves

- kosher salt

For the chermoula spice paste:

- 1/2 of a preserved lemon (~2 T chopped rind)

- 4 cloves garlic (~2 t chopped)

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t sweet paprika

- 1/2 t hot paprika

- 1/4 t cinnamon

- small bunch fresh cilantro (~2 T chopped)

- 2 T harissa

- 6 T crushed tomatoes

For the soup:

- 2 large butternut squashes (about 3 – 4 pounds total)

- olive oil

- 2 T cumin

- kosher salt

- 4 C chicken or vegetable broth

Make the beans. I used Michael Ruhlman’s instructions as a guideline.

Boil and soak. Pick through the dried  beans and remove any rocks or discolored beans. Bring to a  boil 3 parts cold water with 1 part dried beans (so, 4.5 C water, 1.5 C beans) and the bay leaf. Boil for 10 minutes and then turn off heat. Soak for an hour. Remove bay leaf, drain beans, rinse out pot, and add back the beans.

Simmer. Rough chop one onion, sliver 4 cloves of garlic, and add them to the beans. Fill the pot one inch over the beans with cold water (for this amount of beans, I used 6 cups of water). Simmer for 1 – 2 more  hours. When you can smell the beans and they’re almost tender enough (after 1.5 hour in my case), generously salt. By generously I mean a good palmful or two. The water should taste as salty as the ocean (similar to pasta water). Continue to cook until tender – you should be able to bite into them with almost no resistance. If the beans start to get mushy, it’s not a big deal because you’ll be pureeing the soup soon anyway.

Drain. Drain the cooked beans and onion and then add them back to the pot.

Make the chermoula.

Prep. Remove the preserved lemon peel from the flesh (slide your finger under the peel and the flesh should pop out pretty easily. Chop the lemon peel finely. Chop garlic.

Process. Put all the spices, cilantro, harissa, and tomatoes into a food processor (a mini one will do just fine). Pulse until everything comes together into a bright red paste.  Add salt to taste.

Make the soup.

Prep. Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized chunks — the bigger the cubes, the longer they will take to roast; I typically cut into 3/4 – 1 inch chunks.

Roast. Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Spread squash out in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and shake around in the pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through to make sure the squash cooks evenly. The squash is ready when it’s nicely browned and yields easily with a fork.

Simmer. Add squash to the pot with the beans in it. Add half the chermoula or spices now and mix everything together. Pour in 4 C broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the broth (without any squash or beans) has a nice flavor.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Serve. Garnish with a nice scoop of chermoula, some cilantro, and a few very thin slivers of preserved lemons.

Or … make it the easy way.

Saute. In a large pot, heat the  olive oil until it glistens. Saute garlic and onion.

Add. Add half the amount of each ingredient in the chermoula spice paste directly to the pan and mix with the garlic and onion.

Add more. Add beans (drained and rinsed) and cubed butternut squash.

One more addition. Pour in broth.

Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil and then drop down to a simmer until the squash is tender.

Blend. Whir the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

Eat. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and dig in.

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to the wind

I have a whole slew of recipes and pictures to share from a dinner I made several weeks ago. They are a bit overdue but too good to miss. So, here goes.

The first is a classic roasted chicken.

I’ve always been a little apprehensive about cooking a whole bird. I’ve  never actually made a Thanksgiving turkey. But in the fifth week of the cooking class I took, Chef gave us a fail-proof classic French technique for roasting a chicken. Throwing caution to the wind (or as much caution to the wind as you can throw when following a cooking instructor’s fail-proof technique), I roasted not one, but two (two!) chickens for dinner.

I pulled the small chickens out of the fridge, rinsed and patted them down inside and out, and let them come to room temperature.

I cranked the oven up real high — 450ºF to be exact.

I cut one lemon per bird into quarters and slid them into the birds’ cavities with a few sprigs of thyme.

I loosened the skin around the breasts and slid a few more sprigs of thyme into each pocket.

I rubbed the birds with olive oil and sprinkled them with a lot of salt and pepper.

I trussed them up, tying the legs so they daintily crossed at the ankles.

I popped then in the oven for 45 minutes.

No turning or flipping. No basting. Just a few temperature checks until 165°F in the breast and it’s done.

