Friday, October 29, 2010

Shaping and More

This post is part of a three part series in the merit of a complete and speedy recovery for Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana.  Follow these links for more information about signing up for a mass challah baking or to learn some challah basics.

Tutorial for different braiding techniques using 6, 4, or 2 strands of dough:

I don't mean to dismiss the classic 3-braid, but here are some other techniques.  This first one is a favorite of mine.  It is a 6-braid I learned to make at Chabad House on Campus in Pittsburgh.  There is additional symbolism behind it.  In the original Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest had 12 loaves of bread.  On Shabbat we use two challahs, so when each challah has 6 strands, they total 12 and symbolize the loaves in the holy temple.

My friend, Leor, makes a 4-braid.  Below are her instructions.  This video was my first time trying it. (See Leor's video HERE.)

"When I make a four-braid, I work from the middle to the end and then flip the challah around and work from the middle to the other ond.  Lay out the four strands and cross the middle two (doesn't matter which is on top - for demonstration's sake, let's say left over right).  From here, every step is the same.  Take the outer two strands, and do 'over the over, under the under', so the far right strand goes over the one next to it (since that strand was on top of the criss-cross) and the far left strand goes under the one next to it (since that strand was on the bottom of the criss-cross).  So, now your two outer strands are in the middle, so you start over.  Cross them (the one on the right went 'over', so it gets the bottom of the criss-cross, so again, left over right) and then with your new outer strands do 'over the over, under the under'.  Keep going until you reach the end of the strands and then flip your challah around, reorient yourself (for this example I think that means everything goes the other way now - right over left when you criss-cross), and continue the pattern of 'over the over, under the under' until you reach the other end.  You could start from one end like most people do, but starting in the middle generally makes the challah bulge in the middle and taper off towards the ends, which is the look I prefer."

This final technique Hannah learned from fellow blogger, Ted.  It technically starts with two strands.  I like it, but I think it looks a whole lot like a 4-braid.

Beginning of 6-braid.  I made the strands way too long and narrow
and compensated by making it into two loafs.

Hannah's 2-strand challah and my two 6-strand challot.

My first ever 4-strand.  How'd I do Leor?

"Pull apart" challah with poppy seeds.

Knots and silicon brush.  I want to get one of these
brushes for oiling pans and painting marinades on fish.

Below: How to make a chocolate cinnamon roll using Challah dough.  Please try your own fillings and comments with the results.  A couple months ago I made a banana nut bread by adding in ripe banana puree during the sponge stage.  The resulting dough was sticky and hard to roll, but the honey nut filling was nice.  Next I plan to try a poppy seed filling and make a pattern on top with the seeds, using a parchment paper stencil.

Challah Basics

This post is part of a three part series in the merit of a complete and speedy recovery for Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana.  Follow these links for more information about signing up for our mass challah baking or to learn more about shaping challah dough.

I am no Challah expert.  I love to braid it and shape it, and do other creative things, but I have tasted MANY challot with superior taste and consistency to mine.  So I turned to my good friend and fellow blogger, Hannah (of Cooking Manager and A Mother in Israel) to give us all some tips.  If you would like more information, I recommend reading her full post on Challah and visiting her new YouTube channel.  Here is her recipe in an easy one page printable form.  I never make it to the end of all the cycles of stretching and resting mentioned in this recipe and my challah still turns out very good.

Hannah's recipe and the other methods mentioned in her post from other people give a very soft challah without a strong yeasty flavor.  One thing I learned today is that if you leave it to rise in the fridge for a long time, start with cold water.  I thought, the more rising time the better, but this technique only gave me a strong yeasty flavor.  I think you're better off putting your time into stretching the dough.  Here's how it's done:

Having what seems like a complicated Challah recipe on my blog may seem to clash with my theme of simple dishes that don't require following instructions.  The truth is, I don't bake challah as often as I would like, but I love it.  I think everyone should bake bread once in a while.  There's a wonderful feeling of satisfaction in making your own bread.  It's great to get your hands into your food.  Kneading/stretching dough is much more satisfying than tossing a salad.  Once you get the hang of making challah, you really can tweak it to your preference.  You will know what good dough feels and smells like and you won't need to rely on a recipe.  Hannah has six kids and makes challah for a several weeks and freezes it.  If I hadn't walked in on her kneading this monster dough, I would have thought her bowl was a baby tub.  Hannah:  Where do you wash that thing?  By the way, this challah freezes well, and I love enjoying it several weeks later, long after I have forgotten about the work it took.

