Thursday, December 30, 2010

Easy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

DISCLAIMER: Maybe I had a really good squash. I can't promise your soup will be as amazing as mine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fenugreek & French Toast

I first learned about fenugreek (chilba/hilba in Hebrew) when someone suggested my mother try it to relieve acid reflux. She bought the raw spice, but never really knew how to use it.

The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians used fenugreek for both medicinal and culinary purposes. If you are interested in fenugreek for purely medicinal purposes, you can purchase it in pill form in most health food stores.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pizza Night: Guest Post from my Mom & Dad

My mom, "Bubbe", is an artist and graphic designer; and she has a very special way of staying connected to my kids.  Several times a week she uses her computer to sketch something interesting going on in her life.  On the "Drawing of the Day" there is a note about the drawing, and often a question that causes the kids to write back or answer on the phone.  Below are yesterday's drawings.  At the bottom you will find my dad's recipe for the pizza dough, followed by my own toppings suggestions.  Happy Anniversary Lala & Zeide!


Dear Adele, Mordechai, and Talia,

Tonight we celebrated Lala and Zeide's wedding anniversary.  Grandpa and I invited them over for dinner.  Grandpa made pizza; four pizza pies to be exact.  This is the story about how grandpa made the pizzas.

First Grandpa got out the electric mixer.  He put flour, water, oil, sugar, yeast, and an egg into the mixer the blend them all together to make the dough.


 Then Grandpa decided that both he and the dough needed a rest.  Grandpa divided the dough into four pieces.  He rolled them into balls, placed them on a pan and let them rest in the refrigerator for several hours.  Grandpa rested in a chair in the living room.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Odds & Ends Afterlife: Five Bean Soup

Last week I made a hearty. delicious soup while shooting the most boring 15 minutes of video footage known to man.  I kept the soup and scrapped 13.5 minutes of video.  I added salt to the remaining 2.5 minutes, and here it is:


video url: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f94nRxNeU_0

Soup is a great way to use up little bits of grains or legumes that aren't enough for a full serving.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Stick or Not to Stick: Alternatives to Teflon

Yesterday my father sent me a link to a N.Y. Times article: How Not to Wreck a Nonstick Pan.  Excellent advice if you are using non-stick, but it touches on the dilemma of whether or not we should use non-stick cookware like Teflon.  The column by the same author, Teflon Is Great for Politicians, but Is It Safe for Regular People?  discusses the risks.

Non-stick coatings definitely release toxic chemicals when heated to high temperatures; that is undisputed.  These fumes are especially harmful to organisms with delicate respiratory systems, like birds.  Whether these pans leach harmful compounds into our foods during normal use is inconclusive.  In addition, if you really do use less oil with non-stick cookware, it is difficult to weigh the benefits of less fat against the possible effects of Teflon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fish Video: Dress, Bake, Eat

Amnon from the local outdoor market - shuk

soup nuts - shkedei marak
Last week I cooked some repeats (including Onion Challah, this time rolls with poppy seeds), and focused on some necessary family paper work while I let my husband handle the "cooking".  Besides baking frozen shnitzel (breaded chicken paddies) and serving pasta with ketchup, he managed to whip up a tasty simple vegetable soup. He simmered carrot, onion and celery with garlic powder and salt in plain water.  A good start and very welcome on a cold day.  Especially with the Israeli staple, "soup nuts".

I've also been playing with Windows Live Movie Maker, which I downloaded on my gorgeous new hand-me-down laptop.  Thanks dad!!  Below is a remix of my fish videos beginning with how to make a homemade mayonnaise-type sauce for fish. 






Below is the video of the lemon cutting method I mention in the video, followed by a pictures of the shuk at night, as promised.













Let me know what you think of my editing skills (or lack there of)!  I hope to have some new dishes and ideas up before you can say "Polly Locket picked a box of pickled olives."


Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Olive Adventure Part 2: Pit and Soak

Part 1 challenged you to find olives.  The first step toward making your fresh olives into tasty, edible olives is to remove the oleuropein, an extremely bitter compound.  It's a miracle anyone figured out that olives are edible.  I challenged my poor, innocent, son to try one of the raw olives, and he swore he would never eat my olives and there was nothing I could do to make them tasty (see video below).  We'll just see about that!


