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shades of green

Taking up residence in my refrigerator is a cityscape of green jars. There’s the blender jar of cucumber gazpacho. To its left is a small jar of garlic scape oil topped by an even smaller jar of mint oil. To its right, a tall jar of mint- and chive-flecked labne, but that’s another story.  The  “buildings” are nestled between a garden of pea shoots and tendrils with their young white blossoms and a wild tangle of mâche and arugula destined for a salad.

This shelf reminds me of my freshman  year of college. No, I didn’t have a fridge full of greens to fuel my studies. Instead I had a roommate who was going through a preppy stage. In honor of her, my then boyfriend created a game called “J. Crew shades of green.” It consisted of a piece of paper with a column of twenty-five green color swatches (cut from a catalog) arranged from dark to light like a Panetone paint color chart and a column of twenty-five names. There was jade and apple and oasis and gatsby. It was a matching game.

Assembled, the contents of my refrigerator jars transform into a sea of wave crest gazpacho splattered with monterey pine mint oil and cyprus garlic scape oil. And then I got to wondering – what would those colors be in Crayola? How about sheen gazpacho with Christmas mint oil and inchworm scape oil?

The game makes for endless hours of entertainment.

Colors aside, this summer soup came to me in the form of an appetizer a few weeks ago before the best-meal-on the Cape dinner at Ten Tables where it was served over a shock of spiced wine (J. Crew) jazzberry jam (Crayola) beet cubes. At home a few days later with a whir of the blender, a few pulses of the food processor, and some toasting and slicing, I had a very pretty, wave crest-monterey pine-cyprus-tinted Jackson Pollack canvas of my own.

Cucumber mint gazpacho

I used as a starting point another cucumber gazpacho recipe from a few summers ago, and added almonds and mint. Soaked bread thickens the gazpacho and, most importantly, makes it really creamy without any cream (see salmorejo). You might need to make this in two batches, depending on the size of your blender jar. It did fit in my standard Kitchenaid 56 ounce (7 cup) blender. The soup’s flavors intensify with time and I like it best after a night in the fridge. It will thicken up a bit, so be prepared to add a little water before serving. I’ve included the recipes for mint oil and garlic scape oil – the soup is special without them, but even special-er with them and the leftovers will find their way into other dishes for days.  

If you want to be trendy, serve the soup in tall shot glasses or tumblers. Or, go old school and use bowls.

Makes 6 cups

- 1 1/2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers — about 10 small Persian cucumbers or 2 seedless/English cucumbers

- 1/2 C cold water

- 1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

- 5 garlic scapes (or 2-3 cloves regular garlic)

- 1 T tightly packed mint leaves (about 30)

- 3/4 C almonds (skinned), divided

- 1/4 C olive oil, plus more for drizzling

- 1/4 C red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

- kosher salt

- 1 C stale  bread, cut into cubes. I’ve found challah or ciabatta to be best. You can keep on some crust, but not too much or the soup will come out less creamy, more gritty

- Optional: mint oil,  garlic scape oil (recipes below)

Puree. Rough chop the cucumber (I keep the skin on) and add to the blender jar with the cold water. Puree until smooth. Rough chop the onion and scapes and add to the blender jar with the mint leaves. Puree again. Then add 1/2 cup of almonds, olive oil, and vinegar, and keep pureeing until the entire mix is smooth.

Soak. Add the bread cubes to your blender and let them soak up the liquid for at least 30 minutes. When they have softened up, puree again until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Chill. You want to serve this cold, so refrigerate for at least an hour (straight in the blender jar) before serving. The soup will thicken a bit, so you may need to add a little cold water and blend until it’s the consistency  you want.

Toast. Toast the almonds until they just start to darken (5 minutes in a 350ºF oven). Let them cool and then pulse in a food processor a few times (or chop by hand). Sprinkle over soup.

Get fancy. Garnish as much as you’d like (see recipes below). Drizzle with olive oil, mint oil, and/or garlic scape oil.

Flavored oils

Make sure to use a very mild oil – I use grapeseed oil – so that the flavor of the herbs shines. An olive oil will be too overpowering. The oils can be used immediately, but an overnight stay in the fridge will intensify the flavors. There will be leftovers. The mint oil is great drizzled on salads, asparagus, or a nice steak. I love spooning a little bit of garlic scape oil on an egg in the last minute of frying and then wilting some arugula in the hot pan. I’ve also thrown it over fresh pasta with a little bit of grated parmesan.