I learned to make challah during college from one of my favorite families in the world, the Weinstein family of Chabad House on Campus in Pittsburgh, PA.   The daughters who taught me are now grown and married, as am I, but I still carry the fond memories of baking challah on Thursday nights for the swarm of students who would pile in for Shabbat.  Here's what I remember:

We bake Challah in honor of the holiness of the seventh day.  Challah has seven ingredients: flour, water, oil, salt, yeast, sugar, eggs.  We started with equal parts yeast and sugar in warm water in one bowl while combining the other ingredients except flour in a very large bowl.  Then poured in the yeast mixture and began kneading in the flour until the dough felt right.  I think we only let the dough rise one time after all the kneading, and another time after braiding and egging the dough.  Pretty simple and lots of fun (especially if you have a cleaning lady who will deal with the aftermath!)  Even though many people were counting on my challah success, I was never discouraged from a little experimentation, big challot, tiny challot, honey, raisens, vanilla, seseme or poppy seeds in fun designs...  Please comment and share your own challah stories!

You might also enjoy: Easy Awesome Onion Challah

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Challah for Healing

This post is part of a three part installment focusing on Challah - traditional Jewish egg bread.  This post will focus on baking and "taking" challah as a time to ask G-d for blessings and special requests.  This series is in the merit of a complete and speedy recovery for my dear friend Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana (Norma Kuras).  See adjacent posts for some challah basics and shaping techniques.

There is never a bad time to ask G-d for help; however, when women take part in the three mitzvoth (commandments/good deeds) specifically given to women, it is considered a particularly auspicious time to ask for things.  The three mitvot are: lighting Sabbath candles, managing family purity, and separating challah.  In the merit of a complete recovery for my friend, I am instigating a mass challah baking.  We want to get at least 40 women to bake Challah this coming week (in your own homes) before next Shabbat (Friday night, November 5.)
There are three ways to sign up:
1.Comment on this post with some form of your real name and your commitment to bake.
2. Join our Facebook event and mark yourself “attending”, or
3. E-mail me at  If you want a reminder next Thursday, e-mail me.  (You can also use this e-mail address to send me pictures of you and your kids baking challah or doing another mitzvah in for Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana's recovery.  I'd like to collect as many as possible.  I think it will bring some cheer to Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana and her family.)

*Please specify if you can commit to taking challah with a blessing next week, if you are just baking challah in honor of Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana’s recovery, or if you would like to take on another mitzvah in the merit of her recovery (such as lighting candles before sundown Friday night or giving to charity.)  I hope the public display of your commitment will encourage others.

Below is an example of how to separate challah with a blessing by Hannah of Cooking Manager and A Mother in Israel.

Here are instructions on the formal way to take challah when you are asking for the healing a sick person, from my good friend Leor:

"1) Make the dough (it needs to have at least 10 cups of flour, so if one recipe of challah dough isn't enough, just make two batches and put all the dough together before the next step)

2) Take off a handful and make the bracha:

Baruch Ata Ado-nai Eloheinu Melech Haolam Asher K'deshanu B'mitzvosav V'tzivanu lehafrish challah (min ha'isa).

3) Set the dough aside in tinfoil.

4) Immediately afterward is when you should add any extra tefillos that you have, so in this case the yehi ratzon for a sick person.  (It's the same yehi ratzon that's in the siddur at shemone esrei, in refa'ainu, that you can add for a specific sick person.)  

Here's a transliteration: Yehi Ratzon Mil'fanecha Ado-nai Elo-hai V'elo-hai Avosai Shetishlach Mehaira Refuah Shelaimah Min Hashamayim, Refuas Hanefesh Urefuas Haguf Lacholah Nechama Gittel Chaya bas Chana Besoch Shaar Cholei Yisrael.  (Substitute the Lacholeh for Lacholah if the sick person is a male.)

And in Hebrew:
יהי רצון מלפניך ד' אלקי ואלקי אבותי שתשלח מהרה רפואה שלמה מן השמים, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף לחולה_______ בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

5) Burn the dough.  (You can burn it in the oven, but you can't have this dough in the oven at the same time as your challahs.  You can burn it before or after you bake the challahs.  Or, you can burn it on the stove, with a blowtorch, etc.)"

