Chocolate Cardamom Halvah

If you’ve never eaten halvah, your life is not yet complete. This delightful confection can be found from western Asia to the Middle East. It is an iconic Levantine dessert made with tahini (sesame paste), sugar, and a variety of flavorings. It is imperative to have a good candy thermometer when making this. Once you’ve mixed all the ingredients together it sets quickly so make sure you are absolutely ready to get it in the prepared pan once you commit to starting.

Chocolate Cardamom Halvah

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (16 ounces or 453 grams) granulated sugar

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup or 114 grams) cold water

  • 1 pound (16 ounces or 453 grams) good-quality tahini paste (make sure it’s pure tahini)

  • 4 ounces (114 grams) dark chocolate

  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Method

Note: you’ll need a candy thermometer to make this recipe.

  1. Add sugar and water to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Do not stir. Heat until a candy thermometer reads 248 degrees F.

  2. While your sugar mixture is cooking, microwave tahini in a large microwavable bowl for 30 seconds or until warm.

  3. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Stir in salt and cardamom.

  4. Once sugar reaches 248 degrees, pour the sugar mixture over the tahini and mix quickly until just mixed. Swirl in chocolate. Do not over mix.

  5. Line a small mold with plastic wrap and pour in the mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Cut and eat! Keeps well at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if it’s warm out.

Thanksgiving

Hi team! The internet, grocery stores, and caterers are aflutter with Thanksgiving food and ideas this time of year. I know for many of you the traditional green bean or hash-brown casserole is a staple on the table. Or the jello salad that may, or may not, get eaten by anyone. These traditions are important, don’t stop making grandma’s recipes! If you’re still undecided what to make, or bring, to your holiday gathering, there are a bevy of options to get you through not only Thanksgiving, but the rest of the holiday season as well.

Appetizers and cocktail hour

Gatherings should be about socializing, and what better way to bring people together than over one bite, finger foods and cocktails. Some of us are good with beer and cheese dip honestly, but there’s room to kick it up a notch too. Lemonade is light and refreshing, add a little carbonated water to make a spritzer, frozen berries are a nice way to keep it chilled. Add a sprig of rosemary, thyme or tarragon, and a shot of vodka or bourbon to make it festive. Cocktails can easily be modified into mocktails for the younger crowd, or those folks that have a little more common sense than the rest of us. If you want to impress your guests, make some crostinis, and top them with smoked salmon spread and sprig of dill, a slice of brie and an apple wedge, or black eyed pea pate.

Sides

I’m not really going to talk about turkey, other than to share this interesting article I just read on brining. What I want to talk about is sides, really vegetables, because that’s usually what I want to talk about. Don’t forget to eat them!

  • Roasted brussel sprouts are  quick, you can add bacon if you like, toasted or candied pecans are also a delightful addition. Toss them in oil, salt and pepper, 400 degree oven until brown and crispy.
  • Sweet potatoes: step away from the marshmallows! roast them whole in their jackets, mash them with butter and cinnamon and done. Peel them, slice thin, toss with oil and high heat roast until crispy. Toss with herbs, a little cider vinegar and thinly sliced green onion
  • Green beans: grill or high heat roast until just starting to brown, toss with gremolata, or just finely minced garlic and butter, toasted almonds work great here too.
  • Cauliflower: cut in to slabs, toss with oil, almond flour, parsley, lemon zest, and paprika, high heat roast until very brown.

Desserts

Ok, so obviously pie is essential. I’m always a huge fan of crostatas because they come together quickly and can be made ahead of time, frozen, and baked the day of your gathering. Apples, quince, and cranberries all make great pies this time of year, either together or separate. I’m a little obsessed with Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Pecan Pie this year. And if you’re tired of pumpkin pie (you’re crazy if you say that though), try a sweet potato pie

There are so many opportunities to create new traditions and include new family members and their traditions, keep your holiday favorites and bring in a couple of new ones. Holidays are about sharing.

 

Happy Eating!

