Sunday, March 2, 2014

Of My Own

To say that I am an introvert is a gross understatement. I am so far on the introvert scale, I fall off the edge. In order to face the world, I need a lot of quiet, alone time. These past weeks have been a haze of running around this very unpublic transportation friendly city looking at one apartment after another (spoiler alert: I have not yet found a new apartment). Needless to say, I have been a little bit low on energy lately. I'm pretty prone to finding things overstimulating on a relatively quiet day, and these have not been quiet days. So I treasure my alone time. I am greedy for it. I take pleasure in cancelling plans (I have cancelled plans with one specific friend so many times in the past weeks, I am surprised she still likes me). This is not to say that I don't love my friends and want to spend time with them. I have spectacular friends and I love spending time with them. I love the joy and comfort and laughter they bring to my life. They are my emotional bulwark. This is also not to say that I have become a hermit and disavowed any form of social interaction. I go out. I see people. I go to work and make small talk with my equally awkward and intoverted co-workers. I do things. I attend satirical academic conferences on the importance of cake. (And cake is very important as we all know.) But life is so much right now and feels so pressing that I find myself clawing and fighting to carve out some time just to sit, just to be, just to find myself again.

Usually, weekends are for friends- for sharing food and conversation. Meals are eaten in a group- dinner parties or potlucks. Sometimes I host, sometimes I am a guest, but Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch are almost always spent in the happy company of other people. A few weeks ago, though, faced with the prospect of having no plans for Saturday lunch, I realized that I didn't want plans. Even if plans had materialized, I would have said no to those plans. I needed some "me" time. So instead of eating with friends, I made myself a lovely citrus-fennel salad (even better the next day) and a variation on a chicken recipe my mother used to make when I was a kid.  I sat in the quiet and ate my delicious food. I read, I slept, and thought thinky thoughts. I was still until nightfall when I stood up, shook myself off and went out into the world again.

My mom's corn flake crumb chicken- exactly what it sounds like, baked chicken coated in corn flakes- was a delicious staple growing up. It is one of my ultimate comfort foods. However, me being who I am, I couldn't help but tinker with the recipe. A while ago, a friend of mine, or rather, a woman who served as a surrogate mother figure of sorts all these years I have been far away from my own mother, gave me a recipe for breaded chicken with mustard. It's a good, quick recipe and I used it a lot. Eventually, it too, evolved. Mustard became a mix of mustard and tehina and as of a few weeks ago, bread crumbs became corn flake crumbs. This is how new recipes are born. The chicken is moist and flavorful, the coating is crispy and wonderful. It's a good recipe to have alone or with friends.

Corn-Flake Crumb Chicken with Mustard and Tehina

Adapted from Ricky Krakowski, Carol Toff and many others

This is not a precise recipe- think of it more of a list of suggestions and ratios. Want to add more mustard? Go for it. Don't have corn-flake crumbs? fine- use panko or plain old bread crumbs. Don't have time to marinate the chicken overnight? Also, fine. This chicken will be great if you leave it let it sit for an hour, or even just 20 minutes. It's all good and delicious.

1 chicken, in 8 pieces
1/3 cup tehina paste
1/4 cup mustard (Dijon is preferable, but plain is fine too)
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregana
a good pinch coarse salt
a grind of black pepper
corn flake crumbs.

1. The day before you bake the chicken. Mix together the tehina, mustard, marjoram salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and mix to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight. (If you don't have time, just coat the chicken with the mustard-tehina mixture and leave it for as long as you can.

2. Take the chicken out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Pour some corn flake crumbs on a large plate and coat the pieces of chicken entirely, pressing down to make sure the coating sticks. Place in a baking pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken thigh reads 165 (you know the drill).


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jerusalem in Jerusalem: Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing


Many a person has asked me for this recipe after seeing the picture Naomi posted on Facebook about two weeks ago. And why wouldn't they? This is one lovely, sexy looking cake. It was also one of our standouts-rich, buttery and bright and everything that is best about citrus and chocolate. Now, I love citrus and chocolate which means I loved this cake (A note to anyone who might want to send me a Valentine's Day gift, or just a gift- chocolate covered citrus peels. That is all.) and thank Ottolenghi for bringing it into my life.