Mint oil.  In a food processor, puree  1/2 cup packed mint leaves in 1/2 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

Garlic scape oil. In a food processor, puree 15 garlic scapes in 1 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

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take two

I know what you’re thinking.

Really? Another tomato tarte tatin?

Yup. Another tomato tarte tatin.

The first ones I made walked the line between sweet and savory. The tomatoes were bathed in a hot pool of caramel and showered with tangy balsamic. They were smothered with caramelized onions. And sprinkled with thyme. The flavors and textures scatted off one another. The whole tomatoes burst in your mouth. The soft onions melted into the crust that was drenched in enough caramel that we needed a few extra pieces of bread to sop it up.

This next one was a whole other beast. And by beast, I mean a whole new beauty. I prepared it for an impromptu lunch with a friend who doesn’t like sweet with his savory and shies away from loads of balsamic.

To keep the tang, I used pomegranate syrup, essentially very concentrated pomegranate juice the consistency of a thick, viscous, slow-pouring molasses. Not surprisingly, it’s sometimes called pomegranate molasses.  You can make pomegranate syrup yourself by cooking down pomegranate juice for about an hour. Many recipes call for adding sugar, but the bottle that I bought in Israel is just pure pomegranate and that’s what I used in the recipe, adding a pinch or two of sugar to taste.

In order to intensify the tomato flavor, I added a little bit of tomato paste. Its natural sweetness serves as a nice counterpoint to the pomegranate.

I decided to keep that sauce on the thicker side, thinning it out with just a bit of water, so that after flipping, the puff pastry would remain very crispy with no liquid to weigh it down.

A dusting of mint gave the tarte a fresh, light flavor, cutting its intensity.

The resulting tarte was like a good California Cab. Inky and jammy and slightly puckery. Coating your mouth with a rush of flavor. Able to serve as a meal of its own or to stand up to a good steak. I wouldn’t have been surprised if after lunch our teeth had turned purple.

Tomato tarte tatin with pomegranate syrup

I have never seen a tarte tatin with this combination of tomatoes and pomegranate. It’s flavors were inspired by a traditional tomato tarte tatin, the flavors in lahmajun , and my favorite Middle Eastern condiments. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is very thick reduction of pomegranate juice. It should not contain sugar and is puckeringly sour.  If you don’t have a tiny bit of tomato paste lying around, try tomato sauce. I rarely use an entire can of tomato paste in one sitting, so I freeze the leftovers by the tablespoon in ice cube trays and pop one out when you need it. Eat the tarte lukewarm – be careful because the tomatoes will be hotter than you expect!

Serves 1 as lunch or 2 as side dish.

- 4 ozs puff pastry (I  use half of one of the pastries in a 17-oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 1-2 t tomato paste

- 1 T pomegranate syrup/molasses

- 1 t olive oil

- pinch of sugar

- pinch 0f kosher salt

- a few grinds of black pepper

- 2 – 3 t water

- 12 – 18 cherry or grape tomatoes

- 2 sprigs of mint leaves

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. (Or, make your own.) Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Mix. In the small pan (5 inches across the bottom), mix together the tomato paste, pomegranate syrup, olive oil. Add a large pinch of sugar, a large pinch of salt, and several good grinds of pepper. Thin slightly with water until it’s the consistency of maple syrup.

Arrange. Slice the tomatoes in half through the core and toss them with the syrup in the pan. Arrange them, cut side up in a single layer.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan (so, 7 inches in this case).

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several short vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust is puffed and golden, 25-30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tarte stand for 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over.

Sprinkle. Thinly slice a few mint leaves and sprinkle them on the tarte. Make sure to eat it before the mint wilts.

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tucked in

Two tables. Ten chairs. Twenty forks.

Dinner was at eight.

The guest of honor was Ilana. She had just returned from two weeks in Nicaragua. She doesn’t eat meat.

The menu was vegetarian.

Dinner was planned around a tomato tarte tatin. Ilana likes a good tarte tatin.

I made two.

Luckily I have two pans.

