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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Igos

It is fig season; the time when markets are filled with figs of all shapes and sizes, beckoning me to drop cash that I do not have to indulge in the end of summer fruit.  I don’t know what it is, there’s just something, well, kind of sexy about them.  Maybe it’s the Biblical association: fig leaves were used to clothe the naked Adam and Eve in Genesis and they show up in the Song of Solomon as well, forming in the year of love.  Or maybe it’s their Greekness.  Greek things are sexy, I guess: togas, beaches, flaming cheese.

Either way, I have a love of figs.  I could not help but incorporate them into my latest dinner party.  On total improvisation, praying they would turn out okay, I put together plum and fig tarts for my friends.  The pastry I must admit was slightly crunchy, I think partially due to a lack of butter (I always try to be healthy, sometimes to a fault), so here I added a bit more to the recipe.  But, the figs and plums were delicious, highlighted with a hint of thyme and honey.

Makes 6 tarts

Pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

a pinch of ground ginger

1 1/4 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and ice water and work that in with your hands. (Or do the whole thing in a food processor, pulsing a couple of times to combine the dry ingredients, then pulsing in the butter, and then the egg.) Check the consistency of the dough by squeezing a small amount together between thumb and forefingers: You want there to be just enough moisture to bind the dough so that it holds together without being too wet or sticky. If it’s still crumbly, add a little more ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time. When you get it to the right consistency, shape the dough into 6 disks and wrap it in plastic. Put it in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes.

For filling:

3 plums, pitted and sliced

6 figs, cut into 6ths

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 egg, beaten with a drizzle of water

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Move the oven rack to the bottom third of the oven.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough. Loosely drape the dough round over the rolling pin and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. Trim the edges if you want the tart to look more refined (I skipped this part).  You should have 6 rounds on two baking sheets.

Toss the fruit with the sugar, thyme, honey, lemon, and cornstarch.  Place the fruit in each round, half a plum and a fig in each. Fold up the edges around the fruit, pressing with fingers to seal.  Brush with the egg glaze. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling up through the vents, 40 to 50 minutes. Cover the edges with aluminum foil if they brown too fast. Cool on a rack before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Oatmeal Epiphany

Like people in any profession, you observe the work and admire select people in your field.  For me, Margaret Tung at The Atlantic consistently posts recipes I love.  Granted, in total that is three recipes, but still, what are the chances of me truly loving all three?  In fact, her chocolate cake has become my Passover cake (for those who accept legumes), and her blood orange cake is beautiful (and based on a recipe by Ina Garten whom I also love).  So I was not-all-too surprised when I decided to make Margaret’s pumpkin oatmeal that it was outrageously delicious, nutritious, and filling.

Courtesey of Margaret Tung at The Atlantic

The recipe is so simple, yet adds a flavor component that completely changes the texture and flavor of the everyday oatmeal.  The recipe calls for pumpkin spice and walnuts, and not having either on hand, I skipped them and still the overwhelming feeling of fall and pumpkin pie filled my bowl.  Of course, I now have the wheels churning: pumpkin oatmeal muffins with chocolate chips?  Pumpkin oatmeal pancakes?  Keep your eyes peeled for a future pumpkin post….

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Muffins Galore!

For whatever reason, I am currently in a muffin phase.  I can no longer deny myself the lovely comfort of carbohydrates!  Sometimes my craving is frozen yogurt, sometimes dried fruit (pineapple!), sometimes chocolate, and right now it’s muffins.  But, as always, I am an avid supporter of healthy foods; my goal is to cause the least amount of damage while achieving the highest amount of satisfaction.  For muffins, I have found that butter and oil are easily replaced by yogurt, pumpkin, or applesauce.  Anything creamy will keep the baked good moist and delicious.  I started my muffin quest with pumpkin muffins.  Crossing my fingers that they would be edible, I was pleasantly surprised when they were not only fluffy and moist but also delicious.  I kept them on my counter, indulging whenever I needed an afternoon snack or a breakfast on-the-go.  This week, I baked a chocolate chip banana bread for my cousin and decided that I wanted something similar for myself.  Looking in my fridge I saw two small zucchinis sitting alone in my vegetable drawer.  An hour later I had banana zucchini muffins.

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup SPLENDA brown sugar blend

1 tsp maple syrup

1 tsp honey

1 cup buttermilk

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Lychees

Check out my new piece on NPR: “Cracking The Lychee ‘Nut‘”

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Israel


I have trekked, I have eaten, I have conquered.  I managed to not only survive but overwhelmingly enjoy my two week hiking trip through Israel.  The land was beautiful: endless landscapes of limestone and water-sanded crevices in the south all the way to the northern vineyards and mossy hills.  The heat was abounding, peaking around 115 degrees as we descended Masada one afternoon, but the sweat and burn were well worth the journey.

Israel remains for me, one of the most fascinating places on earth.  The unending conundrums of space, relationships, politics, everything, all placed within a country filled with zealots and hippies.  In Israel you can find yourself in the barren desert, completely alone, or in Jerusalem  observing 10,000 Ashkenazi Orthodox protest Sephardic Orthodox children attending their schools, or in the green hills of Tzfat where the tie-dye clothing and bright blue railings perfectly oppose the sandy outskirts.  You can go to Israel to smoke a joint and surf or enthrall yourself in exclusive, devotional religious practices, be it Muslim or Jewish.  You can attend a dinner hosted by a Druze household, welcoming any outsiders to learn about their traditions, and observe the Arab-Israeli conflict where the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock collide.  For me, there is no place like it.

