Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Breads Bakery's Cheese & Olive Straws

It's that time of the year. Summer. Last year, today, we were in Israel, on an intoxicating sensory overload. It's that time of the year when you need to step away to get perspective. I read it somewhere. It's true. Whether you fly over oceans to exotic places or just get in the car, turn on the engine and drive.
That is exactly what I decided to do with the guys this coming July when my fantasies of the Greek Isles dissipated into thin air and transformed into daydreaming about lighthouses on the charming coast of Maine. An American road-trip. We don't do it enough or barely at all.
The single most profoundly powerful experience I had while traveling in the United States, and it might sound completely predictable and corny, was at The Grand Canyon. I was faulted in the past for being a doubter, but when I saw its enormity, its powerful stillness and shimmering beauty, I knew there was a higher cosmic power, beyond us mere humans.
Summer vacations are synonymous with Israel and visiting with family there. While summer brings mad craving of the flavors of Israel, this year I hope to add some other sensory stimulations and memories catalogued in my brain cells. Maybe, just maybe in the summer of 2014, I will reminisce and have burning yearnings for the flavors of Coastal Maine. Lobster shack images and freshly caught haddock...and if I still get longings for these cheesy, garlicky olive straws, rugalach and babka, I can get in the car, turn on the engine and take a road trip to New York City's Israeli Breads Bakery. Then again there is this tiny issue of inner city parking, speaking of perspective.
Breads Bakery's Cheese and Olive Straws
original recipe in Hebrew here
makes 16 straws

3 3/4 cups unbleached white flour (500gr)
3/4 cup rye flour (100gr)
1 2/3 cups water
1/2oz plus a little quick rise yeast (15gr), 2 1/4oz packets plus
1 tablespoon salt (15gr)
1 cup olives, pitted, halved and drained (1 packed cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons semolina/durum flour (40gr)
7oz mozzarella, gouda or cheddar, shredded (approx. 200gr)

For brushing:
1 egg, whisked

In a large bowl add the white flour, rye flour and salt. Set aside.

In an additional large bowl add the olives, garlic, semolina and cheese. Mix and set aside.

Add the yeast and water into a mixing bowl with a hook attachment and let sit for a few minutes.

Gradually add the dry ingredients flour mix into the yeast and water and knead on a low speed for approximately 5-7 minutes until the dough is elastic and soft.

Add the olive mix into the dough and continue kneading on low for another minute or so. It's ok if not all the olives and cheese are completely incorporated into the dough.

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball. Ideally, put it in a heat resistant glass or ceramic bowl, cover the bowl tightly with saran wrap and let rise in a warm place for approximately an hour or until the dough doubles itself.

Preheat oven to 428F. Line 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 16 equal parts (I weigh each one). Roll out each part to an approximately 10 inch straw (25cm, a little less than 10 inches).

Place straws on parchment paper lined cookie sheets and cover with clean kitchen towels and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes - 1 hour.

Gently brush the straws with the whisked egg and bake for approximately 15 minutes, until golden on top. Take out of the oven and cool on a wire.

Recommended to be served on the same day with an assortment of cheeses and along with a salad and dips. Pictured: Labneh, A Mediterranean yogurt cheese, with zaatar.

Cook's notes: Maybe these are not what traditionally we know as straws, but I saw somewhere that is what they called them. My favorite olives pictured above are Kalamata.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Healthy Oil/Butter-Free Whole Wheat Banana Oats Blueberry Muffins

This is an impromptu post. I was not planning on posting muffins but then I came across a recipe I liked.

I was drawn to this recipe for many reasons. I thought I had all the ingredients, but then I found out I didn't. I wished to bake a super healthy muffin for Father's Day for Jonathan. We want to keep him around for a long, long time. As frustrating as it was to bake oil/butter free muffins in the past, I can't believe my tenacity at keeping at it....with far too many breaks in between, as I surrendered for long periods of times, until I came across this one that looked like it had some promise. A promise mainly because I liked the photo. It was a muffin that didn't conform, a rebel of a muffin, the sort of spirit I like.
I jotted down the recipe and then my computer decided to die. When re-started, all the history disappeared and my efforts to find the site were futile. My handwriting is illegible and so along the way I knowingly and unknowingly altered the recipe.