In the blue pan, the onions were caramelized. In the orange, the first caramel was made.

The caramel was layered with tomatoes then smothered in onions.

The salt was sprinkled. The pepper was ground. The thyme leaves were plucked.

The first pastry was rolled, its edges tucked in, its surface slashed.

It made it to the oven.

The blue pan was cleaned, its onions set aside.

The whole process began again, this time with colorful  baby heirloom tomatoes.

One tarte out, the next tarte in.

The tartes were flipped, first the orange, then the blue.

Dinner was served.

We all tucked in.

Caramelized tomato tarte tatin

This tarte is based on a recipe that Melissa Clark wrote for her column, “A good appetite” in the New York Times back in 2008 and two tomato tarte tatin recipes in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s The Art of the Tart. I looked for this recipe after having a tomato tarte tatin at a newly opened cafe called Tatte. Tarte tatins are traditionally dessert fare, made with apples. This tarte is a combination of sweet and savory with the traditional caramel spiked with sweet and acidic balsamic. Throw some crumbled feta or goat cheese on it if you’d like.

Serves 6-8.

- puff pastry (I  use 1 of the pastries in a 17 oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 2 T olive oil

- 3 red onions

- 1/4 C plus a pinch of sugar

- 1 T balsamic vinegar

- 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes

- 1 T chopped fresh thyme

- salt and pepper

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. OR, make your own. (Yeah, right!) Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice onions very thin.

Caramelize. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onions with a pinch of sugar, stirring, until the onions are golden and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Add 2 T water and scrape off the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the water cooks off, transfer the onions to a bowl.

Swirl. This time, make a sugar caramel. In an overproof 9- or 10-inch pan (I have a few Le Creusets that fit the  bill), combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 T water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan gently. Do not stir, just swirl. Stirring could result in crystallization and a grainy caramel. Watch the sugar very closely – the moment it starts to turn a light golden brown, remove it from the heat to avoid burning. Turn on your fan, add the balsamic and move your head back – the fumes are very strong, almost like smelling salts. Continue swirling until the vinegar mixes with the caramel.

Scatter. Scatter the tomatoes onto the caramel, then sprinkle with the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan.

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several long vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tart until the crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tart stand for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. After a few hours the crust will get soggy, so make sure to eat the whole tarte at once.

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Is it summer yet? It sure feels like it.

Not the hot sticky New England brand, but the warm sunny breezy brand. A breeze so lovely that a few open windows and a ceiling fan does the trick. A day so lovely that one might be inspired to buy some mint and thyme plants with hopes of not killing another fooderific herb garden. The herbs are growing outside on my balcony, and as they’re only 2 days old, they seem to be holding up quite well.

An impromptu dinner invitation and a quick scramble for what’s on hand, and my first zucchini salad of the season emerges.

Welcome back, summer, and a great weekend to all!

Marinated mint zucchini salad

Another quick and easy salad, this one requires 5 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), 2 implements (zester and mandoline – check out the links to see the ones I use), and a bowl. Quantities are approximate, so taste and season as you go along. This salad serves 4-6.

Using a mandoline, slice 3 zucchini very thin. Also slice 1/2 red onion on the mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline – no problem. Just slice the vegetables as thin as you can. Toss the vegetables. Zest two lemons over the salad and then pour the juice in as well. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinke with salt and pepper. Pick some fresh mint from your still growing herb garden and slice or rip it into small pieces. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning. Bask in your kitchen with the oven off and a gentle breeze from the window.

***

If  you’re looking for other ways to take advantage of the summer’s zucchini windfall, check out these recipes from years past:

If  you want to cook: zucchini bread or roasted zucchinior zucchini tart with raclette (or plain swiss cheese)

If you don’t want to cook:  marinated zucchini salad with mushrooms and dill or zucchini ribbon salad with middle eastern spices

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I don’t have much time today because the sun is fading and I’m on my way out to dinner with a bag full of jars, a bowl, and a box. No mystery here, it’s food for tonight’s shabbat dinner. It might be cuatro de Mayo, but we’re celebrating cinco de Mayo tonight with margaritas, guacamole, steak with fruit salsa, spicy cinnamon brownies, and margaritas.

