Friday, June 24, 2011

Apricot Crumble Cake

My father-in-law has a farm about an hour north of Amman. Now, before you get carried away, it's a plot of land with mostly olive trees and a small house that resembles more a hut than a structure you want to spend your weekends in. You might be envious, because besides the olive trees which provide us for the better part of a year with olive oil, he also has a couple of stone fruit trees like peaches, italian plums, yellow plums and apricots (and a fig tree and several concord grapevines).

This past week he came back with crates overflowing with apricots. I have anticipated this time since arriving in Jordan. I had plans for jams and chutney, crumbles and, of course, cake.
Before I left for Jordan I made a rhubarb cake for a potluck which came from Nicky at deliciousdays. It was one of those easy to make but utterly delicious coffee cakes with crumbles, a custard like filling and full of sweet pockets of rhubarb. In the description of said cake, Nicky mentioned this recipe could be adapted to other fruits like cherries and apricots. So today I took my chances, wandered downstairs to the kitchen of my mother in law and filled a bowl with sweet, sun kissed apricots.

a bowl full.

For me, the city child, this close relationship between farm to table is still fascinating. Just a couple of hours ago, these apricots were on trees weighed down heavy and now they are in my kitchen.

I adapted the recipe to my own liking using, first of all, apricots instead of rhubarb and secondly decreasing the sugar in the crust. With most of the cakes I bake, I have issues with the amount of sugar. There hasn't been a single frosting recipe, for example, in which I didn't reduce the sugar. I like my sweets on the grown up side of things. This cake - especially because of the tart apricots - is on the barely sweet side. Below is the recipe with my adaptions and conversions into cups.

Apricot Crumble Cake
adapted from delicious:days

200 grams (7oz.) soft butter
160 grams (3/4 cup) white sugar
pinch of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 large egg, at room temperature
400 grams (3 cups plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

600 grams apricots, stones removed and quartered

For the filling:
2 large eggs
75 grams (1/3 cup) white sugar
100ml (3.5oz.) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

washed apricots

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and butter a 26cm springform pan or line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl (or in a stand mixer with paddle attachment) beat the butter, egg, sugar and salt together until well combined and fluffy. Mix the flour and baking powder together, add it to the butter and rub the mixture together until smaller and bigger crumbs develop.

3. Put half and up to two thirds of the crumb mixture into the prepared baking pan, gently pressing it down. Make sure to also form a rim. Depending on the fruits used, Nicky advises to cover the bottom with a thin layer of breadcrumbs to avoid the fruits from completely soaking the bottom. Evenly spread the prepared fruits on the cake bottom and sprinkle with the remaining crumbs. Eat the rest of the dough once you are happy with the amount of crumbs on the fruits - if you aren't afraid of eating raw eggs.

4. Bake the cake for 25 minutes at medium level, rotating halfway through to make sure your cake bakes evenly.

5. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, cream, eggs and vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl. Beat well to ensure the sugar dissolves. When the 25minutes are up, remove the cake from the oven and spread the filling over the cake, making sure to distribute the filling evenly but try to avoid letting the liquid go beyond the rim. Otherwise it may leave dark or burnt spots which will not influence the later taste.
Bake for another 25minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling has set (this second part took me 45minutes, so make sure to check on the cake regularly). Let the cake rest for 10minutes before removing the baking form.

Apricot crumble cake

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cooking from the books: Ottolenghi, Part 1

I went to London once. It was part of a school trip to York. One week with a bunch of other 16year olds. In a bus. It was memorable to say the least.
On our way back we stopped in London. We had 9 hours to see the city. Because we were young and our English still limited we were only allowed to move about the city in groups of at least three. 
My group had four people. Ever tried to get everyone's wishes in sync? Especially when those wishes are mixed with hormones only 16year olds can produce? Never mind.
In other words: We didn't see much of the actual London because we were too busy stumbling around the streets. That was in 2003. 
It is time for a return, I guess.

By now, my trip planning evolves around food. Even though I don't know when, if or ever I will be in the States, I have a list of places I want to see and eat at in Seattle, Portland, New York (of course) and some other places. London is no exception (or other European cities for that matter).
I wish I had known of Ottolenghi back in 2003 when the restaurant/deli/bakery was only a year old. By now, the restaurant - or more so, its chefs, has published two cookbooks and opened another location. 
I know I'd love the place because of the way they display food. If you look at the front cover of their book, you know what I mean.