My friends' mom says that the minimum time it takes to get tasty olives is about four years.  I've come across a few options for speeding up the process.  You can crack olives with a mallet or stone, like Sarah of FoodBridge or slit them open with a knife.  I chose to try pitting my olives.  I haven't seen anyone do this.  I'm not sure if it will lead to mushy olives, or if it is just considered less gourmet, but I happen to own a cherry pitter, which was itching for some excersise this winter.  I have tried to use it on olives from a can, and it works much better on firm, raw olives.



My pitted olives began in a baking soda bath.  I used 4 tablespoons of baking soda per cup or 1/4 liter of water. 



The video cut out, but I went on to pour some water and baking soda into the tall jar, put the olives in, fill the jar to the top with the solution, then shove in a silicone cupcake/muffin cup to keep the olives submerged.  I covered the jar loosely and changed the solution four times over a week.  After that I switched to plain water, which I changed every other day.  The olives are currently still in plain tap water while I wait for an opportunity to buy more salt.  (I used all my salt for curing my black olives.)

Tomorrow I plan to transfer the olives to a brine in small jars using Sarah's curing method.  I've done a lot of research, and her formula seems the best for my purpposes.  However, I'm not interested in having spicy olives, so at least for the time being, I'm going to stick to just salt and vinegar.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Avocado

Israeli avocados have very thin skins and large pits.  They are delicious, but if you try to use the usual methods of spooning out the meat or peeling them, the skin breaks apart and makes more work.  Hannah K. of CookingManager.com sent me this avacado video from Risa from Isramom.blogspot.com.  I was very exited to try it!



You can make a quick and delicious avocado salad with 1 to 1.5 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice, one small clove of garlic, and one tomato per avocado.  Below is a video of Hannah making avocado salad in my food processor.  Lesson learned: know your equipment.  I cut out the part where she had to fish out the chunks of tomatoes and cut them by hand before putting them back in the food processor.  Hannah has a Magimix, which I remember hearing excellent things about on the Splendid Table.  If I want to make a non-mushy avocado salad in my low-end processor, I need to start with smaller pieces of tomato.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pressured

Soltam Pressure Cooker 8L
The first time I was in Hannah K.'s kitchen, I saw a pressure cooker sitting on her stove.  Ever since I realized  normal, modern people use pressure cookers, I've been a little obsessed.  My husband saw me browsing pressure cookers online a couple weeks ago and said, "If you buy that, we won't be able to afford food to go in it."
After what seemed like a never-ending and downright abusive summer, winter stormed into town yesterday morning.  In the afternoon I was simmering black-eyed peas and thinking about broaching the pressure cooker subject again, when my husband came out and said, "You can buy a pressure cooker."

www.bookdepository.com
The pressure cookers made today are much safer and quieter than their predecessors.  I've been doing lots of research and many pressure cooker owners were recommending books by Lorna Sass.  I couldn't choose just one, so I am purchasing Pressure Perfect and Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.  I don't use many recipes, but I like cookbooks as reference and educational texts, and these seemed to fit my needs for a reliable pressure cooker tutorial.  In addition, with a pressure cooker, you can't stir, watch, taste, and feel your food as it cooks, so I thought that I could use some instruction to keep from ruining a lot of food or my cooker while I'm getting the hang of it.

I've determined I want an 8 qt pressure cooker, if I can afford it, but I'm not sure which one.  Do you have any experience with old fashion or modern pressure cookers?  Do you have any cookbooks you can't live without?

UPDATE:  I've done a lot of internet research and checked out some local pressure cookers.  I just determined that the Israeli brand, Soltam, may be the same as Fagor (but $50 more).  I'm currently waiting for my books to arrive before I commit to a purchase.  But my current leader is this Fagor set on Amazon:

Latkes

A little late, but still relevant... and delicious.

I know I insulted this classic fried food when I posted on the first night of Chanukah; however, I was roused to say more after reading Phyllis/Ima on the Bima's post: Sour Cream vs Applesauce: A Chanukah Debate.  I have trouble keeping my distance from any good debate, especially one including food and religion!