Happy Valentine's Day. Have some cake.


Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing
Note: Yes, Passover is not yet here, but it doesn't hurt to think ahead- I reckon that this cake could easily be made Passover friendly (and gluten-free) by swapping the flour for potato starch or quinoa flour (for those who use quinoa on Passover)

Adapted from Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi

For the Cake:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter (200 grams)
2 cups sugar, divided
4 clementines, zested and juiced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
5 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, sifted
pinch of salt

For the Icing:
6 tablespoons (90 grams) butter
5 oz (150 grams) dark chocolate
2 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac or whisky

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9 1/2 inch cake pan- a springform is best- and line with parchment paper.

2. Put the butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar and zests into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low until just combined. Add half of the almonds. When combined, gradually add the eggs. Add the remaining ground almonds, flour and salt and beat until smooth.

3. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 50-60 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted in the middle comes back slightly moist.

4. When the cake is almost ready to come out, place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the juices into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. As soon as the cake is out of the oven. brush it with the citrus syrup. Cool. (The cake can be stored like this, wrapped, for 3 days).

5. To make the icing, melt together the butter, chocolate and honey over a double boiler (or in the microwave on low in short bursts). Mix in the Cognac or whiskey. Pour the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Eat. Fall in love.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Slow it Down


Sometimes you have to complicate things to make them simple. My life feels very complicated right now, which is what happens with the apartment you've lived in for the past four and half years has been sold and you need to find a new place to live, and you're not sure what exactly you're looking for or what you can afford and sometimes it looks like your cat has pulled through and other times she spends 12 hours- all through the night- puking and you think, cat, you are six years old, you are too young for me to be worrying about you like this and your kitchen cabinets stink vilely because the sink had been leaking underneath them and you don't want to open them for fear of stinking up your kitchen but you need to open them to get to your pots and pans and everything feels like just too much in between phone calls with your landlord trying to work details re: your exit date and phone calls to the fix-it man and checking on the cat.

So you slow it down. You go into the kitchen- your stinky/not stinky kitchen- and even though you are feeding only a few people that night and you should take the opportunity to do something simple, you go complicated. You go complicated because right now you need to narrow your world down to the knife in your hand, the rhythmic sound of it hitting the cutting board, the smooth skin of a pepper under your hands, the way a tomato yields to a serrated knife, these are the only things that are important at this moment.  You need to fill your world with just this. Only this.

Everything is manageable in the sunlight in your kitchen. Noise falls away.

To go complicated I went with Deborah Madison, which is ironic, since Deborah Madison is about as uncomplicated as it gets. And to be honest, her potato and chickpea stew from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone is not that complicated, it's just that there are a lot of components. The stew is, as Madison says, delicious and comforting and perfect for a winter night when you want something warm and filling, but not heavy. The real star of the evening, though, was one of the added components to the stew- the romseco sauce that Madison suggests you serve with the stew. All my dinner guests loved it and I ate the leftovers all week- with leftover stew, in sandwiches, by the spoonful. I gave some to my friend who brought me my new computer from Chicago. I gave some to my sister who brought me perfume from Paris. I would give it to everyone, if I could. (And in a way, I guess I am). The romesco sauce is garlicky and sweet, slightly smokey and rich with almonds, hazelnuts and fried bread. It is not an uncomplicated sauce to put together- the bread needs frying, and the pepper needs roasting- but it is so entirely and simply, good.

Romesco Sauce

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison

1 slice of white bread
olive oil
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts
3 cloves of garlic
1-2 teaspoons of chilli powder (to taste)
4 tomatoes
1 tablespoon parsley leaves removed from stems
1 teaspoon paprika
1 red pepper, roasted
1/4 red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt
pepper

1. Prep: fry the bread in a little bit of olive oil until golden and crisp. Try to refrain from eating it straight from the frying pan. Roast your nuts if they are not already roasted. Roast the pepper, too.