It took me awhile to finally buy the book myself. I don't know what it was, really. 
It's fresh, inspired food that is easy to prepare. Both chefs take inspiration from their upbringing in the Middle East and I have found more than one recipe that I have eaten one way or another in this region. 
When I saw a sack of mograbiah in the supermarket for the first time in Jordan (my strolls through the Turkish markets in Berlin were limited so I don't know how easily available it is), I bought it in an instant as if it wasn't available again the next day.

I settled on a salad which was supposed to be accompanying barbecued quail. Quail, much to my surprise, is available in Jordan (same with the eggs), but it doesn't stir me. We barbecued chicken instead.
Mograbiah is, like couscous, made of wheat semolina. It takes longer to cook (much like pasta) than the preparation of couscous but gives a nice chew. 

Mograbiah Salad.

I loved this dish. It has lots of fresh herbs, some heat from the chili and a great lemony flavor. According to the book the amount would serve 4 generously (if each of your guests gets two quails). I found it, however, to be enough for 2 as a side dish only and would adjust the amounts next time accordingly.
The recipe also has you add butter to the cooked grains which was only nice as long as they were warm but hardened up when the salad reached room temperature, so I would omit the butter next time I make it.
Below is the recipe with my notes.

Mograbiah Salad
Adapted from Ottolenghi The cookbook

125g mograbiah
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 mild red chili
1 spring onion (MM: Which I forgot to use, ups.)
1 lemon
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water in a medium sized pot to a boil, once boiling add a pinch of salt and add the mograbiah. Simmer for 15 to 18 minutes or until the grains are tender but with still a substantial bite to it (check the instructions on the package as cooking times can vary). Strain into a colander to drain well, then transfer to a serving bowl (instead of a mixing bowl to save dishes).

Add the oil (and butter, 10grams, if using), season with plenty of salt and pepper and stir well. Set aside to cool. While you wait, prepare the chili by deseeding it and chopping it up finely as well as the herbs. Add the chili (and the spring onion I forgot) to the mograbiah.

Segment the lemon by trimming off 1cm from the top and the bottom. Stand the lemon up on a cutting board and follow its natural curves with a knife to take off the skin and all the white pith. Holding the lemon over the bowl of mograbiah, cut along the white membranes encasing the segments to release the segments into the bowl. Squeeze in any remaining juice.

Just before you are ready to serve, add the herbs to the salad, taste and see if you need more salt, pepper or olive oil.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Caramelized Onion and Cauliflower Tart

The very first foodblog I ever read was the one coming from a small kitchen in New York City and it wasn't until 2008. I have been a loyal fan of hers ever since. And she never disappoints. I am talking, of course of The smitten kitchen.

And when she tells you to roast some cauliflower, caramelize onions, layer both in a buttery crust and top it of with an enormous amount of different cheeses, well, it's exactly what you do. Because it will be good. 

The other day, I went into the garden, knowing my fridge was full of butter, heavy cream, mascarpone, gruyère cheese and parmesan, and picked the prettiest and biggest cauliflower available. We are growing a variety of vegetables down there: fennel, cabbages, cauliflower and lettuces underneath some lemon trees. (Not bragging, just very happy about it.)

I then went upstairs, mixed butter with flour and an egg to make a crust, roasted the cauliflower and caramelized an onion. When you read the list of ingredients and see the amount of dairy involved you might shy away from making it. But don't. Make it anyway. Serve it with a big green salad to ease the guilt and enjoy. It's crazy good.

It's a bit of a trickster tart, because it tastes so good and not heavy that you want to eat it all.  Until you remember the mascarpone.

Caramelized Onion and Cauliflower Tarte

Caramelized Onion and Cauliflower Tart
adapted from who adapted it from Bon Appetit magazine

For the tart shell (which doesn't need par-baking!)
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon Cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (90grams) butter 
1 large egg

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, starch and salt. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is in tiny bits. Add the egg and mix until the dough comes together.  If that doesn't happen, turn the dough on a working surface and knead until it comes together. 
Roll the dough out 12" and place in a 9" (just under 25cm) pie or tart pan. Press the dough down to remove air bubbles. 
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound) (MM: My garden cauliflower was only 350grams, but fit perfectly into the pie pan after roasting), cut into florets
3 1/2 tablespoons oil
salt, pepper
1 large onion, halved lengthwise, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, at room temperature
7 - 8oz mascarpone (240 - 270gram)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or black, or more according to your taste)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (2.5oz.)
1/2 cup grated parmesan (1.5oz) (MM: I just realized now that the recipe calls for 1/3 cup, oops.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Toss the cauliflower in 2 tablespoons of oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet for 15 minutes before turning florets over and roast for another 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. Let cool.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F/175°C. 

