Middle Eastern Night

One of my favorite nights of the summer comes when my friend C. and I get together to cook.  We did it three years ago to celebrate Julia Child’s 100 birthday.  We did it last year and focused on Italian food and Lidia Bastianich .  This year, because I was given a great cookbook and she was given a beautiful tagine, we focused on Middle Eastern food.

The menu was:  stuffed grape leaves, a number of Israeli salads (roasted eggplant dip, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, corn salad, taboulegh, hummus), marinated grilled lamb with tzatziki, a chicken tagine, couscous with a lemon vinegrette, ptitim (pearl or Israeli couscous) and pita.  For dessert we had baklava and a Cake of Kohevet (Chocolate Nut Cake).  My HipstaPrint 987039433_39C. made the tagine and I’m hoping to get her over here to blog it out for you.  Meanwhile, I’ll toss you a few photos of it:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_92 My HipstaPrint 987039433_60She also made an amazing lamb chop.  Amazing.  She plated them as well, in a very professional manner.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_62 My HipstaPrint 987039433_83 My HipstaPrint 987039433_8 My HipstaPrint 987039433_71The salads all came from either my memory of working in Israel or from the Ballabosta cookbook I was given in April.  I feel a bit uncomfortable providing those here since I feel like it’s somehow a copyright violation but I encourage you to check out the cookbook.  It’s really fantastic.  And I’ll provide you with some photos of the salads.

First up is the eggplant salad that I’ve blogged about before as well as the traditional Israeli salad.

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My HipstaPrint 987039433_23My HipstaPrint 987039433_58From the cookbook I made a traditional corn salad:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_47 My HipstaPrint 987039433_68 My HipstaPrint 987039433_56 My HipstaPrint 987039433_77I also made traditional taboulegh.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_64The last recipe from the cookbook was for a cabbage salad.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_87 My HipstaPrint 987039433_12 My HipstaPrint 987039433_33Plus the couscous (small and large- I apparently forgot to photograph the large):

My HipstaPrint 987039433_50Oh, and I threw together humus, because why not?

My HipstaPrint 987039433_73The second couple that joined us brought homemade stuffed grape leaves and baklava.  So good, both of them.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_19 My HipstaPrint 987039433_81What I can give you the recipe for, however, is the amazing cake I made.  It is a cake of Kohevet and it was, once again, delicious.  Whenever I make one of her cakes, there is always a moment in which I doubt her.  I push through and she has never failed me.

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A reminder that when I work from her recipes, this is what I have:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_59So, this cake is in three stages.  The base dough, the filling and the topping.  Ingredients are organized accordingly.

Kohevet’s Chocolate Cake With Nuts

For the dough:

1 1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of sugar

100 grams (a touch more than 7 tablespoons) of salted butter (I used unsalted but added a pinch of salt to the dough)

1 egg yolk

Special equipment:  springform cake pan

For the filling:

200 grams (about 7 ounces) bittersweet chocolate

100 grams (a bit more than 7 tablespoons) butter (I used unsalted)

1/4 cup cold water

1 packet of plain gelatin (you won’t use all of it, maybe a teaspoon or so)

4 eggs separated

2 tablespoons brandy (I only used one)

2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder

1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, pecans and almonds)

2 tablespoons sugar

For topping:

2 cups heavy/whipping cream

2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar

Directions:

Make the dough.  Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (356 Fahrenheit).  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour sugar, butter and egg yolk.  It helps if the butter is soft and cut into small pieces.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_26I mixed in the butter with a fork, a pastry cutter and then my hands.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_3I then added the egg yolk.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_24It will be a dough that sticks together if you press it- kind of like a shortbread.  Grease your springform pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_57Press 2/3 of the dough into the pan to form the bottom.  If the dough isn’t stiff enough, add another spoon or two of flour and then press it into the sides of the pan to form the crust.  I didn’t need to so you’ll have to eyeball it yourself.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_67Bake for 15-20 minutes or until it is a golden brown.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_44Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a double boiler, heat the chocolate and butter.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_34While it is melting, combine the gelatin and the cold water in a small bowl.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_76When the chocolate and butter are melted, smooth and combined,

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add the water/gelatin and cook for about two minutes.  Then take it off the heat.

In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, brandy and instant coffee powder.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_1Once it is combined, add a few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk.  You’re bringing the eggs up to temperature so that you don’t scramble them.  Once it’s up to temperature, add the rest of the chocolate and whisk until combined.

