For peace sake (and the most amazing salad recipes)!

DSC00495Do you have Ottolenghi fever? If you don’t, I highly recommend catching it!

And no, it’s not some new disease… Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is a restaurateur and cookbook author from West Jerusalem who co-authored the book, Jerusalem, with his business partner from East Jerusalem, Sami Tamimi.

By beautifully bringing together the foods of their divergent, and often conflicting, Jerusalems, Ottolenghi and Tamimi both inspire my culinary sensibilities and reinvigorate hopes that peace in the Middle East remains possible.

Their secret is simple recipes with extraordinary flavor combinations that balance sweet, salty, spicy and acidic flavors with creamy and crunchy textures.

Such is my love for their book that I recently hosted a “Jerusalem” gathering where my table was filled with their creations (see picture). If I had to pick my favorite salad in the book, it would be the “Roasted sweet potatoes and figs”. The recipe involves roasting sweet potato wedges and laying them out on a plate with fresh, ripe figs and a “dressing” of sautéed scallions and red chile peppers. With a garnish of goat cheese and balsamic syrup, the end-product is divine.

Once you’ve caught Ottolenghi fever, I can guarantee that you will not only cook your way through their book but you’ll use their approach and techniques to make your own recipes. Just combine your favorite fresh ingredients in unexpected ways to delight your palate. Here are some ideas:

  • Try roasting the figs and serving them with black olives and goat cheese
  • How about butternut squash dressed with tahini, pomegranate syrup and pomegranate seeds?

What other ideas come to mind?

 

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Pasteles (My way…)

PastelesWhen I crave the tastes of Puerto Rico, my hometown, I  prepare this dish – my own marriage of pasteles (the traditional meat-filled pies) and pinon (a Puerto Rican plantain pie similar to a lasagna).  While most recipes for pasteles are super labor-intensive and are typically reserved for bulk-cooking or special occasions, my version of pasteles is simple, straightforward and doable for an everyday meal.

The first step is to prepare your “dough”. I use ripe plantains and simply boil and mash them.Set up 1

Next, prepare the meat filling. My recommendation is that you make a large portion, freeze it and use it for other recipes.

Then, lay out a piece of foil and dried corn husk (that you’ve soaked to make pliable) and layer the “dough” and meat filling.

Finally, wrap up your packets and cook them in boiling water.

set up 4set up 3

AND DON’T FORGET TO MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE!

  • Try replacing and/or combining the plantains with potatoes, yucca and other root vegetables
  • I use beef for my filling but how about ground pork, turkey or even soy crumbles?
  • Skip the packets and lean towards the pinon side of the recipe by layering the filling and “dough” in a casserole.

Pasteles (My way…)

Ingredients:
• 12 – Dried corn husks (typically used for tamales – I prefer to use in place of banana leaves which are typical in recipes for pasteles)
• 4 tbsp – Olive oil
• ½ lb. – Ground beef
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ½ – Onion
• ½ – Jalapeno (deseeded and deveined)
• 5 – Garlic cloves
• ½ – Carrot
• ½ – Celery stalk
• 1 tbsp – Cumin
• 1 tbsp – Paprika
• 1 tsp – Coriander
• 1 tsp – Oregano
• 2 tbsp – Fresh culantro, chopped
• 3 tbsp – Tomato paste
• 3 tbsp – Apple cider vinegar
• 2 cups – Water
• 1 tsp – Sugar
• 2 tbsp – Olives stuffed with pimento, chopped
• 4 – Plantains

Method:

Filling
1. Soak corn husks in water for a few hours or overnight, if possible
2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and jalapeno until minced but not pureed/liquefied
3. Add 1 tbsp of the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat
4. Add the ground beef and a pinch of salt – cook until browned and then move the cooked meat onto a plate and set aside
5. Add another 1 tbsp of the oil to the skillet over medium-high heat
6. Add the minced vegetables with a dash of salt and pepper and the cumin, oregano, paprika, coriander and culantro – cook until softened and beginning to brown
7. Add tomato paste and sugar, mix it well into the mixture and cook it through until you see more browning and then immediately add apple cider vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any caramelized bits
8. Once the majority of the vinegar has evaporated, add the water
9. Reintroduce the cooked meat to the pan along with the olives
10.Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer – cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sauce has thickened
11.Adjust seasoning to taste

Plantains
1. Chop peeled plantains into one inch rounds and add to a pot of cold water seasoned with a generous amount of salt and pepper (you can also feel free to add additional flavoring ingredients such as garlic, onions, bay leaves)
2. Bring the water to a boil and cook plantains until they are soft and an inserted knife meets no resistance
3. Strain the plantains and place them in a mortar and pestle (or use a regular bowl and the head of a rolling pin)
4. Add one tbsp of the oil and mash the plantains until they are a paste; once they are mashed, add a second tbsp. of oil and mix in with a spoon to make them easier to work with