Thanks Leor!  

FYI: The amounts of flour that require a blessing are based on weight.  According to Spice and Spirit, you need between 13-15 cups of "sifted" flour (1666.6 g or 3 lb. 11 oz.).  Additionally, the authors write that you say the blessing BEFORE separating the challah.  Hannah says, besides burning the dough, you can set it aside until it is no longer edible.  In Pittsburgh I learned to stick it in the freezer in paper towel until Passover, and then burn it with all the other chumetz.  But that community did a community challah burning, so a cold mass of challah dough was no match for the bonfire.  Some people might not like the idea of having challah dough in the house after they have otherwise cleaned for Passover.  The attached printable challah recipe is well tested and makes enough dough to make the blessing (as well as enough loafs and cake for a small family all Shabbat). 

For more on baking challah, see the next post: Challah Basics

Update:  Thank you everyone who participated!  We got an excellent response with people baking, learning, and saying tehillim (psalms) in the merit of Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana's recovery.  Please continue to keep her in your prayers. 
I baked soft pretzels, Leor in Silver Spring, MD made 4-braid challah loafs, and Jennifer in Coral Springs, FL made these beautiful loafs:
Read Hannah's post for more about Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana.  Refuah Shelaima!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trip to the Market and Food Tricks

Before I talk about dinner, I want to share two tricks.  I think I learned this first trick from Alton Brown on Good Eats, but I couldn't find the clip, so maybe it was my imagination.  But it works!  Have a head of wilted lettuce?  Put it in a big bowl of cold water with a splash of vinegar.  Poof!  Magically, your lettuce can pass for fresh.  (20 minute soak recommended.)  And it will keep looking fresh in the fridge for a couple days.  You don't have to worry about it turning back to its old wilty self as soon as the guests arrive.  (I took pictures, but wilted lettuce isn't very appetizing, and would you really believe a before-and-after photo?)

The second trick is just a fancy way to cut a lemon.  It won't help you get the juice out, but it makes a nice presentation.

Today I went to the city market (shuk) with my favorite shuk-buddy - A Mother in Israel.  She showed me a great little Ethiopian spice shop.  I'm sure you'll hear more about it as soon as I successfully cook some of the legumes I picked up there.

At the shuk I bought the usual fruits and veggies which were in season, including persimmons, a pomegranate, 1.5 kilos of honey, pistachios, and a chunk of winter squash that they call pumpkin. It looked like a giant butternut squash on the outside, but it wasn't as sweet.  I'm going to use the leftovers to try something like Pumpkin Soup with Wine and Rosemary on Cooking Manager.  I actually have some rosemary I need to use up.  And of course, no trip to the shuk is complete without fish!  My favorite is wild Norwegian Salmon, but I try to stick to thinks that more local, and less expensive.  Today I picked up five whole Amnon, a kind of Tilapia native to the Sea of Galilee (The Kineret), but I think mine grew up on a fish farm in Northern Israel.  Tilapia does well in close quarters like a fish farm, so it is considered a very responsible choice, ecologically, and there's no concern of mercury.   Amnon is a favorite of my mother-in-law, but when she was visiting I was too scared of all those little bones to make it.  These fish were a little bigger than what I tried the first time, but I think I still swallowed a tiny bone.

We had guests tonight; not the best time to experiment.  I usually compensate with extra dishes in case they don't all work out.  Usually there is something for everyone and everything is tasty, even if it's not what I expected.  Today was an exception, with burnt Ethiopian chick peas reminiscent of my first popcorn attempt, to bland squash that didn't cook in time.  Fortunately, there were enough successful dishes for a well balanced meal.  The couscous was okay without the chick peas and my guests weren't scared off when face-to-face with a whole fish.  I think the consensus was that it was fun to eat.  Not exactly a quick bite, but nice for sitting and talking to your guests.  I recommend having something like a trash bowl on or near the table in order to get some bones off your plate to make room for other food or further dissecting the fish.