3. In a medium sized pan heat the remaining 1 1/2 Tablespoons of oil and cook the onions for 30 to 40 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally to avoid burning the onions (like me, duh). Let cool slightly.

4. Brush the bottom and sides of the crust with the mustard. Spread the onions over the crust and arrange the cauliflower on top of that.

5. Whisk together the eggs, mascarpone, Gruyère cheese and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the cauliflower and sprinkle with parmesan.

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the tart is golden brown and set in the middle. Transfer to a cooling rack and let stand for 15 minutes.

7. Serve with a big green salad to balance it all (I served mine with a green salad with avocado which, in a way, defeated the purpose I guess).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hazelnut muffins.

When I ordered the book for this cake there was a second equally exciting book in the package. Baking with whole grains. In a country with no whole grains available.
Yeah, well.
If you cannot get it, take it with you. And so I did. I bought a pound of teff flour (the most uncommon and therefore exciting flour), put it in my suitcase and went to Jordan thinking: If I like it (the new, unknown flour) enough, I can always ask a visitor to bring me more.

The recipes for teff flour are limited to five. I have made two so far and loved both. First I made the graham crackers. They taste great. But I forgot to add the cinnamon sugar. My husbands kids loved them anyway. I loved them too. Not too sweet, with some crunch and some spice.
I do not know how they would hold up to the original because graham crackers don't exist where I come from.

Hazelnut muffins.

Next up I made hazelnut muffins. Sweet little hazelnut muffins with a distinctive flavor that I cannot really put my finger on. I guess, though, that it comes from the teff flour. Because when I took a sniff of the flour it smelled similar. Nutty in a way, reminding me of molasses.
This recipe does not make sense if you don't have access to fancy organic food shops and are willing to shell out a few bucks for a gluten free flour from Ethiopia.
But it's worth it. Promise.

I take one issue with this book in general and I will blame possible future failures on this: The measurements aren't metric. I know that Americans cook and bake by volume and often don't even own a scale. But. Yes, but. Measuring flour with a cup is so imprecise. The way you scoop, if you pack the cup or not. Was your flour sifted or not. A scale is much more precise.
(But of course, I didn't weigh my flours when I made these. It would have been too good.)

Hazelnut muffins.

Can you see all the hazelnuts? They will brown as they bake. That's very good thing.

Hazelnut Muffins
Recipe adapted from "Good to the Grain"

4 ounces (1 stick, 115grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, skin on, chopped roughly
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 raw hazelnuts, skin on, chopped finely
1/4 cup sugar (MM: I would reduce the amount of sugar next time. I had more muffins to top  but it felt like a huge amount on each muffin. And it's really not necessary.)
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dry mix
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup teff flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Wet mix
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (MM: Because buttermilk isn't available where I live, I used 1 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

A muffin tin, lined with paper cups or buttered.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Place the butter with the hazelnuts and the salt in a small pan and cook over medium heat until the nuts start to turn golden brown. Remove from the pan from the heat before they get too brown, as they will continue to cook in the hot butter. Set aside to cool.

2. Stir together the finely chopped hazelnuts, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon in a small bowl and set it aside.

3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients in an separate bowl until thoroughly combined.

4. Pour the hazelnut butter over the dry ingredients then add the wet ingredients. Using a spatula, mix the the wet and dry ingredients together.

5. Scoop the batter in the prepared cups, using a spoon or an ice-cream scoop. The batter should be mounded above the edges of the cups. Sprinkle the hazelnut topping evenly over the batter, pressing it into the batter to adhere.

6. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes (mine baked for 22minutes), rotating the pans halfway through. They are ready when the hazelnuts are toasted and the muffins smell nutty. Remove from the oven and the pan to avoid them getting soggy.

The muffins are best eaten warm from the oven as they will lose some of their crunch when sitting around, but will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight container.

The recipe advises to use muffin tins with a 1/3 cup-capacity which I don't have. My tins are smaller which is the reason I got 13 instead of 10 muffins.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tandoori-style chicken and potatoes.

I have told you before that I have been on an Indian cooking bender. I made a big batch of ginger-garlic paste pretty much every recipe in the book I have calls for and am determined to use it all up.

