pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

clementine sorbet. because blood oranges are too expensive.

ciao bella blood orange sorbet. a very good thing. sometimes the perfect thing. the just what you need thing. the hmmm i should try making that thing.
the surprising, mysteriously blood colored pulp that seems to seep through the shiny, protective skin and into the fruit is beautiful. 
and interesting. 
and bizarre. 
and really just very expensive. too expensive for sorbet.
 so i decided to forgo making blood orange sorbet. instead i chose a lovely and vastly more economical citrus. the clementine. the clementine is, on its own, a perfect snack--easy to peel and sweet and bright and exciting to eat. and it turns out that it makes for some pretty incredible sorbet, too.

ingredients for the sorbet:
3 cups clementine juice
1 cup sugar
1 cups water
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
 to make the sorbet:
1. cut the clementines in half and juice them until you have three cups. hopefully you have a juicer. if you don't, this will be an awfully tedious process. 
2. combine the clementine juice with the lemon juice and zest.
3. heat the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat and stir it as it boils. when the sugar dissolves remove it from the heat. 
4. combine all the ingredients and pour them into an ice cream maker for as long as your ice cream maker takes to make sorbet. mine took 20 minutes. freeze the sorbet for at least 2 hours before serving.
if you want to be unnecessarily fancy you can serve the sorbet in an actual clementine! cut the top off a clementine and scoop out the fruit (this is actually surprisingly easy in clementines). fill with sorbet and freeze until serving. that's it! who doesn't want to eat clementine sorbet out of an actual clementine??!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

pita. in my mother's kitchen

i love my mother's kitchen. i call it my mother's kitchen instead of my parents' kitchen, though i suppose in fact it belongs to them equally, as does the rest of their wonderful house, but somehow the kitchen, the room in which i learned to dance and sneak raw cookie dough, the place i spent countless hours with friends eating late night snack concoctions i cringe just thinking about now, with the silky wooden cabinets behind which live endless cooking instruments of all sizes and materials and spices for every dish, with the cookbooks so old and trusted the binding is cracked, the yellowing pages marked with her unmistakable scrawl, with the cookbooks so new their contents have not been fully examined and properly judged, with the junk drawers full of unimaginable, useless wonders mixed in with old school photos and art supplies, with the counter i've sat on and laughed on and cried on and wiped clean and the bar stools that are never quite comfortable enough but no one cares because everyone just wants to be in this physical space, surrounded by the light and the warmth and the back splash she tiled herself in iridescent colors of joy because it is the space we are all most comfortable, happiest, where we feel protected and embraced, belongs to my mother. so it is no surprise that i am drawn to this room each time i am home for a visit, inspired and eager to create. and so it was on my most recent trip home. i was inspired enough, even, to attempt, for the first time, to make pita.

i used this recipe, which i loved for its simplicity because pita, when done right, is a simple, perfect food, delicious on its own, even better dipped in hummus. i changed it only slightly by increasing the salt by 1/4 teaspoon and mixing it all by hand. if you saw my mother's counter you'd want to make bread on it by hand, too.

ingredients for the pita:
4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup and then 1 1/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons sugar

to make the pita:
1. combine 1/2 cup warm water, yeast, and sugar and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
2. in a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, and olive oil until it's combined. make a well in the center of it and pour in the yeast mixture. add 1 1/4 cups warm water and mix with a fork until you're able to knead it by hand (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook instead), which you should do for about 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and not too sticky. add flour as needed. put the dough in a bowl lightly coated with olive oil, cover it with a cloth napkin or tea towel, and let it rise until it doubles in size, which should take about 1 1/2 hours.
3. when the dough has risen, tear off handfuls of it and roll into 12 equal balls, each about the size of an orange. cover them again and let them rise for another 30 minutes.
4. when the 30 minutes are up, roll out the balls into circles that are about 1/4 inch thick. no need to measure them or make sure they are perfect circles. cover them again and let them rise another 30 minutes.
5. preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and place the dough circles on a sheet of tin foil on a rack centered in the oven. bake for about 6 minutes, or until the dough circles have puffed up and lightly browned and look like... well... pita! i baked them in three batches of four.

it's a long process, but when you rip into the fluffy bread and a little steam actually rises from the center, and you bite into it and it's chewy and the flavor is simple but you can still taste the hint of olive oil and salt, and then you dip it into the hummus and baba ghanouj and labane that your dad picked up from the lebanese place for dinner, you will know it was worth it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

baklava. and perfect hummus.