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Add the nuts and stir.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_9In (yet another) bowl, whip the egg whites and sugar, until they reach stiff peaks.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_18Fold the egg whites into the chocolate nut mixture by hand, so that it becomes mousse-like.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_28Take the ring of the springform pan off the base.  If you can, remove the base cake from the base of the pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_70Place it on the cake plate you plan to use for serving.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the base.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_91Cover and put it in the fridge.  Let it set for an hour or two.  About an hour before you want to serve it, whip the cream with the sugar until it is a lovely whipped cream consistency.  Spread it over the cake. My HipstaPrint 987039433_85

 

My HipstaPrint 987039433_10If you want to be fancy, you can grate some chocolate over the top of the cake just before you serve it.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_52This cake was so good.  It was just sweet enough with a hit of salt from the dough at the bottom.  One bite and I was back in Kohevet’s kitchen in Israel, at her table, on a Saturday afternoon, eating cake and laughing.

A Healthier Option (and a bonus drink!)

A few days ago a friend facebook messaged me and a few other people saying that she  remembered one of us making a salad for a cookout and that it it had lime and black beans and avocado but she couldn’t find the recipe.  I recalled that I had made it, sent her a link to the recipe and went about me day.

But found myself, at various points in the day, zoning out and thinking about avocados, limes and black beans.  I needed to make the salad.  Luckily, in continuing my no/low sugar summer, it is also a sugar-less and healthy recipe.

It’s an Ina Garten recipe, of course, and it’s amazingly good.  I leave out the jalapeno because I’m not that brave.  I’m sure it would be good with it.  It’s also a really simple salad to throw together and… bonus, if you squeeze fresh lime juice for the dressing, you can make yourself one of my favorite summer drinks, a vodka gimlet (which is not sugarless.  But I think it’s worth the sugar to drink it.).  Yum!

Guacamole Salad (Foodnetwork/Ina Garten)

Ingredients

1 pint of grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 yellow (or orange or red, your call) bell pepper, seeded and cut in a  large-ish dice (cut in bite sized squares)

1 can black beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed

1/2 cup of red onion, diced small (about 1/2-1 medium sized onion)

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (I left this out, I don’t like jalapenos)

1/2 teaspoon of grated lime zest

1/4 cup fresh lime juice  (about 2 limes)

1/4 cup good olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled and cut into large-ish dice (like the peppers)

Directions

Start by mincing your onion.  I like to soak mine in a bit of ice water to take some of the sting out of the raw onion.  I find if I eat raw onion, it makes everything taste like onion for the next three days.  Same with raw garlic.  So, I soak mine first.
My HipstaPrint 942372553_13 My HipstaPrint 942372553_1Slice your tomatoes and chop your pepper.  Throw them into a large bowl- perhaps the one you plan to serve from- so that you’ll have room to mix it all together and coat with the yummy dressing.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_7Rinse your beans.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_6Add them to the bowl, along with your drained onion.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_3Zest your lime.  A micro-plane is great for this- make sure to just zest the green part.  The white part is bitter.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_17Sprinkle the lime zest over your salad.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_12Now, juice your limes.  I have an old school juicer that was my grandmother’s.  I love using it because it’s loud, simple and brings me back to making orange juice with her on those summer mornings.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_11Kind of hard to juice the lime and take photos.

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Whisk together your fresh lime juice (if you have extra, save it for the bonus drink at the end of the post), the pepper, salt, garlic, cayenne pepper and olive oil.  It will emulsify and be delicious.  Pour this over the salad and mix well so everything is coated.  If you are serving immediately, add your avocado pieces.  If you’re not serving immediately don’t cut your avocado yet!- wait until you’re ready to serve.  Toss the avocado in and mix gently so that it also gets coated.  Serve it at room temperature.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_9We had ours with steak.  After several months of eating little to no meat, I’ve had a sudden craving for red meat.  Not sure what that’s about but I’m going with it.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_2If you have some lime juice left, you can make my absolute favorite summer grown up drink, a vodka gimlet.  Make some simple syrup (ratio of 1:1, sugar and water.  So, if you use a cup of water, use a cup of sugar- mix it together in a sauce pan and heat until sugar is dissolved and it comes to a boil.  Take off the heat and let it cool.).  Fill a cocktail shaker (or large glass, like we use!) with ice.  Pour in 1 oz of lime juice (fresh!), 1 oz of simple syrup and 1 1/2 oz of vodka (I like Tito’s) or gin (why?  Why would you use gin?  Blech!) into the shaker.  Shake well and pour into a chilled glass.  Try not to drink too many.