So I made chicken. With potatoes. And two raitas (which I might tell you about some other time - one with cucumbers and mint and the second one with garlic and spinach). I am still a little shy when it comes to adding spices to my food which is why the raitas are more of a side dish/salad than a requirement. I am working on that. But it might take a little while.

When I started this blog I didn't expect to feature a lot of meat. I am not a big meat eater. My husband is. When I create my meal plans, I make sure to add one to two dishes including meat. Otherwise this might be a vegetarian and baking blog.

(Do you see how I am bringing you main dishes? With pictures! It was a little coincidental, but not surprising, that the moment I pulled everything out of the oven my husband answered an important call. Which made me wait. And gave me the opportunity to snap a picture.)

Tikka Style Chicken with Potatoes.

What I love most about this book is it's simplicity. Dishes are fast and easy and by the time dinner is ready the dishes I used to prepare it  are already clean again. Oh, and did I say, that the stuff is really good too?

You take some potatoes, some chicken, some spices, marinate everything and then bake it in the oven. Done.

So here you go:
Tandoori-Style Chicken and potatoes
Adapted from "healthy Indian"

4 medium potatoes, thickly sliced
8 skinless chicken drumsticks (MM: I used 5 drumsticks and 3 thighs, skins on, not knowing how much we'd eat and had 2 thighs left over. It was enough marinade for it all.) 

1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste*
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (adjust to your liking and the spice level of your chili)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons neutral oil (MM: I used a little more, to be sure to have enough marinade for all the chicken)
salt, to taste

Line two baking sheets with foil (I used non sticking baking sheets and omitted the foil).
Make the marinade by combining all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Dip the potatoes in the marinade and arrange in a single layer on one of the baking sheets. Add the chicken to the marinade, coat the chicken throughly and let stand for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).

Arrange the chicken on the second baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil.
Bake the chicken and the potatoes in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are golden brown.
Midway through the baking time, turn the chicken to make sure it browns evenly (I waited until 3/4 of the time was up which is why my chicken was a little too brown for my taste on one side). I removed the foil 5 minutes before it was done to help with the browning.


*Ginger-garlic paste is easy to make and can be stored in the fridge or freezer. You will need one part fresh ginger to one and a half parts garlic. Don't peel the ginger, just scrape it with a knife. Peel the garlic and give it a rough chop. Combine garlic and ginger in a blender with a few tablespoons of water and puree it to a smooth paste.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and mint.

I have been obsessing over this salad for a year now.
A year ago I bought a jar of harissa, imported and infused with rose petals.
But I never got around to making this salad. I am not sure why.
Then I went back to my hometown, forgot about the salad. Until I returned to my husbands house and country and found the jar again.

It's been on my list of future side dishes ever since.
The carrot salads I grew up with are not very exciting. Grated apples, grated carrots, some lemon juice, some sugar. It was nice when I was a kid.
This, on the other hand, is a grown up salad.
It's spicy (if you know the spice level of your harissa; I didn't and would want more next time) and fresh, a bit salty from the cheese. It's all sorts of spices and flavors but not overwhelming.

And it's simple to prepare too. You can make it in advance. 
And it keeps well too. In fact, I made the whole batch for dinner (with barbecued chicken) and had it for lunch the next couple of days. I didn't add the feta cheese until I was ready to eat. Every time.

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint

Carrot Salad with harissa, feta and mint
Adapted from who adapted it from a reader.

3/4 pound (330grams) carrots, grated 
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove  garlic, crushed (MM: I used two.)
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon harissa (MM: I would use a little more next time to give the dish a little more punch.)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons mint, finely chopped (MM: If you love mint, add a little more. I know I will, next time.)
100 grams feta, cumbled

In a small pan sauté the garlic, cumin, caraway, paprika, harissa and sugar in oil for a minute and two until fragrant. Take off the heat and pour it over the grated carrots in a medium sized bowl. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. 
Add the herbs and let everything infuse for about an hour (I made the salad around noon, covered it and stored it in the fridge until dinner time).
When you are ready to eat: Add the feta cheese and mix.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The food of Jordan: Part II.

Even in the midst of winter Jordan has some staple fruits and vegetables that are harvested year round in the Jordan valley. Tomatoes and cucumbers will never be missing at the greengrocer. Same applies to zucchini and eggplants the size of your palm. The weather is mild down there in the valley. The only unstable thing is the amount of rain falling each winter which has an influence on the price of said staples.
(Sometimes, when the temperature pick up, watermelons reach the markets extra early. Like this year. Yes, I am already munching on ripe, sweet watermelons while oranges are still in season too.)

