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Posts Tagged ‘cookbooks’

you had me at lamb

spoon lamb with brown rice

If you’re a foodblogger, do you sometimes find that you cook more for your blog than you do for your friends?

Well, I was clearly doing that on Friday.

What was I thinking? The below menu for two people? Please, feel free to laugh. That’s what I did! You can see what I planned and then what really happened.

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, as reported by Mark Bittman in the NYT and as brought to my attention by Jess at Sweet Amandine - baked it at 425º instead of 450º — recipe not yet perfected

Unió olive oil for dipping — this stuff is good enough plain (there’s a pic of it in my kibbutz herb salad) 

Roasted garlic forgot to serve

Warm za’atar olives forgot to make

Spicy carrot tortellini with lemon-cumin sauce- a hit!

Bean and walnut paté – recipe in the Ana Sortun link, not seasoned enough, a bit unctuous, and we didn’t even touch it despite its being on the table

Vic’s salad: Israeli-style salad with olivesdidn’t serve because I had made it earlier in the day and  it was not fresh enough for my Israeli friend’s palate…that’s OK, we had WAY too much other food

Green salad (maybe) - nope

Spoon lamb (see below) - FABULOUS!

Couscousno couscous in pantry, made brown basmati rice with caramelized onions instead

Roasted asparagus

Blueberries and golden raspberries with mint simple syrup (or a splash of lemon juice + mint) √ fresh from Harvard Yard farmers market near the Science Center

If I have time: Almond butter cookies with just almonds (no chocolate chunks)no time

Just in case: a slice of apple strudel and mini fruit tart from Catering by Andrew (the only place I know of around here to pick up good kosher patisserie) √ thank G-d for plan B, and the tart had a nice almond frangipane base

***

Ummm, in case you couldn’t quite follow that, here’s what we actually ate:

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

Unió olive oil for dipping

Spicy carrot tortellini with lemon-cumin sauce

Spoon lamb (recipe below)

Brown basmati rice with caramelized onions

Roasted asparagus

Blueberries and golden raspberries with mint simple syrup

A slice of apple strudel and mini fruit tart from Catering by Andrew

While impressed with the variety and ambition of the meal, my friend said that I could have made only the lamb and tortellini, and he would have been just as impressed. And thrilled with dinner. I said next time, I’m just making spaghetti and meatballs…

But, honestly, this lamb was amazing. I’ve never made lamb before and this could not have been easier (most of the time is spent with the lamb in the oven). I was a bit apprehensive because I know that lamb is fatty, but this recipe came out not only exquisitely tender (hence the name “spoon lamb”), but the fat cooked off into the braising sauce, and you then skim it off after refrigerating. For a first attempt at a recipe, this was incredibly rewarding.

Ana Sortun’s Spoon Lamb

Spoon Lamb

The recipe is adapted from Ana Sortun’s Spoon Lamb in “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean,” as quoted in Julia Moskin’s NYT article entitled, THE CHEF: ANA SORTUN; Spices by the Handful, Not by the Pinch” (June 14, 2006). The main modification I made is that I halved the recipe, and have reflected that in my quantities here. I did however keep the amount of vegetables the same. Time: 3 hours plus at least 1 hour’s chilling.

Serves 2 with lots and lots of leftovers.

- 1T canola oil
– 3 lamb shoulder chops, 10 to 12 ounces each
– 1 1/4 cups dry red wine (I used an excellent Bordeaux)
– 2 t ground cumin
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
– 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
– 1 T pomegranate concentrate – I used Sadaf brand (RCC), purchased at Tabrizi Bakery in Watertown, MA (original recipe called for pomegranate molasses, sold in Middle Eastern markets)
-2 T cold unsalted margarine, cut into 2 pieces (original recipe called for butter, but I substituted margarine to keep the dish kosher)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 1 lemon, halved
– 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint (optional – I fogot this!)

Rather than using multiple pots and pans (the original recipe calls for at least one skillet and a roasting pan), I made the entire dish in a single large deep Calphalon skillet that went pretty easily from stovetop to oven. I covered the plastic-coated handles in aluminum foil to protect them in the oven.

Heat oven to 325ºF. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb chops and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes a side. Remove chops to a plate.

lamb chops in skillet

browned 4 mins, each side

Pour off any fat from skillet and deglaze with 1/4 cup red wine, scraping up browned bits.

Replace chops in skillet roasting pan and sprinkle cumin over lamb. Add garlic, carrot, onion, remaining 1 cup wine and enough water to reach halfway up chops (I always add a bit extra water, actually reaching about 3/4 up the chops). Cover with two sheets of aluminum foil and seal tightly with lid of skillet. Braise in oven 2 1/2 hours, until falling off bone.

after 2.5 hours braising

Remove lamb and carrots from pan. Strain juices (pressing remaining solids through cheesecloth) into a bowl. Refrigerate braising liquid until fat rises to surface and can be skimmed off and discarded, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. (Lamb and carrots can be refrigerated separately.)

090 sharp square
In a skillet big enough to hold lamb (I used the same one that I initially browned the lamb chops in), simmer liquid until reduced by about half and thickened but not syrupy (~7 minutes). Stir in pomegranate concentrate and margarine, and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in one lemon half. Taste and add more lemon and salt, if necessary. Reheat lamb and carrots in sauce over low heat, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes. Serve, sprinkled with mint, if desired (I forgot), and with rice.

no knife or fork necessary

A special thank you to Anu from Swirl Savvy for some last minute wine tips, and the staff at the Butcherie for their assistance in choosing three beautiful bone-in shoulder chops for this dish, explaining how to identify quality cuts with a good ratio of meat, bone, and fat (beginning to redeem themselves via quality customer service, despite some of my initial reservations about their hours).

