Hybrid Haroset on the fly

I always had a challenge with Haroset. Again, the issue of nuts. This year altogether haven't bought the token small bottle of Manischewitz, to have around just in case, and mostly for sweetening the Haroset. Honestly, the Seder plate, completely escaped my mind, so I had to make a Haroset on the fly. I must say, I should cook more often on the fly, as this Haroset came out probably one of handful extremely successful Harosets, whether made by me or others. I incorporated Ashkenzi and Sepharadic elements and VOILA!! A perfect hybrid was created. Before I continue, I want to touch base about traditions of different cultures in the Jewish faith. I am just scraping the subject on the surface (is there such a saying or is it just me?!). At my mom's Seder right now. the meal is made of Indian food, Biryani and all. Keep in mind Ashkenazi, Sepharadic have different ideas of what's kosher for Passover and what's not. In the Indian Jewish community, rice, legumes and seeds, are considered kosher for Passover. I did not really measure all the ingredients in this recipe. Put in blender and adjust as you go. This version can also be made as a relish or condiment for liver, pate or chopped liver. Great complement! Do not restrict making it only as a Haroset for Passover.

1 apples, peeled and cored, cut into few pieces
14 small dried apricots
2 handfuls of roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1 handful of golden raisins
2 handfuls of dried currants
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
Can also use: (I used the above what I had in the pantry)
Few dried dates
Few dried figs
I used seeds due to guests allergies to peanuts and tree nuts

Put in a blender and whizz until desired consistency is reached. Adjust sweetness level with honey.

Note:  In first picture you see the Haroset (blonde relish) served with Horseradish (red relish) on Matza, balanced universe with a bite of horseradish and honey sweet Haroset. Pair chicken liver, sauted with carmelized onions, salt, lots of fresh black pepper and a touch of cumin, with Haroset, YUM!

Worlds collide - Costco Salts meet FreshFarm Sweet Potatoes

This post is one of series of posts I meant to write but fell behind. Every month I got a fabulous Costco find I would like to share with you. By a find I mean a cutting edge, organic product found at Costco. Surprising, yes! but a welcome trend. The trio of salts were at about $20 naturally harvested in Cyprus, The Himalayan and the coastal areas of France. The colors of the salts, pink in Himalayan, grey in the French are determined by different minerals found in that certain areas.  the consistency of the crystals is different from salt to salt some more coarse than others, some flaky and some fine grain.  They are used mostly as gourmet salts,, after cooking is done to enhance the flavors of the dish and give it some texture and color. The intensity of saltiness varies, you will get to know your salts and pair them well once you are familiar with them.This time I paired the Cyprus Flake salt with sweet potatoes. Uncharachteristic to my usual self, I like to peel and cut the sweet potatoes in odd shaped chunky fries. I line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, add a bit of canola or olive oil to the sweet potatoes and roast at 450F until golden. Turn the sweet potato oven fries over to golden on flipped side. It gets crunchy edges outside and creamy and soft inside. Once sweet potatoes are done, I add a touch of maple syrup and roast for few minutes longer, it will carmelize a bit. Plate and sprinkle sparingly with Cyprus Flake salt. Another option is to cut sweet potato fries as instructed above. Squeeze some fresh lime juice on it, add some canola or olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon or more of paprika. Mix and put at 450F oven. Once oven fries are cooked add maple syrup and Cyprus Flake salt as mentioned above. You can also use sea salt or any artisan salts you've got in your pantry.
Costco finds: Gourmet salts

