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:

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


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 sent me this avacado video from Risa from  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


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."
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:


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: 

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:

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.

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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

E-mail Subscription

You can now subscribe to my blog by submitting your e-mail address on the upper right side of this blog.  Don't forget to click the link in the confirmation e-mail.  Try it today!

While you're here, scroll down and click "like" for Facebook and "follow this blog" under networked blogs.  Thanks for your support!

Sun-dried Tomato Basil Pasta Salad

This pasta salad has been a fail-proof winner with picky eaters and gourmets alike.  You will need black olives, fresh, clean basil and sun-dried tomatoes or sun-dried tomato spread.  If you are starting from dry tomatoes, not packed in oil, you will want to soak them in warm water (or use some pasta water.)  Choose a pasta that has a lot of surface area and no interior (no shells, penne, or rigatoni).  My favorite is tri-color rotini.  Tortellini would be a real treat.  If your tomatoes are not too salty, add a generous amount of kosher salt to the pasta water.
Chop basil, slice black olives, slice or chop sun-dried tomatoes (your choice, and time permitting).  Drain pasta when it is done and put it in a large bowl.  If your tomatoes came packed in oil, add as much of this flavorful oil to the pasta as your jar can spare.  Put your fixings on the pasta while it is still warm.  Add extra-virgin olive oil, or another flavorful oil of your choice, if needed, and spices if your tomatoes are not seasoned.  Be careful, some tomatoes are already full of salt or other flavors.  Mix, taste, and assess.  If you went overboard on the salt, you can balance saltiness with a little vinegar or white wine (but it won't lower your blood pressure.)

Want to kick it up a notch?  Blend a reconstitued dry chili pepper (seeds removed) and garlic with some tomatoes, then add to the pasta.

Going to a pot-luck?  Don't bother getting a bowl dirty.  Mix all the ingredients in a large zip-top bag and transfer to a bowl when you arrive.

This salad is awesome with feta or sheeps cheese.  But I think you can never go wrong by adding cheese.  Brie, fresh mozzarella...

In America, I love the big jar of seasoned, sliced sun-dried tomatoes sold at Costco.  In Israel I dig the spread sold by Pereg.  With the excesive heat and drought, the prices for sun-dried tomatoes were looking pretty reasonable.  Maybe when tomatoes are in season and cheaper than dirt, we'll dry our own tomatoes!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Olive Adventure - Part 1: Find Olives

Last week at the shuk, Hannah K. and I purchased one kilo of fresh olives and decided we would cure them in a joint project between CookingManager and Cooking Outside the Box.  If you would like to embark on this adventure with us, start saving jars and large containers and look in your local markets on you your trees for fresh olives.  Make sure you also have lots of kosher salt on hand.  This is not a difficult process, but it takes patience.

Stay tuned!  Subscribe to this blog by inputting your e-mail address on the right side of this page so you won't miss an post!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mortar and Pestle Pesto

I set out to make a traditional pesto, but I didn't have pine nuts, and my new mortar and pestle I was so excited about didn't work all that well.  Maybe I'm using it incorrectly.  Here is a video that shows some delicious pesto applications besides pasta.  I can't edit videos, but I recommend skipping to minute 4:00 of this video and just watching what I do with the pesto.

As the seasons are changing I'm noticing some new items and old favorites in the shuk.  I was thrilled to see strawberries back in season.  We also have pomelos, quinces, and we're starting to see turnips, which I just tried today.  You  can also see pictured the enormous squash they call "pumpkin," and some giant cabbage.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving: Crusts and Crumbles

In honor of Thanksgiving, the secular holiday of thanks being celebrated across America tomorrow, I'd like to talk about pies.  As I've mentioned, I'm no chicken expert, so I won't try to give you too much advice about your turkey.  Let me just say: turkey+brine overnight in a clean garbage bag.  Oil the skin, cook it hot, then let it rest.  Or try Eric Ripert's Roasted Chicken with Za'atar Stuffing.

But when it comes to pies, I have some experience.