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I’ve been back from vacation in Panama for several days and have just resigned myself to admitting that I will be backdating my blog posts for a while because I like having a chronological record of what I’ve been up to, but I can’t resist posting the new things that I’ve been cooking or experiencing. So, it’s cheating a little bit, but I’m admitting it outright…and I’m being fully transparent.

It’s my blog and I’ll backdate if I want to!

Ok, needless apology over, let’s move on.

Spicy carrot tortellini with lemon cumin sauce

One of my favorite foodbloggers is Sarah over at FoodBridge. When I joined FoodBuzz a few months ago, she was one of the first “friends” I made and we have developed a consistent dialogue over our blogs and Twitter despite the physical distance that separates us. I’m always inspired by the food she makes, the history she collects about dishes and ingredients and her friends and neighbors, and her daily adventures in the markets, beaches, and nature in one of my favorite countries and its surroundings (and the recipes she discovers from friends made along the way). And her judo-attired son bakes cookies and cleans up!

I have been thinking about the Moroccan Carrot Ravioli with Lemon Zest and Harissa that Sarah made a few weeks ago, and last night was the night to finally make this dish. The main food I had in my kitchen was a bunch of CSA greenery (parsley, cukes, scallions) that would lend themselves nicely to a big Israeli-style salad when added to a few tomatoes and olives, garlic scapes (ooh, I can’t wait to make Dorie Greenspan’s scape pesto), and a pound of carrots (but no onions which I would have needed if I wanted to make a soup).

I also dug around and found some schug in the fridge (which I often substitute for harissa in a pinch because the commercially available schug in the US is very similar and made with red chili peppers though the authentic Yemenite version is made from hot green peppers and cilantro) and a package of wonton wrappers in the freezer. Given that my pasta maker is at my parents’ house and is too heavy to reasonably ship (yes, when I was in 6th grade and we had to prepare a meal for our families and write it up to learn how to give clear directions, I, the annoying over-achiever, managed to prepare steak, homemade pasta, and chocolate chip pound cake in comparison to classmates’ PB&J sandwiches…), the wonton wrappers would have to do. As a lazy and hungry foodie, I use wrappers all the time.

Now, Sarah incorporated her spicy harissa into her pasta dough, but I couldn’t since I was using wontons, so I decided to make a spicier filling, pilfered from Ana Sortun’s Oleana restaurant. If you live in Cambridge, Boston, or within a 100 mile radius, a visit to Sortun’s restaurant or cafe is de rigueur — check out what my friend and fellow blogger, Jess wrote about Oleana and Sofra over at Sweet Amandine.

Spicy Carrot Tortellini with Lemon Cumin Sauce

spicy carrot tortellini with lemon cumin sauce


The overall recipe and sauce are inspired  by Sarah Melamed’s Moroccan Carrot Ravioli with Lemon Zest and Harissa. The filling is just barely modified from Ana Sortun’s Spicy Carrot Puree in “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean,” as quoted in Julia Moskin’s NYT article entitled, THE CHEF: ANA SORTUN; Spices by the Handful, Not by the Pinch” (June 14, 2006). The filling is easy to make and most of the time is spent away from the kitchen as the carrots cook or letting the flavors co-mingle. Plus everything is made in one pot! Wonton wrappers when boiled allow the bright orange filling to shine through and the sweet-spicy mix picks up the acidity in the fresh squeeze of lemon in the sauce/dressing. This sauce was inspired by the lemon zest that Sarah put in her filling.

For the filling: (Note: I halved Chef Sortun’s recipe because I only had 1 pound of carrots)

This filling can also serve as a spread and makes 4 to 6 servings, or~1.5 C

- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
– 3 T extra virgin olive oil, more to taste
– 1 T white wine vinegar
– 2 t schug or harissa (hot pepper sauce available at Middle Eastern and specialty markets; original recipe calls for harissa but I only had schug in my fridge; the brand I used is Sabra)
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
– Salt and pepper to taste

(NOTE: These directions were pretty perfect, so I kept them pretty much as is…)

Boil carrots until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to pan, tossing over medium heat until dry. Coarsely mash with potato masher or fork.

mashed carrots

Stir in remaining ingredients and set aside for 30 minutes to let flavors blend. Season, transfer to bowl, drizzle with more olive oil and serve with crusty bread, if desired. Or, use as tortellini or other pasta filling.

Sortun's spicy carrot puree

For the tortellini:

Wonton wrappers (the brand I used is Nasoya)
Bowl of water

Once you get the hang of it, making the tortellini by hand is pretty quick and easy.You want to keep the wrappers from drying out so that they won’t crack, so only peel them from the stack one at a time and keep the rest in the packaging or under a barely moist paper towel.

Hold a wrapper in your hand and spoon ~ 1 heaping t of filling into center. Dip your index finger of the other hand into the bowl of water and moisten two edges of the wrapper.

filled and ready to fold

Fold wrapper in half diagonally, sealing the wet edges into a triange…

make a triangle

… and then bring the two long corners together opposite of the other corner, sealing with another dab of water to form a tortellini.

tortelllini formed

Repeat with the remaining wrappers (I made 10 for myself).

tortellinis and filling

Carefully drop tortellinis into salted boiling water, lower heat, and simmer for ~ 5 minutes.

Prepare sauce:

This is enough sauce for 1 serving – modify as appropriate. I’m not sure if it’s technically called a sauce if it’s not cooked … perhaps this is just a dressing.