Before I head out, I wanted to jot down recipes for the dishes I’m bringing because there are so few Mexican recipes out there that do not revolve around corn, avocado, and black beans. I spent hours thumbing through a half-dozen cookbooks and my favorite online sites. And then I just made up two recipes. First I grilled the freshest spring vegetables I could find and made a sauce from smokey chipotle peppers to drizzle on top. Then I  toasted pepitas and roasted tomatillos and jalapenos and chopped up a salad inspired  by the produce I remember from my last visit to Mexico City.

So here you go. Two Mexican recipes, just under the wire, and ready for you to throw together for your own fiesta.

Happy weekend!

Grilled vegetables with chipotle sauce

Grill vegetables. Slice 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash on a bias (about 1/3-inch thick). Break the woody ends off of a bunch of thick asparagus (about 20 stalks). Slice one red onion into rings. Place each vegetable in a separate bag or bowl and let marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat – it’s ready when a drop of water sizzles the second it hits the pan. Make sure to turn on your exhaust because it will start to get smokey. Grill each vegetable for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. When they start to release from the pan, they’re ready – I found that I did need to do a little work to release the zucchini and squash as they were still sticking a bit when they were fully cooked.

Make sauce. In a food processor, mix the following: 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (there are usually 5-6 peppers in a can), 1 tomato, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 C olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to thin everything out if necessary.

Drizzle. Arrange vegetables on a platter, squeeze another lime over top, and drizzle with sauce.

Chopped salad with tomatillo cilantro dressing

Make salad. Pickle half a red onion: slice it very thin and marinate for at least 30 minutes in 3 T red wine or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 C warm water, 1/2 t sugar, and salt to taste. Dry toast a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in a small pan – keep shaking the pan to move the seeds around and when the turn slightly golden and start to pop, take them off the heat and let them cool. Chop into bite-sized pieces 2 romaine hearts, 2 C arugula, and a yellow pepper. Slice 3 radishes very thin (I use my cheap mandoline). Peel and chop a medium-sized jicama into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Make dressing. Remove the husks from 2-3 tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue. Under a broiler, roast the tomatillos and 2 jalapeno peppers on aluminum foil. When the skins blacken and blister, take out of oven and wrap then up in the foil so that they will steam. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Put them into the bowl of a food processor with about 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2-3 limes, and 2 T honey. Process until smooth. Slowly add 1/4 C olive oil and process until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice if the dressing needs a little more acid (or water and oil if it needs less).

Toss. Mix all the vegetables and then sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle with dressing right before serving.

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I’ve been wanting to tell you about something amazing that I made. Well, two somethings to be exact. But I didn’t really know where to start.

The first draft of my post began with blah blah blah. Seriously, the text read “blah blah blah … <<INSERT RECIPES>>.” My second and third drafts were not much better. So I did what I could while my thoughts stewed. The pictures were taken and the best ones were chosen and cropped and sharpened and uploaded. The recipes carefully typed out. And then everything sat in an intro-less draft, gathering cyber dust.

Everything I wrote sounded like this: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Boring, no?

But today when I opened the latest Food & Wine, I realized what that meal was, and the recipes are finally ready for their debut.  Dana Cowen opens the issue with what almost sounds like a confession: “Over the past two years, I’ve joined the ranks for the world’s food pilgrims – people who plan a whole trip just to have a single meal.” She goes on to talk about recipes that inspire wanderlust and trips planned for the sole purpose of reaching a destination restaurant.

I’ve admitted — bragged even – that I travel to eat. That I’ve wandered the streets, lusting after the best a new city can offer. You hear it all the time, that life is the journey, not the destination.

But here’s my own dirty little secret: sometimes it’s just all about the destination.

I’ve told you about the destinationZahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Perhaps you could even say that I took a long journey to get there – that going to medical school in Philadelphia led me to business school in Philadelphia led me to an annual conference that brought me to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Yes, this was an important journey. But then I almost skipped the conference this year. And then I thought about Zahav. And then I registered for the conference. I didn’t go to the restaurant because I happened to be in town for a conference. Instead, I decided to go to the conference as an excuse to go to Zahav. Not that you need an excuse.