Of Lamb and Fat - A Whole Foods Saga

I haven't clued you in with my ongoing Whole Foods lamb and fat saga. Got great relationship with the guy, if I had to guess a Caribbean, at the fish counter, even kid him when I zoom by, to 'pick up the pace', when he is short handed and number of customers are in line. On another day, he kids me back when I am in line, looks at me intently and calls 'next' as he moves on to another customer. The meat department is another story altogether. Although extremely accommodating I frustrate the hell out of them. Really had to use 'hell' 'cause' I am sure that's what they sense as I approach, as if I were the eleventh plague. It ain't my fault really, it's the recipe's. I follow this great Israeli chef, Aharoni, luckily broadcasted on the internet, when he hosts another guest chef to cook with him on Mondays. This particular guest chef was an extremely serious fellow with his craft. The instructions were to buy a deboned whole lamb shoulder, off the bat a special order. Heard of a whole leg of lamb but shoulder?! Ok, that was not the least of my problems, the technique called to cover the 'slab' with a plate of fat from top of a rack of lamb chops. There was a lot of explaining, a lot of back and forth, even at some point something to the affect of, what I understood to be, faulting me for throwing away perfectly beautiful lamb, 'cause' I haven't shown up in time for pick up. They did not have spare lamb fat, brought me some brisket fat that looked like something out of Jamie Oliver's Food revolution, which we watched premiere the night before. I wanted to understand where were both shoulder chops in the deboned whole lamb were located. Education aside, just could not risk having only one chop represented, could I?!.....at which point Jonathan just could not handle it anymore and left. For reasons, not obvious to me, he was siding with the guys at the meat counter, the butcher. I ended up walking out with two shoulder roasts and two racks of lamb I bought only for their fat, and what a beautiful fat may I add (see pics). Had to give up delicious Cara Cara oranges at $1/a piece, come to think of it they are very expensive on any given day. The whole exchange was brought by this unique technique of rubbing the whole shoulder with a garlic and covering it with the plate of rack of lamb chops fat.  Roast on low heat for three hours until fork tender. The idea behind the technique is that the fat and low heat are to keep the tender pinkish color of the lamb in tact while having a luxuriously delicate 'fall of the bone' lamb morsel for any palate.

Lamb Shoulder Roast
1 deboned lamb shoulder roast, tied with twine (approx 3 1/2 lbs)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
Fresh white pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1-2 bunch fresh thyme for cooking as serving

In a food processor put 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, garlic, olive oil, salt and white pepper and pulse until emulsifies. Cut slits on top on lamb shoulder as pockets for the emulsified rub.  Salt and white pepper roast. With a small teaspoon scoop some of the rub from food processor and insert into slits.  Rub into all crevices of the shoulder and all around.  I arranged one bunch of fresh thyme leaves at the bottom of my Le Creuset, but can use any pot with a lid that can go into the oven, put the lamb roast on top of bed of fresh thyme and covered with a 'plate' of chops fat.  Secure the fat on top of the roast with toothpicks, otherwise it will slide right off while roasting.  Cover Le Creuset with a lid and put in a pre heated 302F over for three hours. 302F exact conversion of 150C.  Let sit for 20 minutes and snip twine off.  All the fat from roast will be melted at bottom of the pot. Serve on a bed of fresh thyme leaves on a platter with roasted potatoes around the roast.  The roast is so tender it falls apart when trying to slice it.  I like to think of it as delicate morsels. A very luxurious Holiday dish.

Flourless Fudgy Chocolate Coconut Cookies

Inspired by a Food and Wine for Passover fudgy chocolate walnut cookies that popped on my Facebook or was Twitter?!  Problem is almost every single Passover dessert uses nuts, ground nuts, nuts in million forms as binder for flourless cookies and cakes, much like the French Macarons.  Not to mention nuts add depth of flavor.  I substituted coconut for the nuts. The guys just stepped in from a soccer game as the first batch was warm coming of the oven, I am afraid I won't have any left for the guests tomorrow.  So simple make this version any time of the year for any occasion, just had a bite. Sooooo fudgy, gooey, chocolately delicious! That is coming from a girl that has more of a liking to savory than sweet. This particular cookie is best served warm, coming out of the oven or within 24 hours. Great gluten, tree nut, peanut and milk free cookie. Also if you skip greasing the parchment completely (see original recipe), not counting natural oils in coconut, we got shortening, oil free cookie.