Crostinis

A super simple vehicle for just about any topping, that can be made a few days ahead of time to lessen your work load the day of your gathering. I don’t ever measure any of the ingredients, you can play around with what works best for you, just remember you can always add more salt and oil, but you can’t take it out.

Crostinis

Ingredients:

  • baguette: it’s important not to use French bread for this, it’s too soft. The better the baguette, the better the end result. Slice into 1/4″ slices, many baguettes yield about 30-40 pieces.
  • oil: a blend of olive and a neutral oil, such as avocado or safflower is best. The amount will vary, I’d start with 1/2 cup, you don’t want them to be too oily, but make sure they all get some oil, a squeeze bottle is a great way to spread the oil around.
  • salt and pepper: you can skip the pepper, but I find a pinch is worth it. Start with 1/2 tsp of salt, these are a vehicle for toppings and you don’t want to distract from those.

Method:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. line a baking sheet, or two with parchment
  3. options, there are two camps on how to make these, I tend to go with option one
    1. pour the oil on to the baking sheet and place your sliced bread in a single layer on top on the oil, dust with salt and pepper
    2. toss bread in a bowl with oil, salt and pepper, lace your sliced bread in a single layer on the baking sheet
  4. bake 12-20 minutes, maybe a little longer, rotating half way through. I understand that’s a wide range, your oven will really impact how long these take. If you’ve sliced them a little thick I recommend under baking them a little, you’ll want to use them within 24 hours in that case, but it’s easier to eat that way. If the thickness is just right, bake until crispy, but not overly brown.
  5. Once cooled store in an airtight container for a few days, although I generally find they don’t last that long.

Thoughts from the Kitchen

Hi team!  Like all of you, it’s been a busy year. I’ve had some transitions, and am looking to have some more coming up, all part of life’s journey. Through it all, I’m always cooking, sharing, and connecting with others through food. I had the good fortune to attend a book talk by Chef Magnus Nilsson, who is one of my favorite chefs/people (take a look at his restaurant’s website and you’ll see why).

If you keep up with my facebook page, you’ll recall a recent post about being a cook vs. being a baker. To my absolute delight, when I opened Magnus’ new book, one of the very first pages addressed just that topic. “…in cooking you can be a bit more playful when you follow recipes, while in baking you have to follow them to the letter. I don’t think this is true at all.” I wholeheartedly agree. Somehow, for generations, people have been baking without understanding the science behind it. Don’t think I don’t value research and science, of course I do, but thinking that is the only way to bake? Come on.

As I listened to his talk I came to understand that his new book is not a cookbook, but a documentary book of traditional recipes from the Nordic region. He talked about the diversity of baking in the Nordics, stemming from the focus on home baking rather than a standardized format. That each family has a style that may be similar to their neighbor because of the ingredients available, yet resulting in something that is unique to their household.

I love this idea, because this is how I cook, and bake. If you want something to turn out exactly the same every time, I am probably not your chef. Every apple, every bag of flour, has some variation. Humidity, weather, and feelings dictate how a dish turns out. Remember that movie from 1992, Like Water for Chocolate? Whatever the main character felt, changed how she cooked, and while I probably won’t make you cry with my tears, your experience with my cooking is directly related to how I feel.

I hope I get to bake you a pie, a cake, or make you some soup soon. I love to share food, ideas, skills, and connection with you.

Happy Eating!

Cooking Dinner with Guests

We’ve been hosting a lot of guests at our house lately and having a great time. One of the things I’ve made available is a cooking class, which in our small home kitchen, is mostly a demonstration. I’d like to make some room for it to be more of a teaching experience, definitely on the to do list. Recently, I made a lamb tagine (I don’t have a actual tagine, but I do have a le crueset dutch oven and it works great) with spiced rice, a riff on Zaalouk, which is a Moroccan eggplant salad, naan with za’atar, and an orange flower ruffled milk pie.

We talked about za’atar from Syria, pomegranate molasses, orange and rose water, preserved lemons from Morocco, and ate sheep milk feta. It was fun to share my take on flavors from Morocco; the region that stretches from Iran to Morocco is home to some of the tastiest foods in our beautiful world so I love an opportunity share flavors that represent any country in that area.