Pasteles
1. Lay out 12 pieces of aluminum foil (measuring approximately 8 ½ x 11)
2. Place a corn husk on each piece of foil
3. Using a standard-size spoon, place one spoon of the plantain mash in the center of each husk – use your fingers to flatten it
4. Place a spoon of the meat on top of each mound of plantain mash
5. Cover the meat sauce with one more spoon of the plantain mash – again, use your fingers to flatten and enclose the meat
6. Fold the husks over to create a small package
7. Enclose each package in the foil and seal by crimping
8. These can be frozen or stored in the refrigerator for one day.
9. When ready to serve, add packages to a boiling pot of water for 40 minutes. Serve by either placing package on a plate and allowing guests to open themselves or by removing it from the package and placing it on a plate with garnish

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When Lox & Bagels Won’t Cut It…

KugelWith the Jewish High Holidays beginning tomorrow evening, there’s going to be a lot of reflecting and repenting going on. And while hopefully meaningful and freeing, it sure is exhausting!

When it comes to a close on Yom Kippur, don’t you need something a little more filling and comforting than lox and bagels!?! I definitely do.

Well here’s my answer: a Mushroom and Brie Kugel – a savory and hearty alternative to your typical kugel and a truly welcome addition to your break fast meal.

The technique couldn’t be easier and will allow you to create a whole new repertoire of holiday favorites. Simply combine your cooked and cooled noodles with eggs and any tasty ingredients of your choosing and bake until golden brown and delicious!

MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE

Using this technique and the recipe below as background, how might you make your own recipe?

How about you:

Vary your noodles?

  • I love egg noodles but how about using regular semolina, whole wheat, spinach or any gluten-free option (brown rice, quinoa, etc…).

Add ingredients?

  • Any flavor combinations you like will work well, including other vegetables or even meats (assuming you’re not kosher…). Just make sure to cook and cool your ingredients before combining them with the noodles and eggs.

Change up your cheese?

  • If you’re using spinach, feta is a natural match. If you’re using tomatoes, try mozzarella. Pick your favorite cheese- anything goes as long as you enjoy the taste of your combination of ingredients. And, of course, if you prefer you can always omit the cheese altogether.

Wishing those who celebrate a meaningful holiday. Now, go make your own recipes!

Mushroom & Brie Kugel

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp –  Olive oil
  • 1 – Onion, diced
  • 12 oz. – Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb. – Brie, rind removed and sliced into small pieces (freezing just before cutting helps)
  • 1 tbsp – Fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems and chopped
  • 12 oz. – Egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 – Eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2.    Lightly grease an 8”X8” baking dish

3.    Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat

4.    Add the onion, mushrooms and thyme, with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for approximately 7 minutes, until the mushrooms have released most of their moisture and darkened in color

5.    Remove from the heat, drain the excess liquid and set aside

6.    Whisk the eggs with the remaining olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper (this will be your seasoning for the kugel)

7.    Combine the cooked and cooled noodles with the cooled mushrooms/onions and brie

8.    Add the egg mixture and stir to ensure the cheese is evenly distributed throughout

9.    Place in the prepared baking dish

10. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the top is crispy and brown

11. Let rest for 15 minutes and serve warm or let rest further and serve at room temperature

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Baby Chef-in-Training

24 cropped

Photo credit: Roxanne Lilibean photography

Miss me? I missed you!

But I’ve been busy cooking up my most delicious creation yet… my sweet son – my Baby Chef-in-Training 🙂

As Mommy and Baby get used to our new schedule, we’ll go back to spending more time in the kitchen.

In the meantime, enjoy my Marzipan & Chocolate Chip Cookies. These babies got me through my pregnancy-induced sweet tooth.

I know – they look like plain old Chocolate Chip Cookies…

But oh no! These are Marzipan Cookiesoutrageously flavorful marzipan bombs.  Sure, there’s a touch of chocolate chip to create contrast with the intensely almond flavor, but it’s all about the marzipan.

Marzipan & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 – Tubes almond paste (7-ounces each)
  • 1 cup – Granulated sugar
  • 2 – Egg whites
  • 1 cup (or more, if desired) – Chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  3. Process almond paste in a food processor until it looks like sand
  4. Add sugar and continue processing
  5. With the food processor running, stream in the egg whites and mix until you have a smooth dough
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula
  7. Wet your hands with water and form the dough into 2-tablespoon-sized balls, place on baking sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand
  8. Bake until lightly golden – 13 to 15 minutes
  9. Let cool on your baking sheet and then transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool completely
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How to Scramble Eggs Inside Their Shell

WOW!! You have got to check out this technique for Eggs:

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Freedom from What?