I scraped up the bits on the bottom of the pan, made a roux, added broth, and collected the gravy.

At dinner, one of my friends carved half of the first chicken and then guided me through the other half.

The skin was crispy. The meat was moist. The dinner was a hit.

The next day, I covered the leftover carcass with water and simmered with a few vegetables until a broth was born.

(I also made soup, challah, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes with almond milk, and chocolate bread pudding. I’ll send the bread pudding recipe real soon.

Classic roast chicken with lemon and thyme

- 1 small (~3.5 pounds) chicken

- 1 lemon

- fresh thyme

- olive oil

- salt and pepper

- 2 T flour

- 2 T margarine

- 1 – 1.5 C chicken broth

- carrots, celery, onion

Prep. Rinse chicken and pat dry inside and out. Let it come to room temperature – this takes about an hour. Preheat oven to 450°F.

Season. Slice a lemon in quarters and stuff them into the cavity. Slip a few sprigs of thyme in the cavity around the lemons. With your fingers, loosen the skin from around the breast, and slide a few more sprigs of thyme underneath the skin. Slather the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with a several large pinches of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Tie. I can’t really describe how to truss a chicken because I never do it the same way twice, though I have found some helpful instructions. The gist of trussing a chicken is that you use kitchen twine to tuck the wings underneath the chicken and tie the legs together in front of the cavity. This helps the chicken cook evenly (and looks a little more polite when sitting at the table).

Roast. Put the chicken breast side up on a rack in a pan. Roast until the breast temperature reaches 165ºF . This took me about 45 minutes, but you should start checking after 25 minutes.

Rest. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Make gravy. Scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add margarine and flour, and whisk together until thick and smooth. Heat gently until the flour starts to brown – keep stirring. You know the roux (mix of flour and fat) is ready when it no longer tastes like flour. Add chicken stock and keep stirring. Let the gravy reduce to the thickness you want. You can always add more stock (or water) if it gets too thick.

Make stock. In a large stockput, cover the leftover chicken bones and carcass with cold water. Roughly chop the carrot, celery, and onion , and add them to the pot. Simmer for 3-4 hours until the bone start falling apart, skimming the scum off the top. Don’t boil or stir. Strain the stock, cool it on the counter, refrigerate, and skim the fat off the top. Fill ziploc bags with 2 cups of soup each and freeze them for the next time you want to make soup or gravy.

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I’m back from my spur-of-the-moment weekend in Vienna.  No recipe today, but there’s a sachertorte in our future. Once I translate a few recipes from German.

If you’ve never been, then let me tell you – Vienna is a walkable elegant city. Perhaps the most elegant city I’ve ever visited.

Elegant in a dapper sort of way.

In that shine your shoes, brush off your coat, adjust your tie, comb your hair, and don your hat before heading out into the light drizzle sort of way. The kind of city that holds open the door for you as you pass through.

Alyson and I snagged an amazing room on the Ringstraße, the road that encircles Vienna’s central district. If you’re wondering how to pronounce “Ringstraße,”  I can assure you that it’s not “Ringestrabe.”  Despite what our taxi driver told us, that beta-looking letter is not a “B.” It’s a double-S.

While we’re on the topic, let me just say that we did not have much taxi luck in Vienna. After we walked to Alef Alef in the former Jewish ghetto and found it closed from Thursday to Sunday, we hailed a taxi to take us to Simchas. When we gave the driver the address, he shook his head and pointed to the bridge in front of us. “Just go across the Danube and the restaurant is straight ahead. 10 minutes.” He was the only taxi around, so we walked across the river. And kept walking. And walking. We walked one more block. And then we found another taxi to take us the next two meandering miles.

We visited several cathedrals and a museum and went to a concert (though we were dissapointed that “The Cat’s Duet” was missing from the program). Then we spent the rest of our time eating (and a little requisite shopping). There’s a fabulous line in a book I read a few months ago that could not be closer to the truth, especially in Vienna: “The only reason I travel … is for an excuse to eat more than usual.”

I was determined to taste as many sachertortes as possible. For the record, my favorite one was the first one I tried – that very one staring at  you. It was not particularly sweet, hit the right level of denseneess without being dry, with just a subtle layer of apricot beneath a thin, dark, rich (sounds like a pretty good date to me) coating of chocolate.

