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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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Traveling

I will be away having grand adventures for the next couple weeks.  I am sure there will be many more recipes and stories to share upon my return.  Until then!

The funny pages

Courtesy of Mark Bittman's blog

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.

A great cover I just discovered.  Might even beat Rhianna…

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.

This week I hit a wall. I’d traveled to four cities in 2 and a half weeks and I needed a break.  My body screamed at me, slow down!  What are you doing?!  I had planned to travel back to college for the weekend to celebrate the graduation of 2010, party with missed friends, eat my favorite town food and probably end up sleeping on friend’s dorm floors (pleasant, right?).  Instead, I stayed home and spent the weekend reading, sleeping (in my bed) and baking, the ultimate zen event.  Not my college buddies, but still a lovely weekend.

Not sure about the rest of the country, but in the District, cupcake craze has taken over.  There is Hello Cupcake, Georgetown Cupcake, Curbside Cupcakes, the list goes on.  And while I adore cupcakes, I would also love to eat them without feeling like I’m completely wasting my calories on 4 bites of cake and buttercream.  So this weekend I attempted to do the unthinkable: make a healthy cupcake.  The recipe originated with The Atlantic Food Channel, where I found a recipe for flourless chocolate cake made with beans and greek yogurt.  I’d made the recipe for Passover this year and it was wonderful.  I looked up other recipes by the same author and found an adaptation of Ina Garten’s lemon yogurt cake.  With the wheels turning, I decided to combine the two: lemon cupcakes with beans and greek yogurt!  The only trick: bean are gray.  Not so yummy.  In come the beets.

Beets are one of my favorite vegetables; endlessly diverse and a thrill to cook with.  In this case, they would be my savior from gray, blah looking cupcakes and instead turn them into red-velvet-looking, scrumptious lemon creations (with additional fiber and antioxidents!).

After an afternoon of experimenting, here is the recipe I ended up with:

2 cups flour

4 eggs

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 can black beans (15.5oz)

3.5 oz Greek yogurt (fat content of your choice)

2 lemons juiced

1 cup sugar

2 lemons zested (approx. 2 tbsp)

1 cup beets, grated

Icing:

1 cup confection sugar

2 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 and let bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool then ice.  Red sprinkles optional. Eat and enjoy!

Red Lemon Cupcakes