I used whole wheat instead of whole wheat pastry flour that I might or might not have in my pantry. Pastry flour somehow didn't make it into my scribblings. I didn't have apple sauce. I was lucky that Jonathan was out and about taking in his dry cleaning and I could ask him to get some. I always use Sugar in the Raw when called for brown sugar, cause' I really, really dislike brown sugar, truly! Somehow my handwriting read 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda not 1 and the Himalayan pink salt is my go to now. How fancy of me, but seriously I ran out of regular salt and can't bring myself to go out and buy more sodium. My guys aren't big on salt though I am. I used less cinnamon. I always do. I do not like to overwhelm anything with it, just like with cardamon. I added vanilla to the batter, cause' I had to! It's a must! I only pre-heated oven to 380F. Lastly, most importantly, I found out that 1/4 cup of milk, or buttermilk as in the original recipe, is way too little. I had to use 3/4 cup milk to achieve a muffin-like batter consistency.
I used these cupcake sleeves or whatever you call them, cause' they are pretty, and I had them in the pantry forever, and never used them. Besides, I will never bake cupcakes, another pet peeve of mine. Please don't judge even as I pass judgement on poor little cupcakes. I must admit though that some of the cupcake frostings and decorations are mighty pretty. The batter divides beautifully into a dozen of those cupcake sleeves.

The muffins are faintly sweet, which is exactly the way like it, but if you got more of a sweet tooth, feel free to increase the Sugar in the Raw to a 3/4 of a cup. I also got a feeling the batter could easily take in another 1/4 of apple sauce but that is an experiment for the next time.

The end.

Whole Wheat Banana Oats Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Snacking Squirrel's Blueberry Banana Oat Muffins
makes a dozen

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (cause' I ran out of plain ole')
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup apple sauce
3/4 cup milk
3 medium/large ripe bananas, sliced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 380F.

Add all dry ingredients, flour, rolled oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, into a large bowl and mix.

Whisk the 2 eggs into a separate large bowl. Add the sliced bananas and mash. Add the apple sauce, milk and vanilla extract and mix well. The consistency should be somewhat smooth, lump free.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Do not over mix. Add the blueberries and fold in with the spatula 2-4 times.

Evenly distribute the batter with a tablespoon into the cupcake sleeves. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Ovens vary.

Other Muffin Recipes:
Chocolate Chip/Banana and Meyer Lemon/Blueberry Muffins
Orange Cranberries Rolled Oats Ricotta Muffins
Apple Rolled Oats Streusel Cider Muffins

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Diana's Kebabs

Being Israeli and Indian, my diet throughout my life was always packed with an abundance of vegetables. Every single meal, even if it was a carnivore's heaven, it was equally a vegetarian's paradise.  Salads and mezzes in every meal, even on the run.  So it's no big surprise when S left for college my diet became predominantly (90%) vegetarian, that is until S comes back home, on winter and summer breaks, and I become yet again, a meat eating, carnivore.
I found an effort-free way to sate S's colossal appetite for protein with a make ahead best BBQ sauce, slathered on lightly salted and peppered grilled meats. He is on an exercise and corresponding diet regimen that will shift through different stages. Beginning of this week we were craving the scents and flavors of Israel. Something nostalgic. Something on long, hefty metal skewers that conduct heat, long after they are taken out of the broiler or off the grill.
Images of effortless plenty you only see in food and travel magazines. Images of Diana Restaurant, Nazareth, Israel. I was so happy at the time when Sarah, of Food Bridge, guest posted here with images of Diana's cook chopping the meat by hand. Look at the gorgeous collage of photos in Nazareth, Holy Sites and Tasty Bites. You would also love reading the post and seeing a snapshot of the grilled kebab, as in this case, skewered on a makeshift cinnamon stick serving as a double or triple duty vessel.