Stone fruit, on the other hand, isn't grown in the Jordan valley. And therefore has to follow the seasons. In a way.
"Green cherries" are in season now. No, they aren't really cherries, as you can see.
"Green Cherries"

It's what the locals call them. And after some research, some picture searches and some questioning, I have come to the conclusion that Jordanians like to nibble on unripe Mirabelle plums. And there I was assuming this variety doesn't exist to begin with.

My husband confirmed that, later in the season, these same sized plums will be very sweet and of a yellowish orange.
I am not sure why they eat them unripe. They are very tart and sour but, somehow, not in an unpleasant way. The sweet flavor of plums can already be recognized, albeit very faintly.
I am curious to see these again in a couple of weeks, ripe and juicy. 

And now I am off to eat some watermelon to offset the sour "green cherries".

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pistachio-Cardamom Cake.

About a year ago while I wasn't in the country my husband calls home I ordered a book to be sent to him. The book had been released earlier in the year and I totally needed to have it right away. It didn't matter that I wouldn't be with my husband until July, I needed to know the book was there, waiting for me.
If you have ever read a post by David Lebovitz, churned some ice cream following a recipe of his or looked at his pictures you understand why this book needed to be in my possession.

New books get a special treatment with post its.
My husband followed my lead and added his own picks. One of said picks was for a Pistachio-Cardamom Cake. So I followed suit.

Cardamom Pistachio Cake.
See all the post its? 
The ones on top are by me. The ones on the side are by my husband. 
And do you see this golden shade of the cake? With some caramelized almonds around the corner? 

This cake gave me lots of trouble though. I put myself in lots of trouble because I used the wrong cake pan. The recipe is great. 
Can you see that the cake sunk in a little in the middle? That's because I opened the oven door a little to often while it was supposed to bake. The opening of the oven door led to a over 10 minute longer baking time which made the cake a little dry. 
If I had followed 1 (!) specific step proper it could have been averted.
Don't use a spring form pan!

Pistachio-Cardamom Cake
Recipe adapted from "Ready for Dessert" by David Lebovitz

2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup (60 grams) sliced almonds (MM: I used halved blanched almonds. On my scale the 3/4cup would have been over 75 grams. I went with 65grams and it was perfect for my cake pan.)

3/4 cup (95 grams) shelled unsalted pistachios (MM: Next time I would go for shelled and skinned to have a stronger green color)
1/4 cup (35 grams) plus 3/4 cup (110 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds (MM: Getting the seeds out of the pods is a little tedious but has a much better flavor than pre ground cardamom. I put the seeds straight into the mortar so I am not sure I got exactly 2 teaspoons and would use more next time.)
1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt. 

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).
Start by making the topping. Place your designated baking pan (a round one, 9-inch/ 23 cm, not a spring form pan!) directly on the stove top and melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over low heat.

2. Once melted, remove from the heat. Let cool briefly and sprinkle evenly with the teaspoon sugar, then add the almonds. Arrange them in an even layer by shaking and tilting around. Set aside.

3. For the cake pulverize the pistachios with the 1/4 cup of flour in an food processor or blender until as finely ground as possible.

4. Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle or a sturdy plastic bag and crushed with a rolling pin. Add the cardamom to the pistachio mixture and set aside.

5. In a medium sized bowl with a hand held mixer (or in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment) beat the sugar (200grams, 1 cup) and the butter (115 grams, 1/2 cup) together until light and fluffy about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated.

6. Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup flour, the baking powder and the salt and add it to the butter-egg mixture. Stir in the pistachio mix until just combined. 

7. Spoon the batter carefully into the prepared cake pan, trying not to disturb the almonds at the bottom. 

8. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40minutes. (The butter in my spring form pan leaked after I put it into the oven resulting in a hideous amount of smoke in the oven which made me in turn open the oven door more frequently which resulted in a wobbly center after 45minutes. My cake baked for about 55minutes.) Allow to cool for 15 minutes before inverting it on a cake platter.

Cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spaghetti with shrimp and chile.

I am hesitant to share this recipe with you. Because while it was a delicious dinner my husband raved and raved about - and even took the leftovers with him to work, something he never does otherwise - I didn't feel good about using shrimp.

Most of the time I consider myself an environmental conscious eater. There are certain foods I wouldn't touch - mostly of animal origin - because the species are endangered or the way they were farmed is questionable (for a quick overview read here). The majority of seafood falls under this category. It's also partly the reason I don't ever prepare fish (and besides, almost every Friday for lunch, my mother in law serves up fish).