Lets start with the filling.  On of my favorites is apple.  I like to take several varieties of apple, but at least half crispy green "granny smith" apples, and slice them thinly.  If you don't have an apple corer, you can use a melon-baller to remove the seeds, but preserve more of the fruit.  Then I put it all in a large zip-lock bag and add any of the following: brown sugar, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, a little ginger, a dash of salt, vanilla, sometimes orange zest, margarine, flour, or whatever you like, to taste.  If you are doing a large amount, you may want to dip the red apples in lemon juice and water to keep them from browning.

The main thing you need to consider with whatever filling you choose is water/juice content.  If you use fresh or frozen fruit, make sure that you have enough other ingredients (like flour) to soak up or congeal any liquid that comes out during cooking.  Otherwise you will have soup on a soggy crust.  Sometimes I add flour to my apple pie filling or sprinkle some between the layers of apple.  

If you are using sliced apples, layer the slices in the crust, choosing pieces to best fit together.  Have them stack up more in the middle of the pie.  Which brings us to... crusts!  You have several options, from the most simple crumble to a fancy lattice work crust.  Here is a sampling of some of my favorites, organized according to difficulty.

The first is a simple oatmeal crumble.  My friend Leor uses this as a topping for her apple cranberry crisp (8 apples, cinnamon, 1 can cranberry sauce, in a 9"x13" pan).  She notes that you may have to adjust the amounts of oatmeal and brown sugar a little so that it is solid.  This is a good option if you'd like to use a store-bought graham cracker crust or frozen crust.
- 1 stick of margarine, melted
- 1.5 cups of oatmeal
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- a little salt if your margarine is unsalted
- 2 Tbsp of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Next is a walnut crumb topping I made at my in-law's two years ago.  My Mother-in-law found this recipe on  I must admit I was a little offended that she would think I needed a recipe to make apple pie; however, the crumble was outstanding.  You can find several variations if you search for apple pie with walnut streusel or walnut crumb.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

As we move toward the traditional crust end of the spectrum, I'd like to pass along a recipe that I enjoyed this weekend.  It was a very tasty extra flaky crust that looked like it might be easy to make.  Here is the crust recipe:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup and 2 tablespoons shortening
- 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cold water filling
In a bowl combine flour and salt, cut in shortening. Gradually add cold water tossing lightly with fork, until dough forms a ball. Chill for 30 minutes. On a floured surface roll half of dough to 10 inch circle. Place in 9 inch pie pan.  After you fill the pie, roll out remaining pastry to fit top of pie cut slits in top, place over filling . Seal and flute edges. Beat egg yolk with water, brush over pastry. Bake a t 420 degrees 'f'' for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees 'f'. Bake 40 to 45 minutes more or till crust is golden.

And finally we get to the traditional crust.  Tender, flaky, and impressive.  I used this recipe the first year I made apple pie (a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away.)  But the second year I tried several different awful recipes (including one from the Joy of Cooking), until I finally found the recipe again...on the back side of the instructions for my mom's pastry cloth and rolling pin cover!  If you'd like to start baking pie crusts, delicate cookies, and other pastries, I strongly recommend investing in a pastry cloth or silicone pastry mat, like this one with measurements.  I would put the pastry cloth and rolling pin cover in the freezer between crusts to help keep everything chilled.  Below is the recipe.  Thanks, Dad, for finding it and typing it up!

Mix with fork and set aside:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- ½ cup water
Mix together in large bowl:
- 4 cups flour – unsifted and lightly spooned into measuring cup
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
Add to dry using method below:
- 1 ¾ cups shortening
Add 1 cup of shortening to dry mix first, mixing to the size of corn meal. Add ¾ cup shortening mixing to the size of peas. This method produces flakier pastry.
Add the egg mixture over all, as you toss with a fork. Pour out on a sheet of waxed paper.
Draw four corners up and squeeze lightly to form a ball. Separate into 5 balls, cover and store in refrigerator 30 minutes or up to three days. Can be frozen. Makes 5 single crusts. Too much handling toughens dough.

I think the lattice work might be a good subject for a video.  Basically you slice one dough round into even strips and weave them together over the pie.  The wider you cut the strips, the less work you'll have, so even though the professionals say 1/2 inch strips, I'd go with about 1 inch strips.  Take ever other strip and put it on the pie leaving about 1/2 an inch in between strips.  Weave the other strips in just like an elementary school craft project: over, under, over, under.  Here is a good demonstration by 13 year old William in Dallas.  You can do it!