a few years ago my parents came to visit and joey insisted we schlep all the way out to bay ridge to eat dinner at a restaurant called tanoreen i'd never heard of. it's not that bay ridge is all that far. but it feels far. my suggestions for local thai and italian were rejected. he kept saying that the restaurant was one of new york magazine's best cheap eats in the city. and BYO. these are compelling reasons. but the most compelling of all was the menu.

middle eastern food. made by a woman from nazareth.

i'm suspicious of middle eastern food in the states. even in new york. sure, there are plenty of places to pick up a decent enough felafel, but truly authentic, utterly delicious fare is actually pretty hard to come by. granted, i've been absolutely spoiled by my years in israel, and my standards are unfairly high, especially for hummus, one of the single greatest foods in existence. but when you've spent countless hours wandering the unendingly complicated and narrowly winding streets of the arab quarter of the old city in jerusalem, which are as filled with overloaded wheelbarrows from an unrecognizable era that thump their way down the descending, aged steps as with fighting drivers impossibly squeezed and facing off on the the confined paths with no way in or out, searching, as i have, for that one specific hummus place, the others just won't do. because you know it's here somewhere, past these particular jewelry stalls (oh, aren't those necklaces stunning?) and down these stairs from those leather sandals (and oh, don't they always look lovely on tanned feet?) and around the corner from those specific tapestries (but oh, didn't you always want a large red one?) and just beyond those mounds of spices (oh, oh, oh, aren't the turmeric and saffron and paprika works of art you want to stand near and smile at all day?) and you know that eventually you will find it and you will sigh with joy as you compress your aching body between the crumbling wall and the unsteady table, still littered with the previous patron's ineffectively small napkins and plates wiped so clean they reveal nothing about the food consumed, until a boy, a son? grandson? wipes it down with a rag you choose not to look at because there is no such thing as the department of health in these walls, before bringing you a plate of sliced tomato so rich with flavor and juicy that every bite sends a dribble of sweet nectar out of your mouth, pickles so wonderfully garlicky they send a delightful shock down your throat, and olives so perfectly cured you have to ration them for fear you'll get your fill on these alone and you order immediately, for there are no menus here. there's hummus. and when it comes out, it's the most enticing bowl of food you've ever seen. this dish covered in hot, meaty fava beans, that one covered in lemony chickpeas, a third in green tehina, all of them sprinkled with unnamed spices and chopped herbs and drenched in olive oil. the pita so fresh and hot it burns your fingertips as you rip it, plunge it into the hummus, and take your first heavenly bite.

that's hummus.

a packaged dip labeled "edamame hummus" is pureed edamame.

but joey was right. and the hummus at tanoreen is superb. and so is the rest of the food, for that matter. so when my parents came to visit again recently to celebrate my mom's birthday, i was the one who recommended tanoreen. and i didn't even have to schlep all the way to bay ridge to eat it because joey and my dad picked it up and brought it to my apartment and my one responsibility was dessert. sometimes things just work out perfectly. i decided to make baklava. before dinner, the layers of flaky phyllo dough and cinnamony pistachio saturated with sticky honey spice syrup seemed overwhelmingly sweet. after dinner, they were perfect.

i used this recipe, but i changed it a bit. first of all, i halved it, because i am not insane. even i cut baklava into small pieces and can only eat a few. and i am someone who can, single handed, eat all of the frosting off an entennman's chocolate fudge cake. but baklava is something else, and even after i halved the recipe we still had lots left over.

ingredients for the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup water
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom

ingredients for the filling:
1 1/2 cups ground pistachios
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/8 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
24 sheets phyllo dough, cut to match the size of your pan
1 stick melted butter

to make the baklava:
1. start with the syrup. stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in a pot over low heat until the sugar dissolves, which should take about five minutes. turn the heat up and cook another five minutes without stirring. it'll turn into a nice golden brown syrup. remove it from the heat and let it cool.
2. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8x8 baking pan with butter. combine the pistachios, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.
3. place a sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush it with the melted butter and then repeat this step seven
more times. don't worry if you lose count, which i obviously did. when you think you've gotten to eight sheets, spread half of the filling evenly over the dough. repeat the same steps again. phyllo. butter. eight times. then the rest of the filling. then the phyllo. butter. eight times thing again. don't put any butter on the very top. instead, sprinkle it with a little bit of water because apparently this keeps it from curling.
4. cut equal strips through the top layer of pastry and then make diagonal cuts across them to make diamond shapes. or not. or can not fully follow directions and instead cut all the way through all of the layers of dough and nuts in shapes that only vaguely resemble diamonds. cause that's what i did.
5. bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees F and bake for another 15 minutes or so, or until the top is golden brown. then, cut through the scored lines (or not if you're bad at following directions like i am. slowly drizzle the syrup over the baklava, in and out of the cuts and around the sides. i actually didn't end up using all of mine because it looked fully saturated about 3/4 of the way through the syrup.