Each year at Passover, I enjoy making this charoset for my seder plate. Charoset

Pasty and clay-colored like mud used to make bricks, this sweet mixture of fruits and nuts is meant to serve as a reminder that we, the Jewish people, were once slaves in Egypt. We worked and worked and worked… and now we are free.

But what does this freedom mean to us? And, in our own lives, what exactly have we been freed from?

Passover challenges us to use the story of our ancestors’ enslavement, and ultimate liberation from slavery, as a springboard for reflecting on our own lives and making the necessary changes to experience the joy that freedom can bring.

For me, these are continually the key Four Questions to ask ourselves at Passover:
1) What does freedom mean to me?
2) What continues to hold me back/”enslave” me from experiencing that freedom?
3) What steps am I taking to “break free”?
4) How am I helping others find their freedom?

For all who celebrate, my best wishes to you and your family as you struggle with these questions and find meaning and sweetness in your Passover experience.

MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE

Using my recipe below as background, how might you make your own recipe? How about you:

Mix up the ingredients?

  • In addition to using any other dried fruits or nuts (prunes, coconuts, raisins, pistachios, etc…), feel free to use fresh apples (Ashkenazi-style), oranges, bananas and pomegranates.

Vary the spices?

  • Ginger, cloves and/or cayenne would add interesting dimensions of flavor.

Change up your liquid?

  • Manischewitz, grape juice, apple juice and even Calvados would add wonderful sweetness and tang.

MY CHAROSET

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup – brandy
  • ½ cup – dried apricots, chopped
  • ½ cup – dried and pitted dates, chopped
  • ½ cup – dried mango, chopped
  • ½ cup – dried cherries
  • ½ cup – dried blueberries
  • 1 cup – toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup – toasted sliced almonds
  • 1 tsp – ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp – ground all-spice
  • ½ cup – honey
  • Zest of ½ orange

 Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients
  2. If possible, store in fridge overnight (flavors concentrate and develop with time)

 

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A Little Lamb

Seder TableWhether celebrating Passover, Easter or both, everyone I know is planning out their holiday meals. But what to serve? That is always the question.

For those celebrating Easter, lamb is a tradition and with the lambing season upon us (running from approximately February to April), it is also the perfect way to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

For Jews, however, the tendency (particularly in Ashkenazi circles) is to opt for brisket during Passover seder. However, it is quite interesting to note that in the book of Exodus, we are given detailed instructions about eating lamb in anticipation of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And while Jewish law discourages us from serving a whole roasted lamb (as it would be too similar to the Paschal sacrificial offering), there is no restriction on braised pieces of lamb. So why not delight your holiday guests with something different? Lamb Stew (2)

This lamb stew uses a typical braising technique, but makes life super easy by making it in a slow cooker. Just prepare your ingredients and place them in the slow cooker. Overnight, your lamb will cook to perfection. Make this dish ahead of time and you can freeze it – the flavors will only get better.

And, regardless of which holiday you’re celebrating, to fully enjoy the feeling of spring on a plate, contrast the heartiness of the stew by finishing the dish with a plentiful garnish of fresh parsley and lemon zest. Happy holidays to you and yours!

LAMB STEW

Ingredients:
• 3 tbsp – olive oil
• 4 lbs – lamb shoulder (trimmed of excess fat and cubed)
• ½ cup – flour
• 1 – onion (sliced)
• 3 ounces – tomato paste (1/2 of a 6 ounce can)
• 2 tsp – cumin
• 2 tsp – paprika
• 2 cups – chicken or beef broth
• 1 – lemon (zested and juiced) – reserve zest for garnish
• ¼ cup –parsley (minced for garnish)
• Salt and pepper – to taste

Method:
1. Season lamb cubes with salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature (30 minutes minimum)
2. Heat oil in a heavy skillet
3. Dry seasoned lamb cubes with paper towel and dredge each cube in flour
4. Sear lamb cubes in batches – don’t overcrowd the pan!
5. Place the seared lamb cubes in the slow cooker
6. Add tomato paste and a splash of stock to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to lift the drippings from the lamb. Pour contents of the skillet over the lamb in the slow cooker
7. Add sliced onions, cumin, paprika, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the slow cooker
8. Cook in slow cooker on low for 8 hours
9. Once the lamb is tender, skim off excess fat from the surface of the stew and separate the meat from the sauce
10. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings and consistency (i.e. if the sauce is too thin, cook in a pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, to allow evaporation to reduce and thicken the sauce)
11. Recombine the meat with the sauce
12. Garnish with parsley and lemon zest

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Nourishing the Body & Soul

Check out this newspaper write-up on one of my latest projects: Our Family Table. 

I’m so proud to combine my culinary skills with my background in Jewish studies – engaging people around Jewish values while simultaneously empowering them to cook!