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A Dangerous Idea

So while I have made it my summer goal to quit sugar, before I did that, I discovered an incredibly bad, dangerous, not good to know about recipe for homemade fluff.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_8And now I’m going to share it with you.  You’re welcome.  Or, sorry, depending on your own summer goals.

This made two pint containers, one of which I gave to my mum.  She ate it in two sittings and then called me, emailed me and texted me to say, “NEVER MAKE THIS AGAIN.”

My HipstaPrint 942372553_7I kept one pint and it lasted for about two weeks and then it got sort of grainy and not good.  Don’t tell my mum but I may have had to throw it out.  Apparently I can resist some sugar, if it is in the form of fluff.  But don’t let that stop you– it was super good.

I made it as part of a dessert I brought to a friend’s house over Memorial Day weekend.  She and her husband are doing a gluten-free thing to see if it helps them and so I made gluten-free peanut butter cookie sandwiches filled with fluff and chocolate.  They were damn good.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_9I will share with you here, with the warning that it really is good.  Super, easy to eat without realizing how much, filled with sugar, good.  Make at your own risk.

Marshmallow Fluff

(Fluffy White Icing-Marshmallow Frosting from Cake Duchess)

Ingredients

1 cup white granulated sugar (not confectioner’s)

4 egg whites, at room temperature

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (Full disclosure:  I left this out)

*special equipment:  candy thermometer

Directions

In a medium saucepan combine the water, sugar and cream of tartar.  Bring it to a boil but don’t stir it!  Put the candy thermometer in and watch it closely while it boils- it should take about five minutes.   When it comes to 245 degrees Fahrenheit, take it off the heat.

While your sugar water is boiling and coming up to temperature, put the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat them until they start to thicken and form soft peaks.

Set a timer for 7 minutes.  Now, very carefully and slowly, pour the sugar syrup into the egg white mixture, while the mixer is going. Let it whip for the whole seven minutes and in minute six, add the vanilla.  The fluff will be just that- fluffy and white and delicious.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_14I immediately had to make a fluffernutter.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_13 My HipstaPrint 942372553_3 My HipstaPrint 942372553_12If you’re interested in making the cookie sandwiches, which I found to be quite tasty, you can use this peanut butter cookie recipe.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_11 My HipstaPrint 942372553_2 My HipstaPrint 942372553_1I also made a basic chocolate ganache. Click here for a great tutorial on the different ways to make it.

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Then, I just put them together.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_10 My HipstaPrint 942372553_5 My HipstaPrint 942372553_9Again, you’re welcome.  Or not…

Giving It A Try

It is now summer vacation.  Ah, summer vacation.  Every year, I am filled with plans and ideas about how I want to spend the next 6-8 weeks.  And every year, it comes to the end of August and I’ve done none of them.  So this year, I’m doing it differently.  The kids and I made a list of sunny day things to do, rainy day things to do and a (much shorter) list of mummy things to do.  I’ve already crossed off a number of things on my list and we’re looking forward to doing the ones on the list the kids created.  Luckily, these are mostly fun things- swimming, the zoo, the museums, art projects, etc.

The big one on my list is to “quit” sugar.  I read this book recently:

photo-3and while I disagree with some of her premise (I mean, if people evolved near the tropics, they would eat more fruit which means their bodies would naturally be able to process sugar more efficiently….right?), I agree with the general idea of having less sugar in our systems.

Sadly, I’m not sure that her recipes were tested prior to publication.  That, or the Australian conversations to the U.S. weren’t so accurate.  Her oven temps seem to be off and since I cook, I KNEW some of things she said wouldn’t work but I tried them anyway.  Nonetheless, I have made some pretty tasty food so far (I’m about a week into this whole experiment) including her “meal-in-a-cracker” which my husband and daughter tried and spit out by my son and mother loved.

Tonight I did a spin on a polenta suggested meal by adding asparagus and mushrooms and playing around with the tomato basil “salsa”.  Truthfully, I could have measured for the salsa a bit better but it worked.

Wish me luck on this journey!  I’d like to reduce the amount of sugar I consume- I’m not sure I want to eliminate it entirely but let’s see.