I rinsed each fish thoroughly to make sure no scales were hanging around.  Then I started to make a sort of homemade mayonnaise: One egg, a splash of vinegar, and mustard in a food processor, then drizzle in olive oil.  Then I threw in a bunch of fresh dill (no stems), pulse, then half a red onion, pulse until well chopped. I smeared that all over the inside and outside of the fish.  Baked in a preheated 205 C/400 F degree oven for 20-30 minutes covered, 5 minutes uncovered.  I found it to be very delicate and slightly sweet.

I also made a version of the salad mentioned in my pomegranate post, except I used romaine and parsley instead of baby greens.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Orange Segments & Juice

Oranges are a great addition to green salads and fruit salad, and of course, they're a good snack.  It's a real treat to enjoy them in these ways with the tough membranes removed.  Here's a professional video I found after I made my own, but the kids and I are having fun making videos, so I'll post mine also.

Here are some tips:
- Zest the orange first.  You can freeze the zest for later cake baking (if you bake) or use it on salads, yogurt, Asian stir fry... yum, I'll have to try that.
- Use a sharp knife.  (I took my knife to be sharpened, but I'm not impressed.  Maybe if I get more followers, I can get a knife company to sponsor this blog.)
- Do as much as possible over a bowl, and even save the drippings from the cutting board to enjoy the fresh juice.
- Squeeze out the membrane skeleton and the rind into the bowl to get every last drop of juice.
- Try to cut faster than you or your audience eat.

Please comment with your own uses for oranges and zest!

If you don't want to go through all the trouble of cutting the orange into fancy segments, you can cut off the peel and the outer membrane, then slice the whole orange horizontally so you have pretty orange rounds.  Just use your fingers to pull out the bitter part in the middle.

Quinoa Tabouli

The price of tomatoes here seems to be slowly coming down to earth, so it seemed like a good time to share one of my favorite new recipes.  As I mentioned in Spicey Lentils, quinoa is one of those foods I think I should eat more often, but forget about.  This is one recipe (yes, I mostly look at the actual recipe) that hasn't let me down yet.  Delicious every time, great cold, easy to make the night before.  I usually use my food processor to pulse/chop most of the ingredients, and I often make 1.5 or 2 times the recipe.  My mom, in Florida, passed this recipe onto me from Amy Peterson, in Wisconsin, and now it is back in the Middle East!

1 cup of quinoa
2 cups of water
2 medium tomatoes chopped
6 green onions chopped
1 medium cucumber chopped
1 small green bell pepper chopped
1 cup chopped parsley

1. Rinse quinoa and cook according to instructions (until water is absorbed).
2. While quinoa is cooking, chop up all the ingredients above. 
3. When quinoa has cooled sufficiently (to not "cook" the veggies), mix all the above ingredients together.

whisk together:
1/3 cup lemon juice*
1/3 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

*Go easy on the lemon juice if you have a nice fresh, sour lemon.  I like it with lime juice, cumin, and fresh mint.
I prefer a very clean hand when it comes to mixing.  I find it's the best way to break up clumps of parsley and quinoa, and gentle on the tomatoes.

For another gluten-free tabbouleh option, replace the quinoa with a head of cauliflower, shredded in the food processor.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Leftover Party: Sushi Salad

This is not a recipe, but an example of how to use odds and ends up by adding some new ingrediants and flavors.  My husband didn't even recognize the leftovers he insisted he'd never eat.  Instead his reaction was, "I love sushi salad!" and, "This is delicious."

- about 1/3 cup lentils, added soy sauce
- about 1/3 cups baked or 1.5 cans worth of salmon.  This was mediocre frozen salmon I had baked with homemade rosemary mayonnaise.  I crumbled it and added a little regular mayo and a cheap, sweet teriyaki sauce.

- About 1/2 cup short grain rice (that's all I had) cooked and cooled slightly.  Then added vinegar and sugar.
- 2 cucumbers chopped
- a handful of sesame seeds which I toasted for about a minute over the gas flame in my popcorn bowl
- 1 sheet Nori, torn up

I would have a picture, but it was eaten too quickly!  If you want a more normal sushi salad recipe, not an example of leftover usage, click HERE.