2. Put all the ingredients, save the vinegar and olive oil in a food processor. Blend. Slowly add the vinegar and then the oil until you receive a sooth, thick sauce. Taste for seasoning. Serve with everything. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for two weeks.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Waiting Stew

The first time I made this stew, I was delirious and still half in panic mode, having spent most of the previous night in the equivalent of the animal e.r. with my cat. But by the time I sat down to eat it with friends, about 20 hours later, the panic had subsided some- the outcome of some much-needed sleep and the realization that at that point there was nothing to do but wait and enjoy the company and comfort of my good friends. The second time I made the stew, I was anxiously waiting on word about my little nephew, born just a few days before, still unnamed, having breathing issues and in the hospital. By the time I sat down to eat it with friends, again, about 20 hours later, the little boy was out of the hospital though the breathing issue was not- and still is not- totally resolved, and there was nothing I could do, being so very far away, but sit and wait. Now, as I  am eating the leftovers of that same stew, I am waiting for the penicillin I have been taking for the last 30 or so hours to finally kick in at full force so that I can get rid of the pesky needle-stuck throat that comes with strep, and get on with my life.

This is the perfect stew for tenter-hooks, warm and comforting, but still bright even after 20 hours of slow cooking. The brightness comes from the copious 20 pods of cardamom that somehow retain their flavor after all that time. As Charlie Trotter points out in his cookbook, cardamom and ginger are related. The stew reflects that. I found the cookbook Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home in used bookstore, being sold for a whopping 10 shekel (about 3-4 dollars). I couldn't pass it up. Despite the fact that I grew up in Chicago, and still consider it my hometown, I have never eaten any of Trotter's food, but I know enough to know that he changed the Chicago culinary scene forever. I wanted to see what he would do with a home kitchen.It turns out that Charlie Trotter at home is well, still Charlie Trotter- by which I mean complicated. All of his recipes are compelling and accessible, no doubt, but they also inevitably involve numerous components and steps. For the sake of time, and due to the fact that I was desecrating the recipe and sticking in a crockpot to begin with, I streamlined this stew a bit. I think it turned out pretty gosh darn good. I hope Chef Trotter is not turning in his grave. I somehow think he is not.


Stew for eating with friends and for waiting.

Cardamom Beef Stew with Potatoes, Celery Root and Parsley Root

Adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home by Charlie Trotter

1 cup chopped celery
1 cup carrot, cut into chunks
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
20 cardamom pods, crushed and bundled together in some cheesecloth
1 pound stew meat, cubed
salt and pepper
1 head of garlic, unpeeled
6 cups stock (Trotter calls for beef, I used turkey stock because that is what I had in the house- you can use whatever you have on, even water would probably be fine)
2 cups potato, also diced large
1 cup celery root, diced large
1 cup parsley root (or even better, parsnip, if you can find it), diced large

1. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Toss in the beef, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and brown- about 3 minutes per side. Dump the meat into the crock you have set up and turned on high. Toss the vegetables (leaving aside the garlic) into the frying pan (without cleaning it out first), season with some salt and pepper and move them around a bit so they color and take on some of the good, beefy flavor. You may need to do this in batches. Place the vegetables in the crockpot with the meat. Pour in the stock. Add the cheesecloth and the garlic. Cover and let the stew come to a boil. Turn the crockpot down to low and cook for a good 20 hours until the meat is falling apart. Serve over a grain- pearl barley is particularly good here.

***An even more streamlined version- toss all the ingredients (leaving out the oil) into a crockpot. Cook on high until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to  low. Cook for 20 hours.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem (Winter Version)



It started with rain. No, let's go back some- it started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me to a screening of the BBC's "The Food of Jerusalem" with a panel at the end featuring, among others, Yotam Ottolenghi himself. Well. I spent about 45 minutes trying to decide to wear and then another 45 minutes trying to decide if I should bring my book(s)-guache? cliche? totally worth it? I didn't bring my books. I regret that. "The Food of Jerusalem" is a lovely little feature and in film and in person, Yotam Ottolenghi reveals himself to be intelligent, witty and warm. It was a great night. (Though at a certain point both my friend and I felt compelled to stand up for our Ashkenazi, Hungarian culinary roots-there was a distinct lack of Ashkenazi representation both in the film and the book- and we all know that cocosh is where it's at.)