Fudgy Chocolate Coconut Flourless Cookies
about 2 dozen cookies
3 cups confectioners sugar
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder
6 egg whites, at room temperature (I am saving the yolks for another dessert I will attempt later today)
1 Tablespoon vanilla (Seem excessive but works in this recipe)
Pinch of salt
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Add all dry ingredients and sift together.  In a separate bowl beat egg whites a bit, you do not wish it the egg whites to pick and firm.  Add vanilla to beaten egg whites and mix.  Add dry ingredients to egg white mixture and mix, don't overwork batter.  Scoop batter onto slightly greased parchment paper and bake for twenty minutes in a 350F oven. Honestly exteremy delicious warm as Jonathan and Sagie will attest to. Best served out of th eoven or the same day.

Note: If you get the egg whites to a pick point accidently, it is fine! Do not despair! When scooping the batter into parchment lined cookie sheet, flatten the cookie batter scoops a bit with a spatula to a round, desired thickness, cookie shape. Do it anyways with this batter since I replaced coconut for the chunks of nuts.

Truly a HAPPY day today!

Greek Salad

I was literally starved today when by five o'clock I haven't had lunch yet. I had to have some food to shake off this fuzzy, I am going to faint feeling that came over me.  I tossed quickly this Greek salad I now know by heart, originally from an Israeli cookbook titled 'Balkan Cooking', by Beni Sayda.  Many recipes in this book feel more like Winter comfort foods, but the Greek salad is a classic year round type of a dish. I adjusted the quantities of most of the ingredients. This portion would be one serving. I was hungry!

Greek Salad
1 baby cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1/2 green pepper (I used a red bell pepper), sliced
4-6 pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 red onion, sliced
Up to 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon parsley
Feta cheese
Olive oil
Fresh black pepper

For cutting vegetables see pics.  Wash and cut vegetables. Add thyme, parsley and Kalamata olive.  Dot salad with cubed feta according to taste.  Sprinkle olive oil, squeeze a touch of lemon, salt and fresh black pepper.  So simple so good!  Enjoy!!

Use a splash of red wine vinegar instead of lemon.  Ratio of olive oil to red wine vinegar should be 3:1.  Substitute oregano for the thyme.

Tangelo slice and a Mimosa to go with it

Initially I made this as a garnish for the post below, Coconut Panna Cotta with Minneola Tangelo Coulis, but one thing led to another, and I found multiple uses for these beautifully oven dried Tangelo slices, so figured a Mimosa to go with it. I am reluctant to admit it but it's true...I am not very sophisticated when it comes to cocktails, wines and ales. Some drinks I am allergic to including red wine, most make me numb and sleepy.  But then some like beer, champagne and margaritas I do like, make my lively personality, to put it mildly, even livelier.  Only few sips will do the trick, am not a great drinking buddy, I fault my Indian genetics. My first and probably last hangover was when I was thirty in Israel.  Jonathan had a project there with an American company, most 'kids' on the project were Europeans and Americans in their 20's, single, dating or newly married.  We were the only ones with a five year old.  Our energetic son would play soccer (football) on the beach with the Europeans and play Football with the Americans.  This young, hip, beautiful and professional crowd partied and we partied with them.  One of the parties was at a club right on the Mediterranean, an open bar, jello shots and all.  Had no clue what jello shots were, and they slid really easily.  My first hangover and my last:).
Let me back up a little, come to think of it, I will be helping out a friend, who is marrying off her daughter soon, with a brunch at her home for out of town guests.  What a perfect cocktail and presentation this would be for that occasion as well as your Holiday brunch. I got these California Minneola Tangelos at Whole Foods for $2.99/3lbs. They were firm and fresh with an explosion of flavor. Tangelos are a hybrid of a grapefruit and a tangerine, it's quite fascinating reading about it even superficially on Wikipedia. I make it an habit to find fresh, often local produce and then figure out where I take it in the kitchen.  The recipe is really simple, set the oven timer as a reminder when the drying is done couple of hours later. Sources are from all over and with my little adjustments and experimentation. Made couple of batches of tangelo slices while playing with different heat levels, amount of sugars and type of sugars. I also played a bit with the cocktails 'cause' Minneola Tangelo has a high acidity level as opposed to an orange, and therefore adding lemon juice might not be necessary altogether.  I reduced the levels of lemon juice.