First I'll say, you don't really need a latke recipe, per se.  You can take any starchy vegetable, grate it, season it, mix it with egg, and fry mounds of it in oil.  White potatoes and onion are traditional, and usually the cheapest, but I like sweet potato or zucchini pancakes as well.
Image source: theawl.com 

Latkes are usually eaten with sour cream or apple sauce and the "debate" asks which is the better choice.  I'm not sure my mother ever purchased sour cream.  We did occasionally top baked potatoes with plain low fat yogurt and chives, but no sour cream.  We never even bought apple sauce with sugar added.  I won't deny that sour cream is delicious, but if you can enjoy your fried food without added saturated fat, I would think that's the way to go.  "Ima"s argument about the health benefits of sour cream sounds like a rationalization to me.  There are far better ways to get 2% of your daily value of calcium and a little protein.  How about making latkes with broccoli, sweet potato, and eggs?  (Ok, I admit, that would be delicious with sour cream on top.)

But her point about eating dairy on Chanukah is worth mentioning.  One reason we eat dairy is to remember Judith/Yehudit:
During an Assyrian siege of her village (as part of the war that is remembered through the Chanukah celebration), she charmed her way into the enemy camp with a basket of cheese and wine. The enemy general, Holofernes, ate of the cheese and drank of the wine until he was unable to stay awake. The sweet lass Judith then took his sword and beheaded the muddled man. She brought his head back to her people in a basket and saved her town. (Source: http://imabima.blogspot.com/)

Not only did Yehudit sneak into the general's camp once, but a series of times.  She showed great bravery and strength of character in the face of the enemy as well as her own neighbors.  Can you imagine what they must have been whispering behind her back as she entered the general's tent night after night?  Yet, she set aside her pride to save her city.  When the Assyrians awoke to see their general's head impaled on the city's gate, they retreated.  It is in honor of Yehidit, Chana (who's seven sons were killed before her eyes as she refused to worship idols) and other brave Jewish women of the time, that women get a special privilege on Chanukah.  It is a tradition that for half an hour after lighting Chanukah candles, women do not work.  It is a special little holiday just for Jewish women.

So next year, get all your cooking done early, then spend the half hour after lighting candles simply enjoying the light of the menorah/hanukiah  and your family!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Easy Awesome Onion Challah

Last week I thought I would try to throw the ingredients for a small batch of challah (egg bread) in my food processor and try to get some fresh bread with minimal time and effort.  It worked.  This week I added onions and it was awesome!  I want to thank my dad for cutting up the onions.  Sometimes my eyes burn all day.  At home my father wears goggles when cutting onions.  I stick a spoon in my mouth.  Can you share any tricks for keeping onions from burning your eyes?

Add to a food processor or mixer of choice:
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
2 cups (0.5 liters) of warm or room temperature water
1/2 cup (65 grams) your choice of honey and/or sugar, more if you like it sweet (I used about 2 parts sugar and 1 part honey.)
2 teaspoons salt
Almost 1/2 cup (0.1 liters) total oil and margarine.  You can use less, but using at least a full tablespoon each of margarine and oil makes great challah.  Feel free to use olive oil.
2 eggs

Briefly mix with a regular blade, or dough blade, if you have one.

Measure 7 cups (1.7 liters) of flour and add as much as comfortably fits in your food processor.  Mix on slow for a few seconds after the mixture looks homogeneous. (Save the rest of the flour until after the dough rests.)

Dump into a large, lightly greased bowl, and let rest.  If you used a very small mixer, add more flour after you move to the bigger bowl.  You want a very loose dough at this point.  A little thicker than muffin batter.  My son actually reminded me at this point that the dough needed to rest.  When my husband tried to peak, my son told him that the dough was taking a nap.  You can let the dough rest while you buy groceries, clean the house, or cook other food.  If you're short on time, try this:

Before you start mixing the dough, put a large oven safe bowl or pan with water in the bottom of your oven.   Turn the oven on high.  When the water is hot, turn off the oven.  Dip a tea towel in the hot water and ring out, then cover the dough bowl with the towel, so it doesn't actually touch the dough.  Put the bowl in the oven (with the bowl of water) when the oven is warm and cozy, but not hot enough to cook the dough or melt a plastic bowl.  With this method the dough will be ready for the next stage n 10-30 minutes.

This is a good time to chop and fry your onions.  Two red onions would be my preference.  Optional: Mix in poppy seeds.

When the dough looks bubbly and "well rested" (bigger), add more flour.  Use enough flour for the dough to be a cohesive mass that you can lift and stretch.  It does not need to be firm or dry enough to braid.  We are aiming for speed and flavor, not beauty, here.  Time permitting, you can let the dough rest again.  It will rise to about double in size.  Unless you are doubling the recipe, you do not need to "separate challah" for this amount of flour.