Juice of 1/2 lemon (~1-2 T)
1-2 T excellent extra virgin olive oil
a few pinches cumin (~1/4 t?)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and pour over warm pasta.

I served the pasta with a simple salad of red leaf topped with hummus, za’atar, extra virgin, salt and pepper, and whatever lemon juice was left over from the lemon half that didn’t go into the sauce.

dinner

If you want to make your own harissa, check out Sarah’s recipe.

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gils-picture

photo by Gil R., desserts by Andrew

You know you’re going to an Israeli event when the invitation states:

If you do attend, you’ll need a valid ID with you, no extra bags will be allowed nor weapons.

And there was nowhere else I wanted to be last night but surrounded by Israelis when the sun was setting and Yom HaZikaron — Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror — bled  into Yom HaAtzmaut — Independence Day. No strangers to symbolism, Israel starts Yom HaZikaron with a 2 minute siren and the country stops and stands in silence. It knows that its birth and continued existence are owed to the soldiers who protect its citizens, those who have been lost to terror attacks, and those who continue to be missing in action or in captivity. In a land of mandatory conscription, no one needs a reminder of this connection.

But you get a group of Israelis in a room and about the only thing (besides that um, interesting Maxim women of the IDF PR attempt by the Israeli government which in my opinion was creative though clearly a bit unbalanced) that can get their attention before the speakers begin is a video on a big screen that sounds something like Stomp (a personal favorite, given my previous tap dancing percussive days).

Starring Shekatek and created for Israel’s 60th Birthday last year; shows some of the best of Israel – its agriculture, technology (especially the biotech that I love!), cultural diversity, the beach, powerful women, tall dark men, all those religions, the serenity, the street culture and foods, the diversity, the beach (oh, did I mention that already?)

Nadav Tamir, Consul General of Israel to New England, then spoke, followed by Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley. The themes of their comments focused on friendship and partnership between the US and Israel, the importance of Israel as a strong democracy, and Israel as a country of high tech innovation (with Coakley citing statistics such as Israel having one of the highest per-capita rates of patents and companies on the NASDAQ). I was also personally touched by Coakley’s mention of Israel’s significant work in the area of  family violence given that my last visit centered on some of these issues.

flowers for Yom HaAtzmaut

Full of Israeli pride, I decided to make a dish from my new favorite cookbook with the “burnt eggplant” technique that Janna Gur demonstrated in her class and that I have mastered over the past few weeks. Gur said that her mother used to call this dish “the reds and the blues” because of the tomatoes juxtaposed against the eggplants. Eggplants are called chatzilim in Hebrew and are ubiquitous in the country. When rationing was in effect during the early years of statehood, newspapers and radio gave advice on making the most out of available food, and eggplant recipes abounded, yielding a mock chopped liver that most of my NY friends won’t have a Central Park picnic without. Traditional chatzilim salad adds some garlic, oil or mayo, and lemon juice. I like Gur’s milder tomato addition. Need I point out the symbolism of the red tomatoes and one of Israel’s (“blue”) national dishes, paired together like the the flags? Probably not, but subtlety has never been my forté.

033e

Yom HaAtzmaut Chatzilim, or “the Reds and the Blues”

chatzilim on toast

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food and dedicated to Israel and the US’s continued strong relationship, a safe return for soldiers in captivity, and fewer new things for all sides to have to remember.

I “burn” the eggplants in my oven since I do not have a gas stove — make sure to prick the eggplants a few times so that they do not explode. The main adaptation I made to Gur’s recipe is that I leave out the garlic and add both onion and tomatoes. I also significantly reduced the amount of oil.

When buying (standard) eggplants like the one on the upper left, they should be dark purple, unblemished, and should feel light for their size. Store them in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3-4 C of salad/dip.

- 2 medium eggplants (or 4-5 slender Thai eggplants)

- 2 tomatoes (to get ~ 1 C grated)

- 1/4 onion (will  use ~1 T grated)

- 2 T vegetable oil

- Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat your broiler.

Prick skin of eggplants with a fork or knife to prevent an explosion all over your oven. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet just below broiler and check on them every 10 minutes or so, turning them as necessary. The thinner Thai eggplants took about 20-25 minutes and were ready when they turn brown and dry.

One Thai eggplant ready after 20 minutes

The larger eggplant took about 25-30 minutes and you can tell that it is ready when the skin gets thin and papery, turns black in some places, and the eggplant softens and releases juices.

While the eggplants are broiling, prepare the other ingredients. Grate the two tomatoes on the medium sized holes of a box grater – this should yield about 1 cup of  tomato pulp and seeds without skin. Grate a quarter of an onion on the same side of the grater to get a pretty fine (without much work) onion liquid and paste-type consistency. There will be some onion left over — use it in guac or anywhere you like raw onion for a slightly milder flavor, or just use it in place of cooked minced onion. burnt eggplant, grated onion, grated tomato

Allow eggplants to cool – at least 10 minutes. Once cool, you can very easily separate the skins from the flesh.

eggplant flesh removed from skins

Mash the eggplant with a fork or put into a food processor. My preference is a fork. Drain any extra liquid so that the final salad isn’t too watery. Add the grated tomatoes (try to get mainly pulp and less liquid), 1 T grated onion, a few generous pinches of salt and some serious grinds of pepper, and stir everything together. Add 2T oil last.

I love spreading this on toast, or setting atop a plate of greens.

Romanian-style Roasted Eggplant Salad

Am Yisrael Chai! The People of Israel live (and prosper peacefully)!