I was in Philadelphia for less than twenty-four hours. I landed, took a taxi to my hotel, changed my clothes, took a taxi to Zahav, ate an obscene amount of food, took a taxi to my hotel, went to the conference, took a taxi to the airport and headed to Vegas. There was no journey, just a destination. And it was worth it. The flight, the hotel, the conference, the calories.

I guess at the end of the day, I’ve still said what I always intended: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Enjoy…until you can go to Philadelphia for the real thing.

Zahav’s hummus with cumin, paprika, and sumac

I adapted this hummus from Chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe in Food & Wine. Most meals at Zahav start with a tower of salatim (cold salads), a dish of freshly house-made hummus, and  steaming rolled-up laffa bread. It’s worth taking the time to use dried chickpeas — the extra steps of soaking them overnight and then boiling them the next day result in a silky smooth texture that canned just can’t replicate. This recipe makes 4 cups of hummus which is quite a lot. My six guests and I barely ate half of what I made. The leftover hummus is great for a few days, but without preservatives, that’s about as long as you can keep it in the fridge. And, please, if you want to be authentic, call it hoo-moose with a guttural h if you can manage it.

-  1/2 pound dried chickpeas

- 1 T baking soda

- 7 (or more) large garlic cloves, unpeeled

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

- 1/4 t ground cumin

- 1/4 C tahina (tahina separates pretty easily, so  bring it to room temperature so that it’s easier to stir to incorporate).

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- kosher salt

- cumin, paprika, and sumac for garnish

- 1/4 C chopped parsley

Soak. In a large bowl, cover the dried chickpeas with 2 inches of water and stir in the baking soda. Refrigerate overnight.

Simmer. The next morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Pour them into a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and bring everything to a boil. Turn down the heat (but not too low) and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender but not mushy. Scoop out about a cup of water (to use later) and then drain the chickpeas. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Peel the garlic cloves.

Puree. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with 1/2 C of the reserved cooking water, 1/4 C of olive oil and the garlic cloves. Then add cumin, tahina, and lemon juice. Continue to puree until really creamy. Season with salt.

Serve. Fill a flat serving bowl with the hummus, smoothing out the top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika, and sumac (or whatever spices you like) and parsley. I served mine in a pan and warmed the whole thing up in the oven for a few minutes before garnishing.

Middle Eastern chicken skewers

This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Solomonov’s lamb skewers in Food & Wine — I just replaced the lamb with chicken. The main dishes at Zahav are called al-ha’esh, literally on the fire. Their kitchen has a coal grill; in my apartment, I use a grill pan. I doubled the recipe and next time will triple it. There was not a single piece of chicken remaining among the six carnivores at the table. The chicken is really moist, so it doesn’t need extra sauce, but the marinade is so good, it’s a pity to waste. Boil it down (since it’s been mingling with raw chicken) and dip pita in it or pour it over couscous.

- 1 medium onion, quartered

- 1 garlic clove, peeled

- 4 (or more) sprigs of flat leaf parsley

- 1-2 lemons (for 1/2 t zest and 3 T of juice)

- 1 t ras al hanout spice mixture (I used this instead of allspice)

- 1 T kosher salt

- Pinch of saffron threads

- 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

- 1/4 C vegetable oil

Puree.In a blender or food processor, puree onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, ras al hanout (or allspice), salt, and saffron.

Cut. Cut the chicken into cubes, approximately 1-inch on each side.

Marinate. Fill a large ziplock bag with the chicken and then pour the puree over it. Shake everything around until the chicken is well coated. Zip the bag, pressing out any air. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).

Grill. Preheat a grill pan. Remove chicken chunks and thread them onto skewers (about 4-5 per). Reserve the marinade. Brush the chicken skewers with oil and grill over high heat until all sides are lightly charred, about 10 minutes or so. You want to turn the meat occasionally – you’ll know it’s ready to be turned when it easily releases from the pan. If it sticks, don’t touch it. Poke a knife into a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked all the way through and not pink inside.

Boil. Pour the remaining marinade into a pan and bring to a boil. Serve with the skewers or on rice or couscous.

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Look what I found.

They’re jars.

From Italy!

No, I didn’t bring them back from Italy, though that would have been the type of story I like to tell.