Minneola Tangelo Slices:
3-4 Minneola tangelos
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
(syrup is enough for 4 tangelos)

Slice tangelos into really thin slices, minimum 1/16 inch slices on a mandolin, or as in my case, I used a steak knife. Layer and set aside in a large rectangular deep pan.  In a sauce pan bring sugar and water to a boil, turn down heat immediately after boiling point is reached and mix to dissolve sugar.  It's a quick process, maybe 2 minute long.  Let cool.  Once cool, pour syrup over the tangelo slices, cover and let immerse for couple of hours. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, Line slices on parchemnt and bake at 350F for first 5 minutes then reduce to 225F for two additional hours.  Set the oven timer.
Note: Oven heat varies, mine was high, so I reduced heat to 200F for the last 1/2 an hour.  You do not want the crisps to carmelize or burn.

Minneola Tangelo Mimosas:
7 tablespoons Minneola Tangelo juice, Freshly squeezed
1 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Chilled Champagne
Fresh mint leaf

In a champagne glass add Tangelo juice, lemon juice and Grand Marnier.  Fill the rest of the flute with Champagne, mix, and garnish with mint leaf and Tangelo slice and serve. Enjoy!
For those of you drink mixers, I've tried:),

Coconut Panna Cotta and Minneola Tangelo Gelee

One of the inspirations for this dessert is our, one and only, visit to Zengo few years ago. It was my birthday, all dressed up, we were looking forward to this Latin-Asian fusion experience. Even though I made reservation well in advance we waited an hour until seated. Since this post is not a restaurant review I won't go into the attitude the hostesses displayed. The atmosphere was hip, young and crowded at the first floor bar. We were seated upstairs, by the stairs, although had great view of the kitchen and a panoramic view of this beautiful space, felt a bit exposed. The food was good but the dessert was what stood out. Throughout the evening waiters were passing by with this delicate pale 'jiggly', almost surreal and haunting white moving through space. It was bewitching. Couldn't wait to share it with Jonathan. It was a sublime sophistication. A combination of coconut and white chocolate panna cotta. Growing up we made gelee terrine at home. When I saw these beautiful knobby, California Minneola Tangelos at Whole Foods at $2.99/3lbs, I had to have them, a plan was emerging in my mind. Passover is around the corner and I try to give tradition a twist. Decided on coconut panna cotta taking coconut from the traditional Passover coconut macaroon and my Indian everything coconut heritage, and pair it with Tangelo gelee reminiscent of my childhood and the bygone Israeli Jaffa citrus and orchards. It's an elegant dessert for any holiday or a romantic dinner. I try to have Passover kosher style, so I used vegetarian kosher gelatin.

Coconut Panna Cotta
about 8 servings
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups milk 
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

Fresh coconut shavings (optional - shave with a potato peeler)

Make a hole in the coconut and drain the milk. Strain coconut milk. Crack the coconut and take coconut out of the shell. Can use a screwdriver. Add fresh coconut milk, milk, whipping cream, sugar and coconut flakes into a sauce pan.  In a small bowl add gelatin and six teaspoons of cold water and let dissolve.  Once coconut mixture comes to a boil, turn down heat to low, mix until sugar dissolves, add gelatin mixture and mix until it dissolves.  Take off the heat, let cool for a little strain and pour 3/4 up into eight molds or ramekins. Do strain mixure prior to pouring into molds or ramekins to get a smooth silky consistency. Let cool completely outside, wrap with plastic wrap and keep in refrigerator for at least 3 hours (can keep for few hours longer) until custard settles and gels.

Minneola Tangelo Gelee
2 cup plus *couple tablespoons fresh Minneola Tangelo juice (from approx 8 tangelos)
6-8 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

*Note, extra couple of tablespoons of juice is to compensate for evaporation.
In a small bowl add 4 teaspoons cold water to gelatin and let dissolve. Strain juice through a sieve.  Add strained juice and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil Turn down heat, add gelatin to juice mixture, simmer and mix until dissolves.  Take off heat and strain mixture.  Let cool a bit and fairly quickly fill up chilled panna cotta molds and ramekins almost to the lip of molds and ramekins. Let cool outside, wrap with plastic wrap and store in fridge overnight.