Last summer, Jonathan, myself and two of my sisters lunched at Diana's. It was a detour to get there. The two twenty-something fellows, out for a smoke, on the hilly narrow cobbled road, were so used to tourists with a sense of being lost, that when we stopped, about to ask them for directions, they didn't even let us utter a syllable. They answered the stunted, unspoken inquiry for directions with "Straight. Straight", "yashar. yashar" in Hebrew, accompanied by directional hand gestures as if they were on a tarmac of a landing strip at the airport. Only difference, one fellow was sitting on the front stoop, the other leaning against the wall somewhat hunched, their gestures pointing up the hill were without much conviction, which left us further confused. Now that I think of it again, their gestures were almost in slow motion, as if we were a bunch of idiots. We probably did look quite dazed and gullible. When it dawned on us that this episode replays itself over and over again, with the same two guys or their neighbors and a lost car loaded with odd bundle of tourists, this time us, it was super hysterical.

At the time Diana shared their lamb kebabs recipe with me. It was mind boggling how delicious this straight forward recipe was. Key was the best locally sourced ingredients. The lamb was from a herd nearby. It super simple, minimally handled, flavorful. A perfect treat for that special dad, on this upcoming Father's Day weekend and the grilling season.

You can easily double the recipe. I usually use 1/2 lamb, 1/2 beef but I only defrosted the beef this time around. I omitted the pine nuts and nutmeg from the recipe due to allergies and still the kebabs came out super authentic, not only in flavor and aroma but also in juiciness and springy texture.

Diana's Kebabs
4 skewers

1 lb ground beef, lamb or a mix
1 large onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts (I didn't use due to allergies)

Baharat Spice Mix
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cardamon
1/16-1/8 teaspoon allspice (I used 1/8)
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (I didn't use due to allergies)

1 medium/large onion
1 large tomato

Finely chop the onion in a food processor. Add the meat, onion, parsley, salt and the Baharat spice mixture into a large bowl and mix well. You can mix/knead the mixture with your hands for a few minutes. Thread the meat and vegetables as seen in the photos and grill or broil for approximately 3-4 minutes on each side. Serve hot in a pita pocket with a tahini sauce. I served the kebabs this week over rice.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cardamon Cherry Ice Cream

I have been waiting in anticipation for cherry season, ever since I baked this Rolled Oats, Cardamon and Cherries Upside Down Cake back in July 2011. I could not shake how brilliant the trifecta flavor combination was. Long story short, after an exasperating brainstorming session, I decided to forgo the oats, and annul this oat-cherry-cardamon love triangle and stay with the happy cardamon-cherry coupling. It's clean. It's bright. It's deliciously refreshing.
I really wanted to give you the 411 on cherries but instead I wish to share with you some odds and ends. Items that made me smile this week & interesting, mostly food bits, I came across.

The hilarity of The Last Jewish Waiter  made me smile one morning when I needed it most. I also love his posts that do not necessarily correspond to the videos. If you've been to Katz's in NYC, you would totally get it. If you haven't, I hope this will make you crack a smile. Katz's, still the best pastrami on rye out there.

Smart answers in this interview Robert Sietsema's New York Taste Buds. Robert Sietsema is by far one of the most credible food critics out there. His sudden departure from The Village Voice took the food world by surprise. Although he is NYC-centric, I enjoyed his California and DC food roundups too.

If you are interested in Indian cooking I love Manjula's Kitchen's videos. She is vegetarian. Manjula is not about glitz and glamour, though she does have a new hair do. Equally beautiful, her cooking is authentic and simple to follow.

Cardamon Cherry Ice Cream

2 cups cherries, pitted and halved
4 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups 5% milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4-1/3 ground cardamon
5 egg yolks
1 Madagascar vanilla bean
1 1/2 whipping cream

In a medium bowl with a lid add the cherries and 4 tablespoons of sugar. Mix and keep refrigerated overnight.

Whisk the yolks lightly in a medium heat resistant bowl.

Keep the ice cream containers and lids in the freezer.

In a non reactive medium sauce pan with a heavy bottom add the milk, sugar and cardamon. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds from the inside. Add the scraped seeds and bean to the milk. Turn the heat to low medium heat and mix with a spatula once or twice to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

Once bubbles start appearing around the edge of the pot, add 1/2 cup of the warm milk into the egg yolks in 2-3 increments while constantly whisking the egg yolks. This process is called tempering. Add the tempered egg yolks into the sauce pan while constantly whisking for up to 10 minutes. The milk/yolk mixture will turn into a light thin custard. Remove from the heat and pour the custard base into a heat resistant bowl with a lid. Let completely cool and refrigerate overnight.