Polenta with sautéed greens, asparagus, mushrooms, poached egg and tomato salsa. 

Loosely based on the recipe from I Quit Sugar.

Ingredients

For polenta

2 cups water

1/2 cup corn meal or grits

salt

Optional:  a bit of parm cheese, cream cheese or milk

For greens

About one to two cups of cooking greens (spinach, beet greens, collard greens, etc)

Olive oil, salt

For mushrooms

sliced mushrooms

olive oil

salt

For egg

1 egg per person

white vinegar

For tomato “salsa”

2-3 roma tomatoes

1 clove of garlic, minced

several fresh basil leaves (to taste, really)

a splash or two of olive oil

a splash or two of apple cider vinegar

For Asparagus

Bunch of asparagus

olive oil

salt

Directions:

This meal is mostly about timing.  Since most of the elements are quickly thrown together, it can be hard to get everything to come out at the right time.  Luckily, not to worry, many of these ingredients are also quite forgiving.

Okay, start with the polenta.  Bring the water and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.  Whisk in the corm meal slowly so as to avoid lumps.  Once it’s all incorporated, lower the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring it once in a while so that it doesn’t stick.  If you want to add cheese, etc., now is the time.  Grease a pie pan or loaf pan (I used canola oil spray) and pour the polenta into it.  Let it firm up in the fridge for a few hours.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_10Looks like cornbread, no?

Next work on your asparagus.  Heat your oven to 425.  On a baking sheet, place your asparagus and sprinkle with some olive oil and salt- not too much of either, just enough to coat.  Roast them in the oven for 10-20 minutes depending on how crispy you like yours- I tend to go longer for mine.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add some olive oil and then the sliced mushrooms.  Let them brown, shaking the pan occasionally, to help them not stick.  Don’t stir for the first few minutes, then just once or twice.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_3Pull them off the heat once they’re brown on both sides and set aside.

Chop your tomatoes.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_7MIx them together with the other ingredients — basil, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_4Put a small saucepan on the stove with about three to four inches of water in it.  Add a splash of white vinegar if you like.  Bring it to a simmer while you work on the polenta again.

Once your polenta firms up, slice it into portions.  Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet.  Now, the quit sugar woman says to just place the sliced polenta into the skillet and let it brown on each side.  However, I found that it sticks if you do that.  So, it may make sense to dredge the slices in flour so that they are lightly breaded before you put them into the pan.  Regardless, brown on each side then place on serving plates.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_8Take a spoon and stir your water that is simmering.  You’re making kind of a tornado effect.  Crack your egg into the tornado and then cover the pan.  Let the egg cook over low heat for about 2-4 minutes, depending on how done you like your poached eggs.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet (you can keep using the one you started with) over medium high heat and add the greens.  Cook them for about two to four minutes until they are wilted to your liking.  Salt to taste.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_5Now, to plate.

Start with the polenta.  (Mine fell apart, because I didn’t flour it first)

My HipstaPrint 942372553Top with the mushrooms and asparagus.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_9Add the greens, the egg and the “salsa”.

My HipstaPrint 942372553_6This was actually really good.  I completely recommend it, in any iteration you desire– no asparagus, extra mushrooms, no cheese in the polenta, roasted peppers…  it’s pretty easy to tailor it to your liking.  It’s a good balance of flavors and textures- the polenta is creamy, the greens are bitter (in a good way) which plays nicely off the mushrooms and egg.  It really was good, so much so, that I’m already thinking about having it for lunch tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

“Platter” Dinner

The days are getting longer around here, as we approach the long-awaited summer and summer vacation.  This means that I want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time outside with the kids.  Each night after supper we take a walk to “see the hippos.”  A neighbor has two ceramic hippos in his front yard, as part of his garden/landscaping and the kids love them.

Which means I have to be quick about supper.  My new favorite trick comes to me via the awesome blog/website Body Image Movement. Taryn is inspiring and came up with this idea of a platter dinner.  Which is perfect at my house.  Finger food?  Check.  Fun to eat?  Check.  Able to be healthy and new?  Check.  The kids love it and request it every night now.  I’m trying to pace it so that the novelty doesn’t wear off too soon.

IMG_8918This was my first attempt.  Yes, it’s a big pile of mac and cheese in the middle– I was using up what I had AND I knew it would draw them into the concept.  Lots of frozen, semi-processed food there but again, it was a first try.  Since I’m eating so much less meat now, I often struggle to get the protein into the kids’ diet so we made do with organic chicken nuggets/meatballs/etc.