Prior to serving:
Serving Immediately:
1. If at this stage you are ready to serve, immerse molds and ramekins in a warm (from faucet) water bath in deep rectangular baking dish, it will loosen up the custard in moments. Don't over immerse it will turn the custard into liquid. Put a dessert plate on top of mold or ramekin and flip, dessert should slide easily into plate. Garnish with fresh coconut shavings and Minneola tangelo slices on the side.

Serving later:
2. If you made this dessert few days in advance.  At this stage, move to freezer section.  A day prior to serving move back to refrigerator to thaw.  Just before serving immerse in a warm (from faucet) water bath, in deep rectangular baking dish, it will loosen up the custard in moments. Don't over immerse it will turn to liquid  form again, Put a dessert plate on top of mold or ramekin and flip, dessert should slide easily into plate.  Garnish with fresh coconut shavings and Minneola tangelo slices on the side.

Note ot Gelatin:
Gelatin varies from one type to another There is fish, vegetarian, and other animal gelatins.  I found that certain gelatins gel firmer than others. 

Note on equipment:
I used classic ramekins, but also these molds I got years ago at one of those Tapperware, Pampered Chef's parties.  Never used them in the past, thought that the crevices and angles will make it harder to invert out of molds, but because they were plastic and somewhat flexible, and had lids at bottom and top, I did not have to immerse them in a warm bath, and just pushed them out from the bottom.  It slid right out. Use any molds, ramekins you have at home, improvise, you can also use espresso cups.  You can serve the panna cotta in the ramekins and save yourself some time.

Recipe developed by Foodwanderings.

FRESHFARM Dupont Circle, it's Spring!!

Beautiful day at FRESHFARM Dupont today, everyone is out with their cycling, running and Spring gear.  Got a late start to my dash into the farmers market. On the way in caught glimpses of young families, strollers and all, having their improvised picnic lunch, at the little patch of grass with their findings at the market.  I even met a beagle pup mutt called Bella. Got a soft spot for beagles!! See pic of our Wizzy-Wizard lusting after the multi grain multi seed bread. First stop was Atwater's, started at the market clockwise today, usually I go counter clockwise!! The line as I suspected was long, about twelve or more people ahead of me.  Happily I snagged one of, what looked like, remaining multi grain and multi seed bread and a half loaf of Kalamata.  Half loaf, can you believe it?! Love that!! Next week I will try half of Struan, that came highly recommended by a nice couple behind me.  They said last week they waited in line only to find that it was sold out.  It's their favorite!! Seems like loaded up on carbs this trip to the market, wholesome wholegrain and organic carbs!! Then stopped by the mushroom lady.  The Palestinian lady from Accra was not there today but the other one was, talking to a customer about her much anticipated trip to Egypt next week.  Got some Portabellas and baby button mushrooms.  I guess portabella steak sandwiches for lunch today are in order.  Portabellas seared on high heat or grilled with a touch of olive oil and salt.  I will probably make some nut free basil pesto to go with it. Got some organic arugula, mache and sweet potatoes, at Next Step, as we are heading out.  I really desired coffee with hearts in it (wouldn't know I have a 17 year old) and suggested we head to Chinatown Coffee Co., but Jonathan was neither eager for hearts in his coffee, nor giving up just yet, his perfect parking spot right in front of 2000 Massachusetts Ave.  It was gorgeous outside. We ended up at Le Pain Quotidien, just around the corner, for coffee. I walked out with organic olive oil and couple of jams, one of which is my favorite, (organic) apricot jam.

Recipe ideas: Olive bread, pesto (homemade or store bought) and seared or grilled portabella. A little mache/arugula salad on the side, with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. You can always use the Moroccan roasted bell peppers and eggplant salad instead of the pesto from an Italian twist to a Moroccan one!
For those of you who do not consume carbs: Slice portabella steak into thick slices and follow this recipe for Sagie's favorite mushrooms.  Substitute the button mushrooms with the portabellas.  Fan out portabella slices on a plate and serve along arugula/mache salad from above or this arugula salad with seasonal fruit/veggies on top.
For a complete nutritional value add the protein, and fiber might I add, in the form of yellow split pea soup you can dress up or down for every occasion.