In an extended scene in the film Yotam cooks a dish of wheat berries, Swiss chard and pomegranate molasses with a friend of his. Watching the scene, I realized that I recognized the recipe from his cookbook, Jerusalem, and it was one of the few recipes Naomi and I had not yet cooked (we've been doing this weekly for almost a year- we're running out of recipes). The time had come.

Then came the weather. In the past week Jerusalem has been hit with about 50 cm of snow. It snowed- on and off- for three days straight in a city that very rarely even gets one snowfall a year. To say that it brought the city to a standstill is an understatement. I lost electricity (and heat, since I heat my apt with electric radiators) for about 7 hours and I was one of the lucky ones- there were quite a few people who didn't have electricity for days. As of now, almost a week later, we are still dealing with burst pipes and leaks, icy sidewalks and downed trees. The snow was fun, the rest, not so much. But before the snow, there was rain. Cold, gross, blowing rain and it was in that element that I walked to Naomi's to cook. Never have I been so happy to cook a dish. The wheat berries were perfect for the cold, miserable night- warm and soft and comforting, but still bright and flavorful. I wish I could have carried that dish with me into the coming week- into the snowstorm. Sure, I ate pretty well during the course of the last week-brownies and pancakes and stew and acorn squash risotto-winter foods all- but nothing quite measured up to the Ottolenghi dish.

Wheat berries and Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses for a Jerusalem Winter that Exceeds Expectations

 Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 1/2 lb (600 g) Swiss chard or beet greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (more or less) pomegranate molasses
1 1/4 cups wheat berries
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
yogurt, to serve (optional)

1. Separate the chard leaves from their stalks. Chop the stalks into 1cm slices and the leaves into 2 cm slices.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan with a heavy bottom. Add the leeks, cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the chard stalks. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add the chard leaves and cook for yet another 3 minutes. Add the sugar, pomegranate molasses and wheat berries. Mix. Add the stock, slat and some pepper. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 60-70 minutes.

3. When the wheat is cooked through, but still al dente, uncover and raise the heat a bit. Boil off any remaining  liquid until the bottom of the pan is dry and the bottom layer of wheat is lovely and caramelized. This may seem like overkill, but really, it makes the dish.

4. Taste. The berries should be sweet and tart and very bright. Add some more pomegranate molasses if you feel it needs more flavor. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, if so desired.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Bowl of Comfort


I apologize for the long absence. It has been a long, hard month. As some of you may know from Facebook, my cat (the very same bread-thief) had been quite ill. Thankfully she's been getting better, and hopefully she will continue to improve, but it was touch and go there for a bit. Anyway, long and hard, as I said, and I'm only just now starting to feel like I'm getting back to myself. 
Sometime between when my cat got ill and now (read: this week) winter arrived. This November was one of the warmest Novembers I could remember and I think I was sort of in denial about the onset of winter. I kind of hate Jerusalem winters. Rather, I hate the lack of insulation and heating and being wet and cold in my bones. So the cold and rain kind of took me unawares and I seem to have picked up the bad cold that has been going around the office and all and all I'm pretty miserable at this very moment. All of this, is a slightly roundabout way of saying that the time for soup has arrived. Soup (and tea) are my default states during the winter and I'm always on the lookout for new delicious soups to make. Luckily, my sister-in-law did not let me down when she pointed me to Mark Bittman's Roasted Chestnut Soup. Roasted chestnuts always remind me of long winter Friday nights, the difficulty of the cracking open their hard shells, the warm low light inside and the bright snow outside. There's little to no bright snow where I live now, but in my mind that is always the association roasted chestnuts will hold for me.  

Roasted chestnut soup. For winter.