IMG_8938This was a platter lunch.  Hallumi cheese, red pepper, blueberries, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and petitim (an Israeli couscous/pasta).  They scarfed down all of it, except the cheese (took a bite and declared it too salty) and the asparagus (too yucky).

It’s such a great idea.  I’m going to continue to work it all summer- or at least as long as it remains a request.

If you’re looking for a delicious, easy, no-cook salad, wander over to The Hungry Hippo and try the zucchini and asparagus one on her site.  I made it the other day and it was divine.  I served it over the petitim with some grilled hallumi cheese.  It was cool, crisp and tender with such a great balance of acid and… green.  It tasted like spring on a plate, in an entirely good way.

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Dinosaurs In My Kitchen*

Not a completely not food post, but close.

Have you guys seen Dinovember?  If not, click on that link and check it out.  I’ll wait…

Ok, so in a fit of crazy, I started this in our house.  Actually, it wasn’t a fit of crazy so much as it was a Saturday night of red wine and scrabble.

IMG_8834 IMG_8835 IMG_8836 IMG_8837After the husband and I had our laughs, we set the dinos up for the kids to find in the morning.

IMG_8856It got such a great reaction that we did it again the next night.

IMG_8864And the next.

IMG_8874Ok, I confess, it’s pretty fun to try to come up with situations for the dinosaurs.  We’ve done a whole bunch and I even solicited ideas from Facebook friends.

IMG_8881 IMG_8872 IMG_8887 IMG_8874But I may have created a monster.  Every morning, G. wakes up and says, “Mumma, let’s see what the dinosaurs are doing!”

IMG_8897I obviously didn’t think this through.

IMG_8904 IMG_8908 IMG_8909 IMG_8907I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it going.

IMG_8911 IMG_8914 IMG_8922 IMG_8941I’ve even gotten my husband into it.  He does rock climbing so thought of this one.

IMG_8944 IMG_8945 IMG_8946I’ll take good ideas in the comments please.  As well as ways to perhaps ease off….?

*With thanks to Splash N Boots for the title.

 

Assembly Line Lunch

There’s a new trend happening in the food world, have you seen it?  It’s these salads, in mason jars (mason jars.  Another trend.  Everything in mason jars.).  I’m not a huge fan of mason jars (I mean, it’s a jar.  Really, how excited can I get?) but I do like salad.  And the idea is sound- pack it the correct way and you have the perfect salad on a plate.

So I bought my own containers and tried it.  You know what?  It’s a brilliant idea.  I can make all my salads on Sunday and have my lunch for the week all set.  It’s made a big difference in my weekly food prep.  Plus, it’s flexible enough that you can add whatever you like.  Some weeks I use artichoke hearts, other weeks I’ll use hearts of palm.  Chickpeas, quinoa, whatever you have around will work.

Now, if I could just find the time at work to actually EAT my lunch, I’d be all set.

Salad in a jar or box or whatever container you have handy

Ingredients

dressing (I make my own balsamic)

lettuce/spinach/greens (you could even use kale if you wanted to be super trendy)

other salad veggies:  cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc.  The sky’s the limit!

beans, quinoa or other grains that would make you happy.

Directions:

Wash and peel and cut and otherwise prep your veggies.  I always make my kiddos do the salad spinner which dries the lettuce.  Gives them a good little arm workout.

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Set up your assembly line.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_3I start with containers.  Aren’t they cute?  Can you tell which one wasn’t part of the set?

Then, lay out your veggies in the right order.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_6Dressing, beans/grains/anything that won’t get soggy in the salad dressing but that will instead soak up the dressing and be sort of marinated, veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc) and then lettuce/greens.  Then, get to prepping.  Dressing first, in the bottom of the containers.

My HipstaPrint 947369673Then add the won’t-get-soggy-veggies.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_4Put the rest of the veggies on top of that.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_1Finally, add the lettuce and other greens.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_5If you did it in the assembly line way, you’ll have four or five or however many salads ready to go.

My HipstaPrint 947369673_8Pop the covers on and move them to the fridge.  Take them out as needed.  When you’re ready to eat, remove the cover and place a plate on top.

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Flip it over so the plate is on the bottom

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and watch the magic happen.

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Lettuce/greens on the bottom, topped with veggies and dressing.  Perfect!

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