DIABETIC TIP: You can make sushi or sushi salad with barley for a low GI alternative.  I'll post barley sushi on Sunday, January 16.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Perfect Popcorn

Some background:  The last time I tried to make popcorn I was using a pot with a large flat bottom.  Something went wrong between the process and me trying to multi-task.  Within minutes our apartment was full of smoke.  When the smell had subsided and it was safe to re-enter our home some time later, I looked to one of my favorite shows to show me a better way.  So my son and I watched the episode of Good Eats titled "Pop Art".  Since then, I've been making perfect popcorn.  I haven't even found any "old maids" (unpopped kernels) since I started using this method!

You need a metal bowl or wok with a small bottom and sloped sides.
1. Mix a handful of dried popping corn kernels with a spoonful of oil and some salt.
2. Cover with foil and pierce holes for the steam to escape.
3. Heat over medium flame and continuously shuffle.  Use a tongues if you don't have a handle.  Don't walk away.  Continue to shuffle/shake the kernels and popcorn around.  This will let the popped kernels move up the side while the unpopped kernels move up the sides away from the heat.
4. Remove from flame when the popping slows.  Continue to shuffle the bowl/pan until the popping has completely stopped.
5. Carefully open the foil and enjoy!

You can store the popcorn in an air tight container and enjoy for at least 24 hours.

Oven Fries "Chips" & Sweet Potatoes

My kids go crazy over these "chips" and eat them with their fingers and, of course, ketchup.
1. Wash and cut a medium starch potato into sticks.  Preheat oven about 205 C or 400 F.
2. Put on a baking sheet with some oil.
3. Season liberally with what you like from: salt, pepper, paprika, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
4. Mix well and cook.  Optional: flip/mix when they are golden.
5. Leave it them in the oven until you smell them and they are looking dark.

We love sweet potatoes (batata).  My favorite way to make them is peeled, cubed, mixed with a little oil and a sometimes a dash of salt.  Spread them on a baking sheet and flip them when you smell them. Continue cooking until the smaller ones are thinking about burning.  (The potatoes in the picture below were cooked for 40 minutes, but I think it depends on the type and age of your potatoes.)  At this point the sugars are starting to caramelize and they are really delicious!

Both of the two potato recipes above are also good with ground up fresh garlic and or rosemary, better when you want to up the class for guests, but not always a favorite with kids.

Spicy Green Lentils

I was sick the last few days, so today I was looking for something simple and hardy, but healthier than the pizza my husband ordered when I was out of commission yesterday.  There are a couple things I always think I should eat more of: beans/lentils and quinoa.  Here is an easy lentil dish that received the official "yummy" from my husband.

About 1 cup of green lentils to 1.5 cups water.
1. Check lentils for stones and rinse.
2. Boil water, then simmer.
3. Add  seasonings.  I used cumin, white pepper (that's just what I happen to have), smoked paprika, a spice mix that I think is called "Philadelphia" (may contain any of the following: Paprika, Red pepper, Anis, Black pepper , Garlic & Crushed peppe,Onion.) but you could use chili powder or grill spice in America, and a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste.
4. Add salt to taste at the end, mix and serve.

Leftover suggestion: throw cold lentils on baby green, or eat plain with a little vinaigrette.

P.S. My version of spicy probably wouldn't be measurable in Scoville heat units.  I like to taste my food, not feel like my mouth is on fire.  You can spice it up according to your family's taste preference.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pomegranate PLUS Salad Recipe

Pomegranates have recently become some of the most affordable produce in Israel.  My kids love them (I love them when the kids aren't spilling them) and they have many health benefits.  Inside you will find many juice filled sacs with tiny seeds in the middle which some people eat and some prefer to spit out like watermelon seeds.  These are called arils and according to Jewish tradition, a pomegranate (rimon in Hebrew) has 613 arils, the same number as the number of Mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah.  Below are pictures of local pomegranate trees from May and August.

We like to throw bunches of arils in our mouths and eat them like candy, seed and all.  Both my 4 and 5.5 year old love them.  You can also put them in yogurt, breakfast cereal, ice cream, or salads (see below); or make juice or syrup from them.
Here is a picture of a lady juicing pomegranates in our outdoor city market.

Below are pictures and video showing how to get the arils out.  I'm no expert, but this is the basic technique:
Cut off crown, score sides, break open. Gently rub off arils in a bowl of water. Use your hands to rub arils underwater and remove all the white membrane from the water. Drain.