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Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

One of my main rules of cooking is that I never make anything that I don’t like. And I have never liked anything with an anise flavor. Never. I have even returned dishes in restaurants if they have too strong of a tarragon or anise basil seasoning.

A few years ago, I overheard my friend Naomi saying, “don’t yuck someone’s yum.” A pithy little phrase, but one that I sometimes have difficulty following. However, writing here has taken my cooking and exploration of food to a new level, and is an opportunity to check out things that I have not normally been particularly keen on.

So, when I went to a cooking demonstration at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts last week, I was thrilled to discover that of the dishes made, my favorite was a fennel and pistachio salad. Janna Gur, the Chief Editor of Al HaShulchan, Israel’s monthly foodie magazine, taught the course and took the participants on a gastronomic tour of Israel.

Janna Gur making lemon "fillets" (supremes)
Janna Gur making lemon “fillets” (suprêmes) for the fennel and pistachio salad; note, eggplants roasting on stove in background

The two main written recipes that Gur shared with us were actually ones she received from chef/ restaurateur/ artisan bread baker Erez Komarovsky (owner of Lechem Erez/Erez Breads); they were tied together by what she called “the beauty of their monochromatic palettes.” First, there was my favorite, the fennel salad with its yellow sand greens, and then a beetroot and pomegranate salad that Gur described as “a tiny jewel box” with its ruby colors and whose flavors together “sing.”

Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic salads

Gur also demonstrated a technique for “burnt eggplant” roasted on a gas burner or in the oven (prick the skin if you’re making in the oven to prevent an explosion) until the skin is charred and flesh is soft. She then shared a few variations on how to serve:

- traditional eggplant salad with mayonnaise and lemon

- “baba deconstructed”:  split burnt eggplant and flatten on plate; top with baba ingredients – tahina, lemon juice, tomato seeds, honey, fresh herbs, and then serve – eater scoops out the eggplant with its toppings

- Gur’s Romanian mother’s eggplant salad (she called it the “reds and the blues” – for the tomatoes and eggplants): scoop flesh out of the eggplant and chop; mix with grated tomatos (liquid reserved), chopped tomatoes, grated onions (so less sharp), chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil (not olive oil)

Janna Gur scooping out flesh from "burnt eggplant"

Woven throughout the demonstration were pictures and anecdotes of Israel’s progression from a literal culinary wasteland in the 1980s when Gur was an El Al flight attendant, carrying oranges from Florida and olives from Greece, to its current reclaiming of its historical title, “eretz chalav u’dvash” — the land flowing with milk and honey. Today you can find groves of pomegranates. A rich melting pot of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish, Arabic, Mediterranean, and North African flavors and influences. Wineries rivaling those in France. Classics reinvented like Turkish malabi, a pudding made with rose water, turned into a rosewater-topped cheesecake.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to devour the cookbook that Gur signed for me and, given the success of the fennel salad, I can’t wait to try more recipes.

Erez Komarovsky’s Monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey.

There must be some chemisty (magic?) involved in the technique of submerging the cut fennel in ice water and then mingling with lemon suprêmes (in Israel, apparently these are called “fillets”) before adding a honey-based dressing with a little kick from a hot pepper. Whatever it is, I was determined to recreate the recipe as soon as I could buy some fennel for the first time in my life! Coming from an anise “yucker” that’s saying a lot. Perhaps my taste buds are changing. [For example, recently I bought some Absenthe on a whim and found it not altogether distasteful. And I did not have more than a few sips, so I can’t blame my judgment or lack thereof on la fée verte.] Or perhaps, Janna Gur and Erez Komarovsky are just that good. I’m betting on the latter.

If the acid in the lemon is too strong for you, try some Granny Smith apple, sliced into thin segments to provide tartness with less acidity and keeping with the color palette. Add a splash of lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown.

Serves 6

- 2 large of 3-4 small fennel bulbs

- 1/2 C lemon suprêmes (or, as Gur calls them, filleted lemon segments) – 3-4 lemons at least

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1 hot green pepper, chopped finely (I used a serrano pepper)

- 2 T honey

- 1/2 C pistachio nuts, roasted and crushed (I used unsalted ones)

Cut the fennel bulbs in half and then into thin longitudinal slices. Soak in ice water for about 30 minutes (I just stuck in a bowl of cold water and then in my freezer).

While soaking, roast pistachio nuts in 350ºF for about 10 minutes and allow to cool.

Drain and mix the fennel slices with the lemon segments (reserve juice for later). Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top and set aside to rest for 15 more minutes.

Mix fennel and lemon salad with olive oil, hot pepper, and honey. Add nuts immediately before serving.

B’tay Avon!

I had a little bit of leftover salad and, after marinating for 2 more days, it was great thrown on baby mixed greens with a few more roasted pistachios.

Fennel and Pistachio salad thrown on some mixed baby greens

** DOCTOR’S NOTE: Proceed with caution due to the recent salmonella scare  and recall associated with pistachios. Roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria, and I always roast nuts myself. Do what makes you comfortable in this respect. The salad can obviously be made without pistachios. Try pinenuts instead.

Erez Komarovsky’s “Jewel Box” Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad

From Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey. I have not yet tried to make this salad at home, but it was also excellent (but I like beets!).