More than just nourishment, food is linked to family and values in a very meaningful way and can serve as an important means of connection. Creating rituals that promote positive feelings and interactions around food can both strengthen family relationships and encourage healthy eating.

Using the wisdom of Jewish texts as a backdrop, Our Family Table explores the role that food and family play in our lives while teaching participants how to cook healthy and delicious recipes.

Join us on this journey…

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MY Sweetie’s Valentine’s Day Treat…

Cake, candy, chocolates… Ribs

In honor of Valentine’s Day,  I’m sure you expected me to post a recipe for a delectable sweet. But no, Valentine’s Day is all about treating MY sweetie and therefore, it’s all about Ribs!

Though we live in Miami and could technically BBQ all winter long, I do live in a condo. Therefore, my options are limited. However, does that mean my hubby should be deprived of the flavor of smoked and slow-cooked meat? NO WAY! We just need to get creative…

For those of you coping with winter snow storms, yet dreaming of warmer summer days, this easy technique should do the trick for you too. By simply combining your oven with hickory-smoked wood chips, you can create the BBQ flavors of summer indoors, any time of year. Hope YOUR sweetie enjoys them as much as MINE!

OVEN-SMOKED RIBS*

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ tbsp. – Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp – Dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp – Paprika
  • ½ tsp – Cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp – Black pepper (freshly ground)
  • 8 lbs – Ribs (St. Louis-style spareribs are my husband’s favorite!)
  • 3 cups – Barbecue sauce (bottled or home-made)
  • Hickory-smoked wood chips

Method:
1. Combine first five ingredients and rub onto ribs
2. Wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap and store in refrigerator overnight
3. Preheat oven to 250*
4. Line the bottom of a large roasting pan with the wood chips and add just enough water to moisten the chips
5. Place a rack inside the roasting pan
6. Lay ribs on rack and cover with a tent of aluminum foil to create an insulated smoking environment
7. Bake for 3 hours
8. Once cooled, slice between the ribs to separate into individual pieces (if you’re making this ahead, you can stop here and store the ribs in the fridge for up to 3 days)
9. Slather the barbecue sauce on each piece and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours
10. To serve, heat in a 425* oven for approximately 30 minutes – until
the barbecue sauce begins to dry and the ribs are perfectly glazed (and feel free to baste with extra sauce if you like saucy ribs!)

*adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe

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Almond Lovers Unite!

Yup – the more I look at this picture and remember how delicious it actually tasted, the Almond Cakemore I regret that I didn’t take a picture AFTER cutting into this cake… Alas, it’s too late because the cake is now completely gone 🙂

But if you could only have seen the moist, intensely almond interior with the delicate layer of rich dark chocolate, you would insist on making this cake right now.

Fellow almond lovers will understand how, despite the fact that I’m usually more of a savory eater, the almonds’ prominence and heartiness in this dessert make it a game-changer!

Pair this with a good cup of coffee and, I promise, heaven…

ALMOND CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GLACAGE

Ingredients:

CAKE

(adapted from recipe by David Lebovitz)

  • 1 1/3 cups – Sugar
  • 9 oz. – Almond paste
  • 3/4, plus 1/4 cup – Flour
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) – Unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 1/2 tsp – Baking powder
  • ¾ tsp – Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp – Vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp – Almond extract
  • 6 – Eggs, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup – Almond liqueur (such as Disaronno) – OPTIONAL, but I love it!

 GLACAGE

  • 1 cup – Heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup – Granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp – Corn syrup
  • 275g package – High quality Dark Chocolate (such as Scharffenberger), chopped
  • 1/6 cup – Milk
  • 1 cup – Sliced or chopped almonds (to coat the bottom sides of the cake)

Method:

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF and spray a 9/10-inch cake or spring form pan with baking spray
  2. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand
  3. Once the almond paste is broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until the batter is smooth and fluffy
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between and scraping the sides of the mixer intermittently
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt and add half of this flour mixture to the stand mixer and mix for a few seconds. Then add the rest, mixing until just incorporated, but do not overmix
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center
  7. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosening the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan and set on a cake plate (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)
  8. STORAGE: This cake tastes better if stored for a bit before eating. It will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

CHOCOLATE GLACAGE

  1. When ready to finish the cake, prepare a plastic-wrapped sheet tray with a rack placed on top
  2. In a large bowl, place the chopped chocolate
  3. In a saucepan, bring the cream, milk, sugar and corn syrup to a boil
  4. Pour hot liquid over chocolate and let sit to melt
  5. Stir  with a rubber spatula to ensure that all the chocolate is melted and then let      mixture cool
  6. Turn the cake upside down onto your rack and if desired, use a pastry brush to brush on the almond liqueur
  7. Pour the Chocolate Glacage on in one step – swirl from the center out ensuring that the glacage flows down and covers the sides of the cake.
  8. Using your hands, dress the bottom of the cake with sliced or chopped almonds
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