This video is in honor of my mother, whom I love (and who butchered a pomegranate at my home last month).  After making this video, I learned another innovation from my friend Hannah.  It involves "drilling" into the top at an angle like you might with a tomato.  You can see a video of it in her post on Cooking Manager or  the demonstration in this YouTube video.

I recently tasted a delicious salad that my Israeli friend, Tzippy, made.  The base was baby greens chopped fine like you would herbs, plus chopped red onion, apple, and pomegranate arils.  She said you can add whatever fruit you like, like strawberries.  It was lightly dressed with olive oil, a little apple juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper (optional).  Below is a picture of a similar salad I made when I had guests.

Roasted Garlic Tehina Babaganoosh

This is so good, I can't stop eating it.  The fresh pita doesn't hurt.
1. Roast an eggplant (or two) in the oven about 400 F or 200 C.  Start by stabbing it and wrapping it in foil.  Or let me know if you have a better way.
2. Roast garlic at the same time.  Cut off the top, drizzle with olive oil and wrap it in foil with a chimney on top.
3. When you start to smell it and it's all shrunken and the skin is dark, scrape out the meat and let in drain in a mesh colander for at least 15 minutes.
4. Blend the eggplant innards and peeled garlic cloves with a spoonful of tehina* and a spoonful of mayonnaise (or a drizzle of olive oil, but you won't have the same flavor).

*What I am calling tehina is a paste made from sesame seeds.  It tastes like unsweetened halva.  Make sure the ingredients are only sesame seeds.  If you want to make tehina dip, you can mix it with some water, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and even herbs to taste.


I made my own hummus today.  I heard on The Splendid Table Podcast (NPR) that the good companies peel their chick peas to make the hummus extra creamy.  So I tried it.  I soaked the chick peas overnight, cooked them with a pinch of kosher salt, then peeled EVERY SINGLE PEA... by hand.  (Except the ones I ate when the peels gave me a hard time.)  I think having a good food processor is more important than anything else.  The big question is: Why would I make my own hummus in a country where I can buy a kilo of hummus for about $2.75??  Because I was trying to replicate my husband's new favorite hummus that they sell at the mini-market near my daughter's kindergarten.  And the whole time my husband is asking why I'm bothering.  So I won't do it again... for a while.  It's hard having my husband working at home.  It's hard to surprise him.  Anything I make he knows how much work it took and how many dishes I used.

Update, next morning: My husband is enjoying my hummus and decided it's really very good and different from what we buy in the store.  I'm over the disapointment of not getting the world's most creamy hummus even after peeling all those chick peas (and probably throwing away some nutritional content).  So here's the story:

1. Soak chick peas (garbanzo beans) for a while.  I used about 1.5 cups dry chick peas and soaked overnight.
2. Boil/cook/simmer (I don't know what's best) with a little kosher salt.  Cook until they feel soft-ish in your mouth.
3. Drain into a bowl so you can use the flavorful water for the hummus as needed.
4. OPTIONAL: Rinse with cool water and peel chick peas.
5.Throw in food processor or blender (or mortar and pestle, or whatever you have) with olive oil and whatever seasonings you want.  Optional: Hold back some chick peas to garnish.
6. Add chick pea water and/or olive oil to taste and preferred consistancy.
To flavor, try any or all of the following:
salt, fresh lemon juice, tehina, roasted or raw garlic, roasted bell peppers, pine nuts, chilli peppers, zahatar... Please share your own inovations. 

Garnish: I often make roasted red pepper hummus, so I keep some more coarsly chopped red pepper on the side.  Top finished hummus with chick peas, a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of paprika, and something that hints at the flavor, like a dash of zahatar, sesame seeds, bell pepper, pine nuts, etc.

Here is a great post and an authentic recipe from one of my favorite blogs How to Be Israeli.  Be sure to read the comments.  It looks like the readers have some great suggestions I'll have to try next time.

Adult-Worthy Ice Pops

I'd like to bring back the ice pop, and not just for kids.  Pick three of your favorite juices or other sweet beverages and freeze them in ice pop molds one layer at a time.  In Israel you can buy "nectar" (sweetened, thickened fruit juice) in a large variety of flavors, and our market happens to sell them on sale when you buy three.  In Israel these are called "artikim."