Serves 6

- 3-4 medium beets (if you want to cheat, you can probably use canned)

-2 T pomegranate concentrate (Pomi juice should work)

- 2-3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- 2-3 dried chili peppers, crushed

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves

- 1 C pomegranate seeds – we used pre-packaged pomegranate seeds in the class; the trick to removing seeds from a pomegranate is to cut into quarters and then submerge in cold water – many of the seeds will rise to the surface; you can gently tease the remaining seeds from the white membranes with your fingers under water

Boil beets in water until tender. Cool, peel, and cut into a very small dice.

Mix with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, and coarse sea salt. Set aside for ~15 minutes.

Mix the salad with the cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds. Pour olive oil on top and serve.

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at long last

Most cheese should be brought to room temperature for a few hours before serving. And when I think about brie and Camembert (and clearly I think about Camembert more often than I eat it), I envision it as an off-white slice leaking out of a snow-white rind, almost melting and oozing easily onto a cracker ready to receive its runny mild flavor.
To the best of my knowledge, few people in the US store cheeses on the counter, so they rarely get to the point of stinkiness as in France, but our obsession with refrigeration prevents us from really enjoying and exploring the full palate and joy that cheese can bring.  One exception is baked brie. This is one of the easiest and fanciest-looking foods for entertaining and has become one of my signature dishes over the past few years when I made a few tweaks to tradition preparation.

When most people hear “baked brie” they think of  brie en croûte – a round of cheese slathered with preserves, typically apricot or raspberry, or maybe some dried cranberries and then wrapped in puffed pastry and baked. This is good but, in my mind, a bit too overdone. The main trick to brie en croûte is to use a good puff pastry and to cook at a pre-heated oven at a high heat, ~425°F for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. That’s it. Super simple.

Of course, I can’t really leave simple alone. When I do make this type of baked brie, I typically caramelize slivered almonds to cover the brie with before wrapping in a puffed pastry crust. Just different enough to get a few surprised looks. I remember making this for my friends Adam and then pregnant Pamela, who was thrilled when we realized that unlike French brie made with raw milk, in the US, brie is made with pasteurized mik, so she could indulge freely.

For my birthday 2 years ago (when I served “A Taste of Europe in Manhattan” for over 50 guests…NOT TO BE REPEATED without a serving and clean-up crew!), I experimented and came up with a slightly savory baked brie dish. It obviated the need for the puff pastry shell, using the natural rind to contain the oozing cheese and baked directly in the round wooded box, creating a unique flavor and presentation that preserved the essence of the brie.

missing a slice

This is potentially also slightly lower in calories (since there is no puff pastry). But, let’s be real. Once you’re talking about double écrémé cheese (almost 50% butterfat!) the only way to pretend you’re cutting calories is by moderation. Small portions — just un petit goût as the French might say, a little taste, a few forkfuls. But this stuff is so good, you might need to hide it from yourself!

a not-so-petit gout

a not-so-petit goût

I made this dish for my parents when they came to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with me soon after I moved to Cambridge last year. My father has been requesting the recipe for months so that my mother will make it for him (most of my father’s cooking is relegated to the grill…). So, here are the long overdue, step-by-step directions.

Finally!

Baked Brie sans Croûte with Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions adapted  from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I make these caramelized onions into almost a confit to spread in the middle of the brie.

I use a 2-pound Président Brie that I have only ever found in Zabar’s in New York (see Resources) because it comes in a nice wooden box.

President Brie in box, note tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

Président Brie in box; tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

This is definitely a party-sized recipe, but this recipe can be halved for if you want to make a 1-pound Brie (though the onions are pretty good and you should make the whole recipe, reserving the onions to serve warm on the side or for another use). Even if the cheese does not come in a wooden box, you can bake on foil and the rind should contain the cheese pretty well. In order to slice the Brie in the middle lengthwise, freeze the cheese for about 30 minutes while preparing the onions, and then score with a knife and use dental floss to evenly cut the Brie through to the center.

A 2-pound Brie serves 15-20 as an appetizer with water crackers or slices of baguette

1 2-lb wheel of Brie

2 onions

2-3 T olive oil or mix of olive oil and butter

2 T sugar

3/4 C water

1-2 T good balsamic vinegar (see Resources)

pinch Kosher salt (to taste)

dental floss (unflavored) – yes, dental floss

Preheat oven to 350ºF (You may be able to cook this at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, but I have always made it at 350).

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

Place wrapped Brie in freezer (~30 minutes) for easier slicing later.

Prepare caramelized onions. Slice onions into very thin half- or quarter-rounds. Saute in olive oil or oil/butter mix over medium heat for ~15 mintues until start to brown. Add sugar and water and raise heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are shiny and continue to darken, and the liquid is almost evaporated, ~ 10 more minutes. Add balsamic and cook additional 5 minutes until onions are dark brown and syrupy. Taste and add salt if necessary (the salt brings out the sweetness in the onions and give an extra bit of savory to the mix).

Remove  brie from freezer and unwrap. Score cheese all the way around with a knife.
scoring the cheese with a knife

scoring the cheese with a knife

Then wrap dental floss around the cheese, cross the ends, and pull so that the floss slices through the cheese evenly, cutting it into two pretty even halves.

cross the floss...

wrap and cross the floss...

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle ...

... yielding 2 even halves

... yielding 2 even halves

Place one half in wooden box bottom, cover with onions, and top with the other half of  the cheese.

cheese halves and onions

covering filled Brie

I like to score the top of the rind so that some of the cheese will bubble through and it is easier to tell when brie is ready. I also top the cheese with a little bit of the onion to give a little hint of what is inside, but again, not necessary.

Cheese should be baked in wooden box bottom, on aluminum foil (in case of spills) and placed on baking  sheet on center rack.