Thanks for sticking with me on this pie adventure!  I hope you'll eventually try all the techniques I've mentioned.  They are each unique and delicious!  I want to end by giving thanks to everyone in Israel who has fed us and taught us how to survive in our new land, like the native Americans supposedly helped the Europeans.  And thank you to my family in America for putting up with the distance and being supportive of our decision to move to the holy land.  I wish they would all hop on a plane and be settled in Israel by next Thanksgiving!

You might also like: Pumpkin Soup, Mini Cherry Pies (Reduced Fat), and Fig Marmalade Pie with Low-fat Crust and Lavender Sugar.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rich Non-dairy Pesto

This dish is simple, indulgent, and classy all at the same time.  And if you put it over whole wheat pasta or brown rice with mushrooms and/or sun dried tomatoes, it's healthy, too.  I used good old white pasta in a lovely cork-screw shape that holds the sauce perfectly.
According to Parenting, Basil is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that works to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart beats steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong.  Basil also has strong antioxident effects and may help your body fight off viruses.  My favorite argument in favor of basil: According to Juniper Russo of, Basil has the same anti-inflamatory effects as medical marijuana.  I hope we can get all those benefits by consuming it close to raw.

Whip one pasteurized egg yolk in the food processor or with a hand blender and slowly add good quality olive oil.  Start drop by drop.  The total amount will depend on how much pasta and basil you have.  Switch to a blade attachment and add one grocery-store-size bunch or half a green-market-size bunch of well washed fresh basil.  Turn it on until the basil is finely chopped. Then pour it over your dish of choice: potatoes, fish, pasta, rice, fresh bread, a spoon...
Scared of raw eggs?  I added the sauce to the pasta while the pot and pasta was still very hot.  There were no leftovers to worry about.  And what's one egg yolk between four or five people?  Delicious, that's what it is!

Stay tuned: If I find a nice mortar and pestel, the first thing I plan to make is a tradition pesto made from pounding (not blending or chopping) basil, garlic, pinenuts, salt, and extra vergin olive oil.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicken with Pears and Prunes

Yes, I heard, the term "prunes" is out, "dried plums" is in. Either way, I finally made yummy moist and tasty chicken in Israel! I've been in a little chicken rut since moving to Israel. It might be the chicken or it might be me, but it keeps coming out tough and not very tasty. I went a little overboard this time. But it was delicious and pretty easy.

I think a lot about food.  I think about an ingredient I have at home or a delicious dish I once had (in this case Hannah's "Chicken with Tomatoes and Black Olives") and let my mind wander and string together ingredients I have available or am in the mood for.  I woke up in the mood to do some real cooking.  I was in the mood for something sweet and I've been wanting to try cooking with some prunes I bought.  This is how it goes:

1. Mix flour with spices like salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and a little curry.
2. Coat chicken pieces in flour.  In this case I used 6 skin-on thighs and legs.

3. Lightly brown chicken pieces in a large pot.  (I did this in two rounds.) Then remove chicken and lower heat until you get the onions in the pan.
4. Use wine or other liquid to "de-glaze" the pot:  Add enough wine to barely cover the pan, then scrape up all the tasty brown chicken flavor stuck in the pot.
5. Add to the pot chunks of 2 onions (I used one red and one yellow/sweet onion) followed by 4 quartered pears.  You can dip the pears in flour if you have extra flour mixture.
6. Raise the heat and add olives, chicken, 14 prunes, and about 1 liter or 4 cups of a liquid of your choice, or enough to almost cover the ingredients.  (Fresh or canned tomatoes - optional.)  I used liquid I had drained from canned tomatoes last week, plus water.  I also added 4 "baby bella" mushrooms I had left from making lentil soup.
7. Continue cooking on the stove or for 1.5-2 hours in the oven at 175 C or 350 F.

8. Serve over rice or in a bowl with crusty bread.

I took the chicken off to bone before serving and we ate it on top of brown rice with fresh basil and sun dried tomatoes:

I also froze a two-person portion for a future lunch:


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