Here you see my kids enjoying two different flavor combinations, but they have also been enjoyed by my mom, and other adult relatives and friends.  When I offer ice pops to friends, they are surprised for a moment that they are not just for the kids, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.  Make them while the weather's still warm!  

For a grown-up touch, try ice tea, alcoholic drinks, and savory things like mint and cucumber.
More ice pop and frozen fruit ideas HERE.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cabbage Orzo "Pilaf"

I was thinking about making sushi salad for dinner, then I thought what can I use up from the fridge, so the idea evolved.  Here's what I did:
Started boiling orzo pasta and washed bean sprouts.  Shredded/thinly sliced small cabbage, a couple carrots, and a few pieces of raw cauliflower that didn't fit in Monday's stir fry.  Started stir frying bean sprouts in a pot with canola oil.  Added cabbage mixture, thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes with oil from jar, then 4 eggs and seasonings.  I used a mildly spicy Mediterranean mix of spices I found in the market.  Added drained orzo when the egg was almost cooked.  If you want to make this healthier, use brown rice and add frozen peas like Chinese fried rice.

I was cracking the eggs when my son got home from preschool.  The great thing about not relying on recipes is that you can let your kids help make decisions about ingredients and seasonings.
Me: How many eggs do you think I should add?
Him: Well, how many people do we have?
Me: Four.
Him: Four eggs, I think.
Me: How many does it look like I already have?
Him: Three.
Me: So, how many more do I need?
Him: One more.  My teacher told me four comes after three.

Leftover suggestion: cold orzo on romaine lettuce with Italian dressing.

Taco Pasta & Sushi Salad

I don't cook dairy these days, but I was just reminiscing about taco pasta.  This is easier than making tacos and a good was to use up leftover pasta and other things.  Plus you can make it from canned and dry goods, so it's a good meal when you're can't make it out the the grocery store.  Basically, you add everything you would want in a taco (except maybe lettuce) to the pasta.  I like rottini.  Some ideas:
cheddar cheese; canned black, red, or refried beans; fresh tomatoes or salsa, left over corn cut off the cob or canned corn, olives, "veggie ground" (I microwave it with salsa, then add it.)... This is a delicious way to use up leftovers.

With the same concept, you can get all the flavor of sushi without the time it takes to roll.  I also like to do this when my sushi ingredients come out uneven, or with the Nori pieces I slice off the end when I make real sushi.  Make sushi rice as usual, or whatever rice you have.  I like short grain brown rice or sweet brown rice.  Then add all your sushi ingredients:
seasoned rice vinegar; soy sauce; torn strips of Nori; leftover fish, fake crab, canned tuna or salmon (I like to make frozen salmon with teriyaki sauce in the microwave.); chopped veggies like cucumbers, avocado, and grated carrots; anything else you can think to put in sushi, including scrambled egg or sweetened chopped up omelet.  Garnish with pickled ginger or black sesame seeds.  Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black Bean Dip & Pita Chips

At the end of my Mom's visit a couple weeks ago we were down to some whole wheat pita that was going stale and some of the more shelf stable veggies.  I realized in the afternoon that we didn't have much to eat, so I started soaking some raw beans.  That evening I simmered them and then added onions, carrots, garlic, a couple mushrooms, and a couple sprigs of rosemary that was about to go bad.  About half the mixture I left as soup with mild seasonings and half the mixture with less liquid I blended in the food processor with a mixture of chili powder type spices and middle eastern spices (like cumin), and of course, salt (no pun intended).

For the pita chips, I cut each pita like a clock into 6-10 sections, then split each apart.  I rubbed each side with a little olive oil (spray works great) and toasted it in the oven.  The dish was a big hit.  Even my kids said it was "super yummy."

Pumpkin (or squash) Soup & Easy Lentil Soup

I thought I would share the following two non-recipes I wrote down for my Aunt Nan after I made it when she was visiting last Thanksgiving.  I actually served it in the toasted hollowed out pumpkin.  In America I had more tools and seasoning.  Here in Israel, I just bought a food processor and I don't use boxed broth.