Grease two loaf pans and some muffin tins or a baking sheet.  I like olive oil for this.  Begin by stretching dough about 1/2 to 1 inch thick in the bottom of the loaf pans.  Add lots of onions, but stay away from the edges.  Add another layer of dough and work it into the bottom layer.  Do not fill the loaf pan.  If you still have a lot of extra room, add another layer of onions and dough.  Top with more onions, egg wash, and poppy or sesame seeds (optional).

If you have dough left over, make rolls.  Stretch small balls of dough in a circle like a tiny pizza, fill with onions, and fold closed.  Put in muffin tins or on a baking sheet and top like the loafs.

Bake at 350 F or 175 C until golden brown.  If you have a convection fan in your oven, now is the time to use it.



This method/recipe will also work without onions.

You might also like: Challah Basics 

UPDATE Dec. 20, 2010:  Yesterday morning I whipped together half a batch of the above recipe.  The whole thing fit in my food processor and I didn't do any additional kneading.  The dough rested in my warm with a hot towel on top while I chopped and fried one onion.  I added lots of poppy seeds straight to the pan with the onion.  Half a batch and one onion made 15 mini rolls, which I baked in a silicon muffin "tin."  I filled the dough full of onoins and used the extra onions to generously top the rolls before glazing in egg wash and baking just below 350 F or 175 C.  MY CONCLUSIONS: more filling is better; poppy seeds are awesome; I preffer red onoins.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Non-recipes: A Retrospective

When I get new commenters or followers on my blog, I excitedly check out who they are.  I was honored to have a "veteran" food bogger Miriyummy read my blog.  (Her blog is six months older than Cooking Outside the Box.)  I have seen her comment on other blogs I read, but the first time I read her blog was when she commented on some of my posts.  Her cookbook review got me thinking about my feelings on recipes and my history with food experimentation. 

Miriyummy LOVES cookbooks and celeb chefs.  I do like cookbooks.  I like new ideas and mouthwatering pictures of food (or "food porn" as Miriyummy puts it.)  But the idea that someone would plan my meal down to the bottle of wine doesn't turn me on.  I just don't enjoy trying to buy everything on a prescribed list.  I love being inspired and taught by recipes, but I eat what's in season and on sale.

Miriyummy looks at the author's background of not knowing anything about cooking.  Not only is that not me.  I can't even relate.  It's not that I have any culinary education, but I just don't see a huge leap from eating food to cooking food.  What is a meal?  You take raw ingredients, add heat and seasoning as appropriate, and put it with other foods to balance your nutrient intake.  This know-how is instinctual or based on skills you learned in elementary school.  If it smells good it might taste good.  If it's soft and looks like something you would want to take a bite out of, it's probably ready to eat.
This also got me thinking about my own history making up dishes and trying recipes.  When I was young, I thought I would surprise my parents with a special treat: American cheese melted on saltine crackers topped with little slices of Tootsie Rolls.  Their disgust is still evident when they retell the tale.  Another time I tried to bake a chocolate cake from the Joy of Cooking that looked just divine, in honor of my doll, Rachel's, second birthday.  (I chose the arbitrary date of August 2nd and waited for it to roll around.)

When my dense, flat cake came out of the oven, my mom inquired if the recipe said anything about separating eggs.  It did, but I didn't see the point, since it was all going in the same batter.  Now I generally avoid recipes that involve whipping whites and trying to keep them alive while "gently folding" anything into them.

My dad owned an Italian restaurant for a few years while I was in high school.  There, he picked up quite a bit of cooking knowledge.  I still call him when I have food-safety questions. (Picture to left: current image of my father in his home kitchen; above: picture I created of my kids to print on an apron for my dad a few birthdays ago.)

Now I see my preschool age son experimenting with his own culinary ideas.  If you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he's likely to answer, "a chef."  (If you ask my daughter, she'll tell you she's already an artist.)  Last week my son insisted I make him cottage cheese with chopped apples and sun-dried tomatoes.  If you're thinking, "hmm, I wouldn't have tried this on my own but it might be good," you're wrong.  I thought the tang and saltiness of the tomatoes clashed terribly with the cottage cheese.  But both my kids requested seconds.  As soon as he stops putting ketchup on everything his culinary instincts might really blossom.
I think I'm becoming more confident (maybe even cocky) about my culinary instincts as I experiment with dishes and people actually like them.  My style is also maturing as I read more about cooking and listen to podcasts like The Splendid Table.  I feel like a real grown up now that I own bay leaves.  One day I may even make sourdough or successfully fold a fat into whipped eggs!