Brie, ready for oven
Brie, ready for oven

Brie is ready when cheese begins to seep through scores in top of rind and the cuts begin to separate.

Brie, fresh out of the oven

Brie, fresh out of the oven

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stand proud

My first encounter with Irish culture was through dance.

I had moved to NY after college and a friend who had been in my college dance company, then working for an entertainment lawyer, was able to get us comp tickets to see “Riverdance.” Not just any comp tickets — the best in the house, which in case any of you are wondering, for a dance performance or musical theater, is generally front row center mezzanine, not orchestra. This (as opposed to “Lord of the Dance” which is all about Michael Flatley taking off his shirt and prancing around) remains one of my favorite shows because it gives a version of Irish history through music, song, and dance.

Initially I had a difficult time relating to some of the dance — the performers on stage seemed so stiff. Their ramrod torsos  with arms on hips or straight at their sides while their feet seemed to go a mile a minute in military rhythms, heel and toe clicks, high kicks, fast knee bends that made me repeatedly flinch for fear of a flying shoe. The real action starts around 2:20 in this excerpt from the finale:

The explanation for the posture came about mid-way through the first act when right before one number, a disembodied voice commands, “Irish dancers, stand proud!” A proud army they were, straight posture, heads high, shoulders down, feet-a-flutter.

I was so excited, too, when I took a few Irish step classes and the first thing we learned was to put our hands out in front of us, palms up, fold our thumbs in, curl our fingers over our thumbs, and lower our arms to our sides. A proud army ourselves even in our mishmash of leotards, jeans, tights, and tap shoes.

Wanting to make something for St. Patrick’s Day, I tried to learn a bit about the Jews of Ireland (through food of course) to find something to cook that would incorporate Jewish traditions and Irish pride. I couldn’t find  any “Jewish Irish dishes” in searching through my multi-cultural Jewish cookbooks and few of my Irish Jewish friends seem to cook.

"Irish" butter cookies made by The Baking Architect

“Irish” butter cookies made by The Baking Architect

I turned to Ellie,  The Baking Architect, who participated in a bike trip through the Emerald Isle a few years ago to raise money for Miklat, to suggest some authentic Irish recipes, maybe made  by Jews in Ireland,  but she could only send me some beautifully decorated butter cookies. I have little patience for such fussiness  and sweet icing (sorry, El).

In looking around on the web, the main thing I found about Jews in Ireland vis à vis food is that they were traditionally involved in city life, acting as merchants and business people (surprise, surprise…), and therefore bought most of their food rather than growing it. Many Jews came to Ireland from Lithuania and Russia in the late 1800s/early 1900, so much of their food is AshkenaziThe Bretzel Bakery, that makes traditional Ashekenazi baked goods (including rugelach) has been non-Jewish owned for decades and is no longer kosher (though apparently the non-Jewish owners did keep up with kosher certification, working with a mashgiach for several decades).

Back to square one.

So, forget Jewish…I might as well make something sort of Irish. And something that I’ll want to eat. Scones. Perfect. Plus, it’ll use up some flour before Passover (do the holidays ever end???).

cinnamon chocolate scones

Cinnamon Chocolate Scones

Adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook.

I found a Scottish scone recipe — close enough to Irish? — that didn’t call for fancy flour or buttermilk. This recipe does use a LOT of butter. 3 sticks! I’ll keep playing with some of the proportions, but this makes a really nice, moist scone that is not dry. I replaced whole milk with skim milk, increasing 3/4 C to 1 full C. Replaced raisins with cinnamon chips and chocolate chips  and added some cinnamon to the batter.

If you’re going to bake with butter, you might as well use Plugrá or another European style butter with a slightly higher (82-84% vs. 80-82%) butterfat content than American-style butter. The cinnamon chips (parve) I used are from Peppermill, a high-end cookware and bakeware with gourmet products. The Schokinag semi-sweet baking chunks (dairy) are available at Williams-Sonoma (thanks, Mom!) — and have a nice half-barrel shape. Really, any good chocolate chunk will do. My other alternative was to chop up some Callebaut (see the Resources page about this chocolate).

Makes 12-16 scones

4 C all-purpose flour

1 C sugar

2 t baking powder

1 t salt

3/4 unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (YES – THIS IS 3 STICKS OF BUTTER)

1 egg

1 C skim milk

1 C chips (I used 1/2 cinnamon chips, 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chunks)

Cinnamon (optional)

Turbinado sugar aka”sugar in the raw” for sprinkling (or, for you, Ro – sprinking)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment (or grease baking sheet).

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Cut cold butter into dry mixture with pastry blender, 2 knives, or my personal favorite, your hand. Resulting mixture should resemble a course meal.

cutting butter in with your hands - it gets a bit messy!

cutting butter in with your hands – it gets a bit messy!

Add in beaten egg and milk – stir until well combined and then knead in  bowl until smooth, about 5-10 minutes. This is not a tough dough, but it is a bit sticky. Add a little extra flour as necessary.

Add chips and a few dashes of cinnamon — so there are swirls of cinnamon, but not a brown dough.

011-cropped

Refrigerate dough ~3o minutes so it is easier to handle.

Shape the scones.