I scraped out all the meat from the pumpkin (or roast the squash until you can peel off the skin easily) (toss the seeds). For Pumpkin - I would start this roasting in the oven if you have that available, but you'll need a really big pan (otherwise just add raw and cook longer).  Then I fried up 3 chopped carrots, 3 stalks of celery, I think 1-2 onions, a couple cloves of garlic, mushrooms and anything else you want (less for smaller squash).  When it's soft, add more oil and flour (I guess this is optional, but I like the flavor it adds to creamy, non-dairy soups.)  I use grapeseed oil, canola is fine.  Let the flour cook and keep scraping the bottom.  Add a little broth now if it's sticking too much.  Add the pumpkin (if it's still raw, it just takes longer)  Here I added a whole carton of "Imagine No-chicken broth", but you could use other liquids, and scrape up all the flour.  Add any fresh herbs like thyme, sage, or rosemary.  My soup comes out a little greenish, but it's yummy, use less herbs if this would bother you.  While it's cooking/simmering add other seasonings.  I like to pull my spices out and sniff them to decide on a good combination, but for this soup, I used a mix of savory (listed above) and sweeter: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice...  Sea salt, a little fresh ground pepper or chili pepper, I added a drop of honey and agave syrup...You could probably get away with less or different ingredients, I'm just trying to remember what I did.  When everything if soft and smells good, blend with a hand blender or in food processor.

For an easy lentil soup:  You start as above, but skip the sweet flavorings, and use fresh thyme or lavender (leaves only) and definitely use flour.  You will use about 2 cans of lentils (I like the organic red lentils), but blend after adding only half a can and all the spices.  You can blend out a few chunks or random areas at the end, but I like the mouth feel of having a creamy soup with lentils still intact.

A delicious variation I just tried was more Indian style I used more fresh garlic, lots of Cumin, chili powder, a little ginger, and cinnamon, and a can of tomatoes (added in the beginning and completely blended).  Good luck!

You might also like: Hearty Lentil Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

This evening I made butternut squash soup.  Next time I'll try to take better pictures, but I only decided to start this blog after my husband said, "WOW this is so amazing I have goose bumps."

This afternoon I asked my husband to stick the butternut squash in the oven, not knowing what it might become.  I think it was in there a couple hours.  I only remembered about it and pulled it out after I smelled something burning.

After I put the kids to bed (and the squash was cooling) I fried up two carrots, a medium onion, and two cloves of garlic (with canola oil), followed by some baby-bella mushrooms, a tablespoon of margarine, and a tablespoon of flour.  After it was getting all sticky a brown I added some beer.  Normally I'd opt for veggie or chicken broth, but we've had this single beer in the house a couple weeks, and no other appropriate liquids. 

Then I added some more water, maybe 1.5 cups, and the squash, peeled, no seeds.  I let that simmer while I seasoned it with a little black pepper, quality powdered ginger, paprika, and cinnamon.  Salt and fresh herbs would be good, but I just realized I forgot salt, and I didn't have herbs.  Honey or a couple pinches of sugar would also work, but taste to make sure your squash needs it.  I used my food processor to smooth it out, then brought it to my sick hubby in bed and got the reaction above.

This would freeze well.  You can add some water and reheat it on the stove.  You could garnish with roasted sunflower or squash seeds, fried thyme, a dash of paprika, a drop of sour cream...

You might also like Easy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.

My Modern Day Recipe Box

I don't use recipes.  I love recipe books, but for ideas only.  I put my creative energies into my food and it bores me to "paint by number" or create the same thing twice.  However, I've decided to start recording some of the things I cook in case I want to build off the idea in the future.  Why reinvent the wheel, right?  So if you are reading this and try any of my non-recipes, I hope you will comment with your own innovations, and I will do the same.

A little background: We moved to Israel in January 2010.  Most of the food we find in the market is locally grown and in season.  This summer's heat wave destroyed many crops, and the prices of things that used to be dirt cheap, like tomatoes, now make that summer gazpacho quite a luxury.  So instead of deciding what I want to cook and then shopping, I see what I can afford and try to put it together into some semblance of a balanced meal.  My goal for this blog is to post several non-recipes/food prep ideas every week and eventually you can search my blog according to what is in your fridge to get ideas for what to make.

I hope to inspire you to cook creatively, try new foods and mix uncommon elements.  You don't need to stick to dishes that have already been named.  In my opinion, if you can't cook it without looking at the recipe, it's probably too complicated for every day meals.  I try to make simple dishes full of flavor and nutrients.  Please comment and share some of your favorite dishes!


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