Anyway, our days went something like this:

Drag ourselves out of bed.

Coffee and pastry for breakfast, at a kaffeehaus chosen the night before. (It’s no wonder that the French refer to pastries as “viennoiserie.”)

After breakfast, wander around and see a site or two. After about two hours, one of us would say, “are you hungry yet?”

The other one would say, “no…but I want to eat anyway.”

And so we did.

The afternoon? A repeat of the morning.

And then after dinner, plan where to have breakfast the next morning.

One morning, I woke up early and broke tradition: rather than going to our previously-agreed-upon cafe, I asked our hotel receptionist to recommend the best place for coffee. She said to skip the well-known places, walk down a side street, and find a small, old, dark cafe with a grumpy waiter. I landed at Cafe Frauenhuber and drank my coffee a few tables away from that lovely gentleman you see at the beginning of this story.

And one morning, we skipped the kaffeehaus all together in favor of a French cafe across the street from our hotel. I noticed it our first evening, drawn to the long communal table that I glimpsed through the window.

I was very excited to strike up a conversation with the strangers on the other side of the vast table. If I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to call it “à table” – just like that, without caps with a little bit of a French-English pun. It will be grounded around a huge table, maybe two. It will get crowded at times – just the way I like it. And you’ll make fleeting friends with strangers. Maybe not so fleeting. But that’s all a dream right now.

In between cafes, we wandered out to Naschmarkt – once we heard how it was pronounced — nosh market — how could we miss it?

Apparently Vienna is the cool place to go these days — at the very moment we were in town, the New York Times ran a segment about spending 36 hours there. And, before the rest of the Times-reading world flocks to it, I managed to get a seat at Motto em Fluss — their newly-discovered and recommended bar/lounge/restaurant built atop a ferry station on the Danube.

I spent my last day in Budapest, just a 2 hour drive from Vienna. That story to come.

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more later

Guten Morgen from München. Well, the airport at least.

Look what was waiting for me at the Dallmayr cafe an hour before my connecting flight.

Ahhh…

A croissant so good that it left a trail of crispy flakes down the front of my shirt.

Another short flight and I’m off to get wienerschnitzel in Austria.

More later.

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carry me through

Welcome to 2012.

Before we get too far into the new year, I want to send out the recipe that carried me through the last few weeks of 2011. With the track record it has, I suspect it will carry me through the first weeks of 2012 as well.

I met this wild mushroom soup when my aunt Sessie made it for Thanksgiving. Two weeks later I made it for shabbat dinner, using the hugest pot I own – the bright green stockpot peeking out from behind the soup (thanks, mom and dad!). We ate the leftovers while making sufganiyot. Then I made it again for a huge crowd in Atlanta. Meira liked it so much she froze and brought the leftovers home in her suitcase.

One soup, three times, five weeks – that might be a record.

There’s not much to this soup and I’m almost embarrassed to call it a recipe. You start with olive oil, a basic mirepoix – the holy soup trinity of onion, carrots, and celery — and garlic. And then stock. And then thyme. And then pretty much every single mushroom in every single variety you can find in your grocery store. I’m talking pounds and pounds of mushrooms here. A few minutes with your immersion blender, and you’re done.

Wild mushroom soup for a crowd

(Addendum 10/30/12: This really makes a lot of soup, as in serves-almost-20-people a lot. Cut the recipe in half if you have 8-10 people. Or make the whole thing and freeze the rest. Thanks, Meira, for the feedback.)

Roughly chop an onion, a 1/2 pound of carrots, a bunch of celery, and 4-5 pounds of assorted mushrooms (I used white, cremini, shitake, and king oysters). Mince a few cloves of garlic. Cover the bottom of a large stockpot (like the green one my parents just gave me) with olive oil and heat until it glistens. Saute the onion until it become transparent. Add the garlic and saute for a few more minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Add the carrots and celery and 2 quarts of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then drop to a simmer over low to medium heat. When the vegetables start to soften, add in the mushroom and a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a few large pinches of dry thyme). Keep simmering for about 2 hours until all of the vegetables are very soft. Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. This makes enough for 10 and can be doubled or tripled, as long as you have a bit enough pot.

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