I could tell you about how I visited Rimini with my friend Lau for a beach holiday. How I ran to dip my feet in the Adriatic before we had even started to unpack. How as I walked back to the room, flip-flops in hand, I stopped by a little gelato place, drawn by the scruffy man behind the counter wielding a shallow scoop, caught by the indecision over gianduia versus espresso, satisfied by a double cone, and enchanted by the large jars holding nuts and tiny chocolate chips. How I inquired about those jars and was told that they had been made for the past 150 years by a company only three hours away in Fidenza that began its business making bottles for pharmaceuticals. How I rushed back to my room to find Lau resting on her bed, arm flug across her eyes to block out the ray of sunlight, and how I woke her up to taste that gelato and tell her my plan of renting a car to drive those three hours to the glass manufacturer to see a little history. How I said, “it’s only a three hour drive” with such conviction that she forewent a day on the beach to accompany me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you about how I visited Venice with my college boyfriend and how after a morning of navigating the canals and pigeons, we took a speed boat out to Murano to see their famous glass. How when ringing up a small decorative plate, the store owner stuffed her copy of the receipt into a glass jar. How I was so enamored by the jar that she emptied it, as she said she did every night, and arranged all the receipts in a neat pile, and handed the jar to me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you how I was just south of Naples on the island of Capri in the cold of November with a friend who was a serious shopper. How she introduced me to Prada and Gucci. How our little hotel in the cliffs welcomed us to our room with a glass jar filled with biscotti in lieu of a TV. How we took that jar of biscotti with us as we hiked out to the blue grotto (“La Grotta Azzurra”) and snacked on them along the way, holding on to the empty jar as we scooched down in our tiny rowboat to enter the water-filled cave. And how I carefully wrapped that jar in t-shirts to secure its safe flight home.

But that didn’t happen.

Here’s what did happen.

I found the jars in a store not too far from my apartment and I picked up one from the shelf. I went back to the shelf. I brought home five.

The other stories are better, no?

Regardless of how I got them, now I get to fill them. Let’s start with the biscotti that my Capri hotel make-believe baked for us.

Let’s bake them with cocoa and stud them with almonds.

Now let’s tinge them with orange – a little zest, a little blossom water, the smell of citrus.

Perfect for a hike (with espresso in a thermos).

Next, let’s fill another jar with some chocolate and nuts reminiscent of the toppings in the gelato shop with the cute scoop-wielding Italian man who served me two flavors. Let’s make a nutty crunchy sweet concoction that’s less trail-worthy and more I-need-an-afternoon-snack-worthy. Let’s bring in a jar to the office and leave it on the corner of a desk for everyone to snack from.

Finally, let’s fill a jar with receipts.

OK, that doesn’t make sense. But let’s say that I open my own restaurant (the one with the long communal table). And let’s say I keep each day’s receipts in a glass jar at the front of the house and keep a stock of glass jars in the back. And let’s say that if someone comments on the receipt jar, I’ll pull one out from that back room and send him away with a smile.

Let’s just say.

Chocolate almond orange biscotti

I based this recipe off of David Lebovitz‘s chocolate biscotti - he makes one hell of a biscotti. I think these are my favorite biscotti I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a lot. I did make a few changes to give them an orange flavor – I replaced the almond extract with orange blossom water, omitted the chocolate chips, increased the amount of salt, and added orange zest. It’s actually easier to make these by hand than using a stand mixer.

- 1 C raw almonds

- 4 eggs (room temperature) – divided 3 for the dough, 1 for brushing on top

- 1 C sugar

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 t orange blossom water

- zest of 1 orange

- 2 C flour

- 3/4 C cocoa powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1/2 t kosher salt

- turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Toast. While pre-heating the oven to 350°F, toast the almonds on a cookie sheet. This should take about 10 minutes. Stay close to the oven – when the scent of almond fills the kitchen, take them out. Let them cool and then roughly chop them.

Beat. In a bowl, beat together the first 3 eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom water, and orange zest.

Stir. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt and gradually stir into the wet ingredients until the dough comes together. Mix in the chopped toasted almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky.

Shape. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Flour your hands a tiny bit and shape the dough into two logs. Lightly brush them with beaten egg white (freeze the yolk for the next time you want to make pâte sucrée) and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes until the dough feels firm to the touch.