Lamb Tagine

adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018513-lamb-tagine

Ingredients

  • 3 -4# leg of lamb, bone in or out, out is easier to find
  • 2 ½ tsp salt, more as needed1 ¾ c lamb, beef, or chicken stock
  • 5 oz dried apricots
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks
  •  Large pinch saffron
  • 1 T pomegranate molasses
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  •  c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • ½ c slivered almonds
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  •  Fresh lemon juice, to taste

Method

  1. Rub lamb with salt, let sit up to one hour at room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a tagine, Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, warm 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until hot. Add lamb to pot,  and cook until well browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add onions, tomato paste, ginger, 1 cinnamon stick and the spices to the pot, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Return lamb and any juices on the plate, the apricots and stock, and half the cilantro. Cover pot with foil and then its lid if lid isn’t tight enough.
  5. Cook in oven for 3 hours, or until lamb is tender, turning it occasionally. (If using a tagine, you don’t need to use foil.) Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat butter and 1 cinnamon stick over medium heat. Add almonds and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
  7. To serve, transfer lamb and juices to a serving platter. Top with toasted almonds and any butter left in the small skillet, scallions, parsley and remaining cilantro. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Serve with flatbread or couscous, if desired.
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Eggplant Zaalouk

adapted from https://www.196flavors.com/morocco-eggplant-zaalouk/

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Ingredients
  • 4 small eggplants, cut into bite size
  • 2 medium tomatoes or 1 c cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • I added 3 summer squash, sliced into 1/2″ half moons (bite size pieces), 2 bell peppers cut into rough 1″ squares and spinach. It’s not traditional, but we can all use more veggies in our lives.

Method

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  1. In a large saute pan, heat 2 T oil over high heat.
  2. Sear eggplant until golden, remove from pan and do the same with squash and tomatoes
    1. alternately you can leave your vegetables in larger pieces and grill them, then cut into smaller pieces
  3. When tomatoes turn soft, add minced garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. Cook 1 minute.
  4. Return eggplant to pan, add parsley
  5. Drizzle olive oil and add a pinch of cayenne.

Spiced RiceIngredients

  • 2 c white basmati rice
  • 2 T butter
  • 6-8 whole cardamom pods
  • pinch saffron
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 1/2 c water
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. rinse rice thoroughly, let drain about 5 minutes
  2. melt butter in a saucepot with a tight fitting lid
  3. add rice to pot and saute about 1 minute, stirring frequently
  4. add spices to pot then water; Note, I don’t usually measure water for white rice. If you touch the top of the rice with your finger the water should touch your first knuckle.
  5. stir, bring the water to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes
  6. allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before removing lid and serving

 

Ruffled Milk Pie

This is directly from https://smittenkitchen.com/2018/05/ruffled-milk-pie/  I highly recommend you read her complete post. I won’t even try to rewrite it, Deb’s done a lovely job already. The only change I made was adding 1 T orange water, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the custard.

  • 5 tablespoons (70 grams) butter, melted (I used unsalted but if you want to use salted, just skip the added salt)
  • About 7 sheets store bought filo, defrosted (mine were 12″x17″)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Brush a 9-inch round cake pan lightly with butter, then use a large sheet of parchment paper to fit into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, creasing as needed. (This allows you to remove the pie in once piece. You can also skip this and serve it right in the pan.)
  3. Brush inside of parchment with butter.
  4. Place stack of filo sheets on counter and cover with a larger sheet of waxed or parchment paper (see note up top) followed by a larger lightweight dishtowel. Mist towel with water to get it damp all over, but not soggy wet.
  5. Remove first filo sheet and place it on unused part of counter and replace waxed paper and towel.
  6. Brush first filo sheet with butter and use your fingers to scrunch it the long way into a loose fan-like strip; don’t worry if it breaks or tears.
  7. Wind it up into a loose, messy spiral. Place in middle of prepared pan. Repeat this with remaining filo sheets, making 6 more ruffle spirals.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, checking at 20, until filo is medium golden brown (you can go a shade darker than I did) and crisp.
  9. Remove from oven, leaving oven on, and let rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes while you prepare the custard.
  10. Whisk eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bottom of a medium bowl. Pour in milk, whisking the whole time.
  11. Once 10 minutes of resting is up, pour custard all over baked filo and return pie to oven.
  12. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until custard is set.
  13. Let cool slightly before serving, dusting generously with powdered sugar before you do.
  14. Do ahead: Leftovers keep in fridge (impressively crisp, in fact) for, well, it’s been 3 days and I don’t think I’m going to find out if it can make it to 4, 5, or 6. But I think it can.