Matzo Ball Soup

Chicken soup, there are my pre USA days and post USA days chicken soup chronicles. In my pre USA days I never cooked or seasoned with thyme. When I arrived in the US I associated thyme with Thanksgiving, turkey and all the sweet trimmings. Fresh thyme, from a thanksgiving association, it became an every day staple in my kitchen and in my chicken soup. The other ingredient that in fact Israelis love in any shape and form is leek. I sometimes add it to my chicken soup, but only to my chicken soup. I have mixed feelings about leeks, ok at the risk of offending leek aficionados, I really do not like leeks!! Don't ask me why!! I do bring myself to add it to my chicken soup, it will add a dimension even if you are not a leek person. Feel free to leave comments in defense of leeks, never know you guys might convert me?! The rest of the soup is pretty straight forward chicken soup. I do use Manischewitz matzo ball mix, our guests always think I made the matzo balls from scratch. Honestly, there is not much to making it from scratch, it's just taking the plain matzo meal as opposed to already flavored Manischewitz and adding, salt, etc. Sometimes adding baking soda to make them fluffier, but the rest of the steps are exactly the same for both. The Manischewitz really complements the chicken soup I make, it works!! I don't pack the matzo balls tight when I form them as they cook they turn light and fluffy!! I did want to discuss here kosher chickens or brined chickens but then I got into ranting (you had to see the original draft) about thyme, thanksgiving and leeks. I normally cook with organic chickens, but for this soup I use kosher chickens for it cuts back on my time brining. The soup tastes great with organic chickens but even better with kosher. I know there are kosher organic chickens out there, I have not seen them readily available. Can't fathom the cost of double certification, organic and kosher....but that is a different subject altogether! I make this soup for Passover but at times when it's a particularly wintery day, or when someone is under the weather it's nourishing and comforting. On those days when it's not Passover, serve soup with veggies and chicken and add some mini pasta, which I cook al dente separately and add to soup. Keep in mind regular pasta is not kosher for Passover!!

Chicken Soup
4lbs plus chicken drumsticks and wings (skinned)
you can also add instead or in addition chicken necks and bones
3-4  carrots, peeled and cuts in chunks
3-4 ribs celery and leaves, chopped roughly
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
2 leeks, white parts only (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves
Bunch of parsley
Few springs of thyme
2 bay leaves (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Add chicken and the rest of the ingredients to a stock pot and cover with water about 2-3 inches above.  Bring to a boil and reduce to medium/low and cook for 1 1/2 -2 hours or until color of soup is deep golden. The liquid will reduce considerably. Skim the top as you go along. Strain through a sieve for a beautifully clear rich golden chicken broth.

Matzo Ball Mix
(makes about 10-12 matzo balls)
Manischewitz matzo ball mix and according to instruction on box add:
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola
Chicken soup broth from above
Beat eggs lightly with a fork.  Add canola oil and mix quickly.  Add one packet of matzo ball mixture and stir with a fork. Cover and let sit if the fridge for 20 min. (says 15 min on box, but I always let it sit in refrigerator longer, you can step out of the house run errands and come back couple of hours later, that is fine too).  Bring the chicken broth to a boil and turn down to medium low simmer.  Wet hands with cold water and form small round matzo balls lightly packed, but nicely roundly shaped.  Drop formed matzo balls into soup.  Let fluff and cook, then with the back of a tablespoon tap the top of each matzo ball, and they will flip to the other side (nice little trick and it does not bruise the consistency of the round shaped matzo balls by using the smooth back side of the tablespoon).  Let cook for a bit longer.  You will see the matzo balls are light and airy.  Turn off heat and let matzo balls sit in hot broth for a little while, relax and expand some more. Prior to serving heat up soup and serve.  Soup and matzo balls can be made a day ahead.