Option 1: Make triangles that are just barely attached — like the proud Irish dancers standing in close formation. To shape into triangles, take out ~ 1C of dough and flatten into a 1-inch thick round patty on a floured board. A good estimate of an inch that I learned from my architect sister: distance from most adult thumbs to the first knuckle is approximately 1 inch (obviously depends on the size of your hands). Cut patty into quarters and transfer onto parchment-lined (or greased) baking sheet, separating quarters by a finger width (~1/2 inch) because scones will rise and spread a little – I think it’s nice for the quarters to meet a bit in the middle, but not so much that they need to be pulled apart. As they bake, they will make a 4-leaf clover, er, shamrock, for good luck – and who can’t use a little extra luck (random interesting  note, most shamrocks are 3-leaf clovers and are said to represent the Trinity)

Option 2: Make “drop scones” with a small ice cream scooper (should be ~1/4 C). You might need a second spoon (or your hands) to get the dough out. Flatten a bit with a floured hand to 1-inch thickness (see “Option 1″ for thumb measuring stick approximation).

Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar so the scones will glisten slightly after cooking, but not so much that there will be a hard sugary crust.

Repeat with rest of dough. I had to make 2 batches.

Bake for 25 minutes. I had to move my first batch from the middle rack to the top rack for the last 5 minutes because the bottoms were getting a bit too dark, so check your scones after about 15-20 minutes and adjust position as necessary.

Cool on rack.

scones cooling

ready to packed up and shared with friends

ready to be packed up and shared with friends

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of mice and men

Today is Purim, and I had elaborate plans to fulfill the mishloach manot mitzvah by baking Ashkenazi and Sephardi hamantashen, oznei haman, and fazuelos from around the globe to share with my friends and with you my new friends.

I did my background research. I looked into the history and my culinary options.

Ashkenazis make hamantashen, Haman’s pocket (since he accepted bribes) or Haman’s hat – a tri-corn like our Colonial “fathers” wore – filled with prune or poppy seed. The German word for poppy seeds is mohn, and Gil Marks in Olive Trees and Honey reports that the word’s similarity to Haman’s name is the genesis for this fillings. Prune — I have no idea where that comes from. Call them dried plums, but they’re still prunes  in my book. The few times I have actually made hamantashen, I used a cookie-like dough and filled them with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

Askenizim from different origins not surprisingly make different types of dough. There’s soft yeasty dough and more crispy cookie-type dough.  The former lets the filling shine. Apparently Poles and Hungarians tend to make the latter. And the French, bless them, sometimes make a brioche style dough (Faye Levy’s 1,000 Jewish Recipes).

To me, Sephardim are a bit more exotic – probably because I’m not Sephardic. Many Sephardim make oznei haman, Haman’s ears, as thin sheets of dough shaped in half circles and pinched in the middle, fried and covered with confectioners’ sugar, called  fazuelos (Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food),or, in Italian, orcchie di Amman (Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica) — the name reminds me of orchiette, the ear shaped pasta. I had a really hard time picturing these until I came across step-by-step illustrations online.

And then come the nuts. Moroccans make Gorayebah – almond topped butter cookies (Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores). Greeks make a lot of interesting food for Purim depending on which area of Greece  you are from – marzipan (called novies) in the shape of the Purim characters,  buns (called folares) in the shape of Haman’s foot, sesame bars (multiple names) seen to represent Haman’s fleas (hmmm…), walnut squares to represent Haman’s teeth, and almond pastries. I bought  Nicholas Stavroulakis’ Cookbook of the Jews of Greece in the Jewish Museum in Athens a few years ago.

I looked to my friend Ellie Levi, aka The Baking Architect, for inspiration and motivation. Like KH Krena’s valentines (exhibit I mentioned in” sticky fingers“) Ellie’s mishloach manot deserve their own art exhibit. Somewhat more perishable and difficult to store over the years, I dare you to resist their call for more than an afternoon.

One year, Ellie and her sister Yali cooked and baked according to a Persian theme, in accordance with the site of the Purim story.

Purim-themed mishloach manot: Images from a hand painted 13th century megillah from Persia (The Baking Architect)

Persia-themed mishloach manot: Images from a hand painted 13th century megillah from Persia (The Baking Architect)

... filled with lots of (Sephardic) Persian goodies...

... filled with lots of (Sephardic) Persian goodies...

... described in detail

... described in detail

I had the best of intentions. Really I did.

Eventually, I decided to throw all of my research to the wayside and make Ashkenazi-style hamantashen my way. Different from every past year — no chocolate — but with a flair that I could only call á la francais. I was going to make mini apple triangle galettes — little hand-shaped freeform pies filled with freshly sliced apples (no prunes here!), perhaps atop a slather of dolce de leche or luscious caramel, sprinked with some turbinado sugar. Voilà! The perfect new Zahavah tradition.

And then I ended up fulfilling one of the other Purim traditions — ad d’lo yada — a few days early. Nothing crazy, just enough that I didn’t feel like spending my day baking.

NOTE: In case someone was concerned, I did make sure to fulfill my mishloach manot obligation – thank you, Monica Hirsh, for delivering with care such a classy, beautiful gift of flowers and food  to my sister’s office and really making her day a special one. What is great about Monica, beyond her amazing aesthetic and what I found out later is our shared time in Cantabrigia, is her personalized service. I requested delivery confirmation, having never sent anything to my sister’s office, and received an email note later in the day that detailed the delivery (time, signed by) and felt like a communication from a friend or colleague. Such small details make such a big difference in the whole experience.

Purim Celebration shaloch manot by Monica Hirsh

Purim Celebration shaloch manot by Monica Hirsh

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labo(u)r of love

One night last week, I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. I tried everything. I read the New Yorker by my bed —  yes … I might live in Cambridge, but I still subscribe to the New Yorker, New York Magazine, the weekend New York Times … you get the picture. I listened to my flying piggy music box. This was a gift from my dear friend Lau who lives in London and here is the picture I sent her a few years ago when the little piggy and I lived in my very NY apartment.

piggy in ny

I’ve tried to load the video so I can share the music which just adds to the piggy charm, but I’m new at this techie thing and I just can’t seem to make it work.