Empanadas

The myth of busy is all around us. I swear I’ve been too busy to put up a post, but I know it’s more that I haven’t made the time. After a day of work and kids and whatever else life throws at me, my couch sounds so appealing sometimes. Here I am today rectifying my laziness and getting up this post though, so victory is mine (yours? ok we’ll enjoy it together)!

On to empanadas…

So, being a child of the 70’s I grew up in a household where shortening was definitely all around me (remember butter flavored Crisco? is that even still a thing??), you can dork out about it here and here. That said I am so very wary of it, I’ve heard all the myths about how it’s an industrial lubricant created during WWII, etc., but in reality it was created in 1911 to store soap fat and someone realized it’s use in baking. The result is flaky pastry history.

Empanadas require shortening, a lot of it. These are not a health food, but they are delicious. Butter doesn’t have the same properties as Crisco so to achieve the desired consistency of the dough you do have to use it (lard is also totally acceptable, but not always practical if you need vegetarian empanadas for 100 people).

Empanada dough is quite soft, but because of all the shortening, it isn’t as sticky as you’d expect. You roll it out much the same way you would a pie crust, adding flour to the board and the rolling pin. I recommend using a biscuit cutter to get uniformity of size when cutting out your circles and it takes less filling than you think. As for folding them over, you can do it by hand and us the tines of a fork to make the pretty edges, but a press is pretty inexpensive and you can use it to make other types of dumplings (gyoza comes to mind), so you might as well get one. Another tip, when using the press put a piece of plastic wrap in it so the empanadas don’t blow out the back of it. That will make sense once you start making them.

You can fill empanadas with just about anything. The photos below are of roasted sweet potatoes and black beans. I seasoned them with oregano, cinnamon, ancho pepper, and cumin (pro tip, if you get too much cinnamon in a savory dish, add cumin to balance it out, amazing results). I’ve used chicken with olives, peppers, and onions; you could use pulled pork or beef as well. Use your imagination, and your leftovers, to make tomorrow night’s dinner.

Empanada Dough

makes roughly 60 empanadas

Ingredients

  • 4 c flour
  • ¼ c sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ c shortening
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • ½ c cold water, mixed with 1 T vinegar (white or apple cider)
  • special equipment-rolling pin, round biscuit cutter, dumpling press

Method

  1. Combine flour, sugar and salt 
  2. Cut shortening into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand.
  3. Add the egg, stir until well combined.
  4. Add water and vinegar mixture, stir until the dough gathers into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 350 degrees 
  6. Cut dough into four equal pieces, put three of them back in the fridge
  7. Roll out each section and cut with biscuit cutter. Roll out any scraps and keep cutting circles until you’ve used it all up. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough.
  8. Fill each circle with the filling of your choice. The amount depends on the size of your circle, 2 tsp is a rough estimate.
  9. Pinch the edges of the empanada together to form a half moon and crimp the edges (you can do this to all of them at once, or get smart and use your press)
  10. Brush the tops with egg wash, bake 20 to 25 minutes until brown. 
  11. The filling wil be screaming hot so give them a minute to cool before you start inhaling them.

Happy Eating!

 

IMG_4583

empanada dough

IMG_4581

sweet potato, black bean empanada

IMG_4582

finished emanadas