For more of my reflecting and reminiscing read my interview with CookingManager.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Miracle of the Oil

Tonight, Jews across the world will light their menorahs/hanukiot to celebrate the festival of lights - Chanukah/Hanukkah.  The holiday of Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrian-Greeks.   Besides lighting 9-branched menorahs, we partake in fried foods, specifically potato pancakes called latkes or levivot, and jelly donuts called sufganiot.  In this way our arteries and waist bands will remember that when the High Priest in the temple lit the 7-branched menorah with the only kosher oil that could be found - enough for only one night - a great miracle occurred and the oil lasted long enough for fresh olive oil to be processed... eight nights.  I've reviewed the laws of Chanukah, where it discusses when we light the menorah and what materials are appropriate of lighting (like olive oil and cotton wicks.)  However, I didn't see any mention of consuming enough fat during eight days to last us eight months.

Now, I like to think of myself as an optimist, but when it comes to the environment and junk food, I'm a real kill joy.  Thinking of having a balloon releasing event?  Don't forget about the sea turtles and other wildlife chocking on your balloons when they deflate and fall.  And a holiday is no excuse to bombard my kids with candy to rot their teeth.  So in the interest of our bodies, I'd like to share a few ways to showcase oil without the mess and detrimental health effects of deep fried food.  If you do want to enjoy the traditional Chanukah foods, I recommend getting frozen latkes that you put in the oven so the frying doesn't smell up your home for a week.  Enjoy them with natural (no sugar added) apple sauce by the glow of the candles.  For sufganiot, go to a bakery and buy no more than 1 donut per person for the week.  Enjoy!

Baked "Celery Root" (Celeric) Sweet Potato Pancakes
1. Peel and grate celery root(s) and sweet potatoes, then drain liquid.
2. Mix with egg(s), seasonings, and a little olive oil.  You could also add fresh parsley, green onions, etc.
3. Brush baking sheet or pan generously with oil.
4. Plop mounds of the mixture on the baking sheet. (If it is too loose add flour.)
5. Bake until they take on color.

Israeli Salad
No joke.  Why not let salad be the base for our oil?  Israeli salad is based on chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, generally lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  You could also add chopped parsley, green or red onions, bell pepper, and other seasonings, like za'atar.

 "Sparslic"
This is a dip I used to enjoy at Chabad House of Pittsburgh.  A good garlic press is very helpful.  Press or smash and finely chop raw garlic.  Add fresh or dried chopped parsley, good olive oil and salt.  This is better if you do it ahead of time and let it sit a bit.  Then enjoy with good bread.

Za'atar and Olive Oil 
In Israel different spice shops and companies have their own mixes for za'atar. If you live outside Israel, you may be able to find it from one of the three or so Israeli spice companies that export.  Look near kosher or Middle Eastern foods.  You can make it yourself, I think the following ingredient ratios are for a Lebanese style za'atar  I think the Israeli version has more marjoram, less sumac, some dill, and olive oil.
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
You may roast or crush the sesame seeds.  I guess that's a personal preference.   Mix za'atar mix with good extra virgin olive oil and enjoy with bread.  I also like the make a valley in a mound of hummus to hold my olive oil and za'atar, which I then eat with fresh pita.

Pita Chips
I don't believe the previous paragraph was my first mention of "fresh pita" on this blog.  Since moving to Israel we've become pita snobs.  Once it's approaching 48 hours old, it's just not the same.  By day three, if it's still in our bread box I make pita chips.  Preferably whole wheat pita chips.

1. Cut each pita into 6 pieces like a pie and split the two layers of the "pocket" with a knife or your fingers.
2. Brush or spray both sides with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet.
3. Leave plain or sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, or my favorite, za'atar!
4. Toast on high for about 5 minutes.  Don't walk away.  Pull them out when a couple start to brown.

Happy Chanukah!

This post is featured in Real Food Digest | Real Food Holidays – Hanukkah.

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