6. let it cool for a few hours and then sprinkle it with some ground pistachio before serving if you're feeling fancy.

since you only really need a small piece, we had plenty of baklava to enjoy with the tanoreen leftovers for days to come...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

gingerbread cake for warmth

i've been thinking a lot about ginger recently. i think maybe it's the cold weather. i love just about anything ginger related when it comes to baking. gingersnaps, ginger and fruit cakes, ginger cheesecake, ginger donuts. (the word ginger just lost meaning to me because i typed it and said it in my head so many times.) but my favorite ginger confection of all is plain old fashioned gingerbread cake, which i discovered at marvelous market, a terrific gourmet food chain in the DC area that sells all sorts of breads and pastries and cheeses and dips and olives. and cake. gingerbread cake. i actually consider myself quite the expert on the deliciousness of marvelous market's food because i worked at a small suburban outpost during a few college breaks where i was instructed to put out samples of the different breads and dips for customers to try. well, sometimes it was really slow. and the samples looked lonely. so i ate them. a lot of them. and that's what happened.

but i actually think the first time i tried the gingerbread cake it was a mistake. in fact, i'm sure i thought it was a giant piece of chocolate cake and i have to say that the surprising, rich, spicy, soothing complexity of the molasses and ginger is probably the only thing that wouldn't make me sad to mistakenly bite into thinking it was chocolate. it was a very fortunate mistake. it quickly became one of my favorite treats.

i never put out samples of the gingerbread cake. because that would have been a problem. 

cold weather makes me think about this wonderful cake because the very idea of it warms me up, and i've needed a little warming up over the past few days because i just got back from a vacation in california where i sat by a pool in the hot desert sun and now the real feel temperature outside is 3 degrees F, which i find particularly painful because in addition to going from summer weather to winter weather in the course of a plane ride, i'm also back at work. and those two things combined = i needed gingerbread cake.

i decided to make it on monday for three reasons:
1. my need for comfort on my last day of vacation.
2. josh decided to clean out The Big Scary Closet and the only way i could get out of participating was by baking.
3. a cousin and an aunt were visiting from israel and a cousin and an aunt were visiting from DC and everyone was going to convene for dinner at my grandparents' apartment to celebrate all the things there are to celebrate, including the 60th birthday of one of my aunts!

so of course i had to bake. but here's the thing. the birthday aunt doesn't really eat flour or sugar. baking without flour. i've done that. but baking without sugar??? a challenge. but not one ginger could't overcome.

ingredients for the almost sugar-free, almost flour-free gingerbread cake:
3/4 cup stout 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup splenda granulated sugar*
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup almond flour*
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper*
2 eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger*

*i'd never baked with either splenda granulated sugar or almond flour before but i just kind of went for it. because why not? and... it worked! i bought the splenda granulated sugar the grocery store and was astonished by how light the box was. i'm not sure if the ginger just overpowered the taste or if splenda granulated sugar is just a magical substance.
i made the almond flour by food-processing the heck out of slivered almonds, and since it's denser than all-purpose flour i added a whole teaspoon of baking powder.
the cake was really wonderfully gingery spicy, but i can see how some people might be overwhelmed by the ginger heat, in which case you should just skip the fresh grated ginger and the black pepper.
to make the gingerbread cake:
1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour an 8x8 baking pan.
2. heat the stout in a medium pot over medium heat and stir it occasionally. when it starts to boil remove it from the heat and stir in the baking soda and watch it get all weird and foamy. when it stops foaming, add the speldna granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup and then set it aside.
3. whisk the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper together in a big bowl and set it aside, too.
4. pour the stout mixture into a bowl and whisk in the eggs, applesauce, and granulated ginger, and then add the wet mixture to the dry mixture in thirds, whisking until combined after every addition. it'll look a little grainy because of the almond flour.
5. pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes (or until it's firm to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean).
6. when the cake is cool cut it up into squares and enjoy! one way to make it pretty is with a dusting of powdered sugar.

i also added another little touch--i heated water and sugar and ginger powder in a saucepan and when it started to reduce i added almond slivers, which got nice and sticky and caramelized. when they cooled i broke them up and fancified the cake with them. oh, and also we ate it with ice cream. we were celebrating a birthday, after all.

stay warm out there!!!!!