Back to sleepless in Cambridge…

… Despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t fall back asleep, so … I decided to bake.

Now, mind you, I am NOT a baker. Baking is chemistry, and I am no chemist. That poor unfortunate soul who was my lab partner in Orgo can attest to that! But, some things are really worth the effort, and at 4 in the morning, I needed to channel my inner chemist (?!?) to focus, relax, and help me get back to sleep. So, I made espresso shortbread. Well, I made the dough and then stuck it in the fridge to chill for a few hours while I went back to sleep.

Now, this might seem strange — why would I make anything with espresso in it in the middle of the night if my goal was to go back to sleep? Well, for me, coffee is less about the caffeine and more about the ritual. Don’t get me wrong, caffeine has an effect on me. But the real wake-up call is that first (and usually only) cup in the morning, the steam rising as I warm my always-cold hands on the mug full of delicious. I only drink it cold when it’s unbearably hot outside…and it’s just not the same.

So, espresso is just another ingredient. Well, not just. It’s an extraordinary ingredient. And in these shortbread, it magically gives a chocolate hint.

My take on baking is that if I’m going to bake, there is usually a special unique or unexpected ingredient  that I want to showcase, and the experience – the process – really comes from the heart. That’s the only way I can focus enough to actually follow a recipe exactly. When I made these shortbread, I used a birthday gift from Eva, the first and fastest friend I made up here in Boston. She just gets me.

baking with love from eva

My love affair with shortbread began in my early teens when I started babysitting for the same family almost every weekend. Penny was English, Medhat was Egyptian, and I cared for their three children for five years, two of them from birth. One Saturday night, soon after “Weezy” (Louise) had been born and Lilah was not yet tired of playing mommy, Penny left some fresh homemade shortbread on the counter. Now, until then my main exposure to shortbread was Walker’s. Which is good, but can not compare to the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that is homemade. Penny apologized for leaving things out on the counter in a mess, but was in a rush and the shortbread had to cool. She told me to help myself to a few shortbread. And help myself I did. After I put the girls to sleep. And one more story. And a glass of water. And finally silence.

As any babysitter knows, this is the time to rummage around in the fridge, check out the pantry, and get a snack before settling down for an evening of homework and maybe a little TV, turned low. So, I had a bite of shortbread, plucked from the rack of now cooled little diamonds. Wow! I opened the fridge and saw a mound of dough, wrapped in plastic, and sitting in a bowl. Raw shortbread cookie dough. Enough said. I was hooked and kept stealing little nibbles by the spoonful, always carefully remolding the dough and tightly rewrapping the plastic. I couldn’t eat very much or Penny would notice. Eating some chips is acceptable babysitter behavior. But raw dough…I don’t think so. And Penny is a very proper British woman.

That night when I got home, I prepared my own version of shortbread dough … to eat raw of course. I had noticed that Penny had left confectioners’ sugar out on her counter, so I found some in our pantry, mixed it with a little flour and butter, mashed it all together with a fork in a little bowl, squished it to form a nice mound and didn’t bother with the plastic because it wasn’t going to make it to the fridge. Who has time to waste? I just pinched off little bites of delicious, melt in your mouth … raw … shortbread … dough.

And for years, I made that little concoction when I wanted a little something sweet. It wasn’t until I was all grown up and had my own apartment and started to entertain that it ever occurred to me to actually bake the shortbread.

espresso shortbread can 2

Espresso Shortbread

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. The main substitution I make here is to use (parve) unsalted margarine instead of butter so I can serve them after eating meat. I know, I know … the horror! If you made 2 batches, one with butter, one with margarine, and compared them side-by-side, I’m sure the butter would win.  And I admit, these are not quite the same as Penny’s. But, I like them just the same. This is definitely an adult cookie and they’re worth the work…

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted margarine softened (or you can use butter…)

2/3 C confectioners’ sugar

21 t vanilla extract

2 C all-purpose flour

1/4 C ground espresso — make sure it is ground really fine (i.e., for an espresso maker).

1/2 t salt

Make the dough: With electric mixer and paddle attachment, beat margarine and sugar until creamy, approximately 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat well. Turn to low speed and mix in dry ingredients – flour, espresso, and salt until just espresso shortbread doughcombined. The dough will be brownish-gray, a little sticky, and firm. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. (It was at this point that I went back to bed at 5:30 am).

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap (keep the rest refrigerated) to 1/4 inch thick. I’ve never really been very good at measuring thickness — so, if you can’t measure 1/4 inch, the most important thing is to make sure that each batch you put in the oven is the same thickness so everything bakes evenly. If you’ve ever eaten Walker’s shortbread — the little sticks — I think they’re about 1/2 inch thick…so use your best judgment.

Cut the dough into diamond shapes. I find that using a pizza cutter is the easiest way to get straight, clean lines. Place diamonds on Silpat or parchment covered baking sheet (recipe says to use an ungreased baking sheet, but I prefer to cover).

[An aside: Most recipes including this one typically say not to re-roll the scraps, but honestly, unless you can eat all that raw dough…it’s such a waste. The re-rolled shortbread might not be exactly the same consistency as the “originals” but I’m not going to tell anyone if you don’t. I re-form any scraps into  a mound, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour, then roll out the next batch.]

Prick the shortbread with a toothpick in the middle and bake until pale golden around the edges, 20-24 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

espresso shortbread

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