Whip the whipping cream in a mixer on medium/high speed until stiff. Strain the custard base through a sieve into the whipping cream and mix well with a rubber spatula. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Once it reaches a soft serve consistency, strain the cherries and add them to the ice cream maker. Churn for a few seconds longer until the cherries are evenly incorporated. Scoop into the pre-chilled containers. Cover with a lid and keep in the freezer, ideally overnight, before serving.

If you do not own an ice cream maker, look at the tips in this Salted Caramel Ice Cream post for an alternative ice cream making method.

Cook's notes:
1. Save the egg whites for meringue cookies or macarons.
2. Save the macerated cherry juice/liquid. It's delicious. Use it to moisten cakes or infuse custards.
3. More often than not I skip or forget to pre-chill the ice cream containers and lids in the freezer, but when I do remember, I get an unexplained enormous sense of satisfaction. I even chilled the rubber spatula I used to scoop the churned ice cream from the ice cream maker into the chilled containers. No guarantees I will be as good next time, but it's a good tip regardless.

More tips in the three part ice cream series:
Strawberry Swirl Vanilla Ice Cream
Dairy-Free Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream

Related frozen desserts links:
Capitolina's Indian Kulfi Ice Cream
Frozen Strawberry Yogurt
Rum Raisin Ice Cream
Persimmon, Kaffir Lime, Lemongrass and Purple Basil Sorbet
Madagascar Vanilla Bean Banana Ice Cream
Coffee Ice Cream
Lemondrop Melon Limonana Sorbet
Fig Gelato - Two Ways
Mango Sorbet
Pineapple Sorbet

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lean Summer Corn 'Chowdah'

I fess up that I Tex-Mex'd this New England favorite with jalapeño and Mediterranean'zd it with olive oil. Then I went and made it milk and cream free, skinny. The sheer irreverence. I should have just called it Summer Corn Soup but I find corn and New England clam chowder, exotic.

Speaking of skinny, I have started again going to the gym regularly. I am back, though a long way from whipping myself back into the shape I was in a couple of years ago. I even started to Zumba for the first time, though I probably look completely ludicrous doing it. You have to see the instructors quivering, muscles that I didn't even know existed, as if we were at a Mardi Gras parade in NOLA or at Carnival on streets of Rio.
Skinny isn't really the goal as much as feeling healthy. The endorphins are pumping. I feel happy. I do eat in moderation but I haven't given up My Lunches with Jeanne and my mini DC food crawls. 

Odds and ends:

Back in April this year the Washington Post Cookbook was published and one of my recipes, Quince Honey Challah Knots, made it through to the pages. A different photograph I took of the challah knots was also published along with the recipe. 

Thank you, my friends on Twitter and Facebook, who came to my rescue, explaining chowder. I served this soup along with Tex-Mex chicken fajitas with whole wheat tortillas, home-made salsa, this time I didn't roast the vegetables, and guacamole. The contrast of the super sweet, in season, corn and the kick from the jalapeños, in the chowder, was distinct, opposite yet harmonious. 

Corn Chowder

5 corn on the cobs
1 medium/large onion, diced
4 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
1-2 jalapeños 
1/2-1 red bell pepper

Remove the corn kernels from the cob with a knife as shown in this NYT video. I slice the kernels off the cob as shown in the first technique. Do not pre-cook the corn. 

Core and seed the bell pepper and stem the jalapeños. Grill or broil the peppers until charred on top and flip with a stainless steel spatula and continue charring on the other side. Take the bell peppers out and let cool. Dice with charred skin on.

In a large pot over medium heat sauté the onion in the oil until it turns soft and translucent. Add the corn and potatoes and continue sautéing for a few minutes longer. Add the chicken stock jalapeños and bell peppers and cook until the potatoes are fork tender and fall apart. 

Mash the chowder slightly with a potato masher to thicken the soup. Some of the potatoes will mash. Serve hot. Keeps well refrigerated and gets thicker the next day.

Cook's note:

1. This soup didn't need any additional salt. The chicken stalk had salt in it. Just as a general rule, when it comes to corn, I find that, because of the sweetness, it does not require any, or much added salt.

2. I used only 1/2 of a bell pepper. The other 1/2 I used as a layer in a sandwich. You absolutely can use the entire bell pepper in this chowder, if you wish.