Cool. Remove the logs and cool on a rack for about 15 minutes.

Slice. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the cooled logs diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

Bake again. Lay the cookies, cut side down, back on the cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping them over after 10 minutes to toast both sides.

Eat (or store). In case you don’t finish these all in one sitting, store them in an airtight container for up to two weeks. As if!

I-need-an-afternoon-snack mix

It’s a bit embarrassing to call this a recipe. But I do believe that I have, though extensive testing and customer surveys, developed the best afternoon pick-me-up. Here’s how you do it:

Start with a few handfuls of lightly salted roasted almonds. Bonus points if you then toast them again in your oven until your kitchen smells like almonds. Put them in a big bag. Add in a few handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Add in one big handful of dried blueberries. Add in one big handful of dried tart cherries. Shake it all around. Pour into an Italian jar. Leave on the corner of your desk.

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thank you

Where to begin?

Thank you.

Thank you to my family.

Thank you to the friends who voted and recruited their frends to vote, and their friends’ friends.

Thank you to the colleagues who, when our network blocked them from voting, voted from their home computers, BlackBerries, and iPhones.

Thank you to the loyal readers who found me in the early days and stayed close while I fought my way out of crappy and embarrassing photos.

Thank you to those who serve as inspiration and muse for my cooking, recipes, and writing.

Thank you to the complete strangers who discovered Kosher Camembert through Joy of Kosher’s best kosher food blog contest and enjoyed it enough to vote.

Until I can send each and every one of you these almond and orange croquants (my lucky officemates … you were the first recipients), please accept my gratitude with this recipe.

Almond and orange croquants

Croquants are crispy French almond cookies, normally very sweet and merengue-based. I found a recipe for ones that are similar in shape and texture to biscotti on the blog that inspired me to start this one. If you like biscotti, check out these almond and chocolate ones. These croquants are not too sweet with almonds that are well toasted and only 1 ½ cups of sugar to 4 cups flour. The original recipe calls for half white whole wheat flour, but I prefer to only use all-purpose. If you taste the raw dough, it will taste a little bitter - don’t worry – this is from the orange blossom water and it mellows during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen.

- 12 ounces whole raw almonds (approximately 2 ½ cups)

- 4 C all-purpose flour (or use a scale to measure out 500 g flour) or 2 C all-purpose and 2 C white whole wheat flours

- 1 ½ C sugar

- 1 t baking powder

- ½ t kosher salt

- 2 large eggs

- 2 T orange blossom water

- 1 orange for zest

- approximately ½ C cold water

- optional: sugar in the raw ( also called “turbinado” or “demerara”) and fleur de sel (or kosher salt)

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toast. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Toast in the oven for about 15 minutes. They’re ready when the scent of almonds wafts over from the kitchen. When you take them out of the oven, the inside should  be light brown and the skins should start to crackle as the nuts cool.

Mix. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt (I used my stand mixer). Add eggs one at a time, orange blossom water, and orange zest and incorporate. At this point, the mixture will be very crumbly and will not yet come together. Add the cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together. Gently stir in cooled almonds.

Shape. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 2 or 3 long loaves on the parchment. The dough will be sticky – just go with it. I typically make the logs about 3 inches wide. You can make them wider, but make sure to leave enough room between the two loaves to allow them to spread without touching.

Sprinkle. Wet your hands and slide them over the loaves to smooth out the sticky dough. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and sugar in the raw.

Bake. Bake the loaves for 30-40 minutes. I set my timer for 30 minutes and then check the loaves every few minutes . They are ready when the dough sets and turns golden brown.

Cool slightly. Remove the loaves from the parchment (they should come off pretty easily) and cool for 5-10 minutes. If you let them cool for too long, they’ll be too hard to slice.

Lower temperature. Lower the oven to 225ºF.

Slice. Slice the still-warm loaves diagonally into skinny slices, about 1-2 cm (or 1/2 inch) wide.

Bake again. Lay the slices on a cooling rack and place the rack directly in the oven. This will allow the croquants to crisp evenly. Or, spread the slices out on your cookie sheet and flip them over half way through the second baking. Bake again for 20-25 minutes.

Store. Let the cookies cool and then store in an airtight tin. You can always crisp them up a bit on low heat in a toaster oven.

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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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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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