I must admit, I did not do a ton of exciting eating on the trip.  My days were filled with treks and pit stops at malls, gas stations or kibbutz buffet lines to refuel.  Yet, I did eat some excellent grub.  What sticks out most to me about Israeli food are their salads.  Salad for breakfast, salad for lunch, and salad for dinner.  Sometimes the salads changed, sometimes they didn’t.  One day I found myself eating a cabbage salad with carrots and bean sprouts along side quinoa with carrots, dried cranberries and raisins for breakfast.  Lunch was the same cabbage salad with hummus and a pita.  Dinner, sub the pita and hummus with meat.  Needless to say, the first thing I wanted when arriving home was, of course, a cabbage salad.  And that’s what I’ve eaten for lunch every afternoon since I got back.

The use of lemon, vinegar, dill and mint, I have found, can create an endless amount of yummy combinations.  My basic salad suggestions:

1.) cucumber, tomato, chickpeas, mint, basil, lemon juice, salt

2.) roasted beets, dill, lemon juice, splash of vinegar, salt

3.) cabbage, carrots, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt

This is not to say that Israelis only eat vegetables.  Every morning there was a massive array of cheeses, yogurt, cured fish, pastries and dried fruits.  The dates were spectacular and I have never tasted a feta cheese like the several I tasted there.  Chocolate babka added to my waistline along with the freshly baked challahs and awesome halvah.

But beyond the food, which to be honest was rather secondary, or even tertiary on this adventure, the land and people of Israel are worth taking the time to see, to explore.  The cities offer so much history along with the current political and religious battles while the hills and forests remain in large portions untouched and reminiscent of Biblical times.  Whatever your religion, whether or not it is represented within the communities of Israel, the country is an unending canvas of intrigues and beauty.

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Breakfast for dinner

Some nights all I really want for dinner is breakfast.  Burgers, pasta, salad all sound unappetizing.  Bagels, pancakes, and eggs?  Bring it on.  Last night was one of these evenings.  As luck would have it, it was “Bagel Day” in my building and I had snagged a cinnamon raisin bagel on my way out in the morning with no real intention of eating it for breakfast.  It was more so a hey, there’s something free and yummy.  Might as well take one just in case. Smart, right?  By evening, I was ready to devour it.

Cinnamon raisin bagels are a new-found favorite of mine, with the spiced fluffy bread and succulent raisins .  I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to bagels.  I like the good old Jewish deli egg bagel with homemade cream cheese, red onion and cucumber slices.  In fact, I would place this on my list of top 5 favorite things to eat.  On special occasions, I’ll add some lox, tomato and capers, but really the basic onion and cucumber suffice.  Cinnamon bagels serve a whole other purpose.  They are not savory or salty.  To me, they certainly do not look like a full meal.  You cannot shmear them with cream cheese (or I shouldn’t say cannot, but perhaps I would not?).  For most of my life cinnamon bagels seemed as perverse as strawberry cream cheese.  They are better served, in my opinion, toasted with butter and that is all.  Once the bagel is warm and buttery, it resembles a cinnamon bun more than a bagel, but boy is it delicious.

So with my cinnamon bagel in hand, I planned my evening meal.  On top of my bagel craving, I needed some protein with my dinner.  I peered around my kitchen and was able to find cherry tomatoes, spinach, Gruyere cheese and eggs: enough to make an omelet.

I began by roasting the tomatoes at 400 degrees, lightly sprinkled with garlic salt.  Once they were sufficiently cooked (slightly wilted and warm, approximately 3-4 minutes in the oven), I popped them out of the oven and set them down to cool.  I then filled a small frying pan with a handful of sliced fresh spinach and a drizzle of water, heating the pan to wilt the spinach.  Once wilted, I added two eggs and reduced the heat, tossing in the roasted tomatoes before covering the pan.  I have found that one of the easiest ways to cook an omelet is to take your time.  I’m not very good at the fancy flipping stuff; part of the dish always ends up on the floor, the stove or me.  Instead, I set the heat very low and cover the eggs, allowing both sides to cook relatively evenly.  Once the eggs began to set, I grated about a tablespoon of Gruyere and sprinkled it on top, covering the eggs again to finish cooking (this is also the point at which I put half of my cinnamon raisin bagel in the toaster).  Once set, I turned off the burner, folded one side on top of the other and slid the egg onto my plate.  By the time that was done, my bagel had browned.  I spread on the butter and sat down to enjoy my evening breakfast.

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Last week I had a night of experimental cooking, of things I’d been intrigued by or curious about making but never tried.  On the menu: homemade frozen yogurt and turnip fries.  Now I will save you the time of cooking turnips as fries and let you know there is a reason you don’t see turnip fries on menus: they’re not very good.  I figured they’d have the potato consistency, as they do when they’re boiled, but I was sorely disappointed when they remained rather rough and sour tasting.  The froyo on the other hand, was another story.

It is the time of year when frozen yogurt becomes a common part of my diet.  It’s my go-to when I want something sweet, something indulgent, or really just something cold.   But while doing some research on the hip frozen yogurt joints popping up all over town, I learned that a lot of these stores use corn syrup in their yogurt, along with several other ingredients I cannot even recognize.  Cellulose gum? Guar gum? Carrageenan?  Why not simply yogurt, fruit, and sugar?

I’ve heard time and again that you can’t make frozen yogurt without an ice cream maker, but after seeing this recipe in Eating Well, I decided to give it a go.  I popped some strawberry flavored Greek yogurt (Ciobani) in a blender along with five frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon lemon juice.  I blended the mixture together until smooth (though I left a few frozen strawberry chunks cause I like it that way), placed in a plastic container and popped it back in the freezer.  One hour later I had homemade frozen yogurt to eat as dessert.  I topped mine with crushed dark chocolate and a fresh strawberry.

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