Roasted Chestnut Soup

Bittman suggests roasting your own chestnuts for this soup, but vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts are just so much easier. Use them. 

10-12 roasted chestnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 cups stock (chicken for a richer soup, vegetable for something lighter)
salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a stockpot, or other soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and then the celery with a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent- about 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and the stock. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer, partially uncovered for a half an hour, until the chestnuts are mushy. Use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add water, if too thick, otherwise re-heat, taste, adjust seasoning and serve. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Irresistible


It was about 4:30 in the morning when I heard a thump coming from the vicinity of the kitchen. I sat up cautiously. The thump was followed by rustling and what sounded like tin foil being scrunched up. At first I thought my roommate had gotten up and was eating a very out of character midnight snack, but the noise didn't exactly sound...human. So I got out of bed and quietly made my way to the kitchen. Indeed, the source of the noise was not at all human: There was my cat, sitting on the counter, happily chomping away on my loaf of freshly made bread.

Annie, my fat cat, has always been sort of weird. And by sort of, I mean, very.  She loves bread. I'm always having to move bread out of her reach (and obviously, I thought the kitchen counter was out of her reach. She's never jumped onto it before. I didn't even think she could jump that high.) My totally non-scientifically rigorous theory is that her love of bread stems from the first 9 months of her life when she lived on the street and was probably fed scraps of bread by many a well-meaning old lady. Anyway, the point is, Annie is currently being fed super-duper fancy no-filler, completely-protein cat food in an attempt to help her lose weight. So far, it's been working pretty well, but it has also made her more prone to begging for scraps and even, evidently, stealing my bread. I guess the temptation was too much. What can I say? It was damn good bread.

[And, as my fellow cat-owners/cat-lovers know, a cat on white bread is like a two year old on white sugar: consumption is followed by excessive running around the house and yowling and then a collapse into your bed for cuddles and poking just to make sure you are awake. I perhaps overly-identify with this poem]

But, back to the main point- the main point being bread. Now that I am working in an office once again, I am once again packing lunches and hence, once again, baking bread for sandwiches.  Usually, I just make my regular no-knead bread recipe, but I was getting bored. I mean, there's only so much plain, white bread I can take. It was time for something new. That something new was Maple Oat Breakfast Bread (though why you would only eat bread for breakfast is beyond me). Who could resist bread like that? Nobody, that's who. Not even the cat.

Editor's note: The cat-bread was thrown out and a new loaf was made and enjoyed post-haste.

Maple Oat Breakfast Bread

Adapted from fiveandspice on Food52.com

This bread is richer, and slightly more cakey in texture than plain, no-knead bread. Despite the maple, though, it is not especially sweet. I've been eating it with almond butter for my 10 a.m. snack, but it's also good with savory fillings. The original recipe uses the Lahey method for no-knead bread, which involves making a large boule-like loaf in a dutch-oven, preferably cast-iron. I do not have a suitable dutch-oven, and I would prefer a small sandwich loaf to a big, round one, so I cut the recipe in half and sort of muddled my way to sandwich loaf goodness (I also use this method when I make regular no-knead bread). The crust is probably less crusty this way, but it's still a pretty good loaf of bread. If you prefer the Lahey method, have at it.

2.5 cups white flour (bread flour is best)
3/5 cup rolled oats
1/6 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/8 cup room temperature water

1. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix until you have ballish lump of tacky dough. You may need to get your hands dirty. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise 8 hours or overnight.

2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead it a few times until it is less tacky and slightly smooth. Shape into a rectangle about the length of your loaf pan. Fold the rectangle into thirds, like you would a letter back when people actually sent letters, and place into a loaf pan that has been lined with baking paper. Cover and let rise for another hour or until doubled.

3. Place a baking sheet in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 F. When the loaf has finished rising, slash the top a couple of times with a serrated knife (or just do what I do and snip with kitchen shears). Bake for 30 minutes until it golden and slightly crustly delicious on top. Remove from loaf pan and cool on a wire rack. Keep away from pets.