I made this dish anyway. I made it because the post-it in the cookbook was placed there by my husband and he loves everything seafood related.
For the future, however, I am considering using chicken instead (much to my husbands dismay). Or, now that I think of it, if I could get my hands on properly firm tofu, I would even give that a try.

Pasta with Shrimps.

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Chile
very loosely adapted from "Nigella Express"

I made several changes including the amount of shrimp, the reduction of the sun dried tomatoes and I swapped spinach for the suggested arugula because I couldn't find any.
The below recipe reflects those changes.

1 lb. fresh shrimp (thawed if you're using frozen)
3/4 lb. spaghetti
1/4 cup finely diced onions (I cut them "French style")
1/2 teaspoon crushed chile flakes (I used fresh chiles and therefore cannot give you advice - chiles vary in spiciness)
1 glove of garlic, finely minced
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
1/2 cup white wine or Noilly Prat
A generous two handfuls of spinach (yes, this is as precise as I can get because that's what I did.)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Drain the shrimp and set it aside.
2. Cook your pasta according to the package instructions in an copious amount of salted water. 
3. In a large pan (large enough to later also fit the pasta) fry the onions, chile and garlic in the olive for a couple of minute, then add the tomatoes with their oil and the shrimp. 
4. When both have warmed up and the shrimp are starting to take on some color, add the white wine or Noilly Prat and let it come to a boil. Add the spinach and stir until wilted a little.
5. When the pasta is ready strain it, reserve about a cup of the cooking water and add the pasta to the pan. 
6. Toss everything well, adding more cooking liquid if necessary and sprinkle with the parsley.
7. Serve immediately.

According to Nigella this dish serves four as a starter, two as a main course.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The food of Jordan: Part I.

I am starting something new now. A series of sorts.

When I visited the Middle East the first time it was early 2007 and Spring had just started. It was a fascinating experience of all senses but foods had the most appeal to me.
When I left to go back home after 2 months I was able to tell the difference between good hummus and just so-so. I knew when bread was really fresh from the oven or had been sitting for a while. I hadn't learned to cook anything but had fallen head over heels for the food.

Most interestingly, at the end, were the fruits and vegetables I encountered I hadn't seen in Europe.
(Or had never tried because the item placed in front of me had no appeal to me - like imported dates with their cover of syrup. The ones available at the markets in Berlin have nothing in common with the plump almost candy like dates available here which are almost twice the size. I will show you what I mean later this year.)

For a start, let's talk about a fruit in season right now and maybe for a couple more weeks: Loquat.
Up until a couple of days ago, I only knew it's Arabic name: Askedinia - even in the supermarkets with their bilingual signs they write this.

Here is what they look like:


Pretty much every backyard (except ours) features one of these evergreen trees which bear fruit from April to June. 
It's a very sweet fruit that bruises easily. And while the skin is edible there are stones hidden inside the size of my thumbnail (I have small hands.).
According to the link loquats can be made into jams, pies and chutneys but no one around has ever bothered to do so. I am not sure if canning fruits is widely done. 
My mother in law focuses on olives, little eggplants and tomatoes (not together).

I remember once, in the summer months of 2007, I saw loquats at my supermarket. They didn't taste of anything, being picked unripe and from god knows where. But I bought them anyway, at a horrendous price too I am sure, just to be back to those Spring days in Jerusalem. 

Cannot wait to tell you of the next thing I found just a week ago.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Alternative side dish: White Bean Mash.

There will come a time when I post a whole real dish to this blog. But not so soon.
Let's just begin with a side dish, shall we?
A not sweet, not cookie related post! Yeah!

About a year ago my husband struggled with some health issues. (No that is a happy start for food post!)
Nothing too serious but annoying for him either way. We assumed it could be allergies and took the required tests. As it turned out my husband had a quite severe case of hay fever (olive pollen anyone?!) and some food items (I, on the other hand, as listed here am pretty much allergic to everything fun).
Those few food items, unfortunately, were also my husbands favorites: Spinach, potatoes and fish.
Because there is no medication for food related allergies, the doctors prescription was: Stay away from these foods for a couple of weeks and then introduce them again, one by one, and see what happens (no, luckily, his reactions weren't as severe as allergies against tree nuts or the like).
(The couple of weeks turned into months, but gladly, my husband is no fully back to eating whatever suits him. Not so me.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chocolate Espresso White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

When I meet friends I haven't seen in a while, I like to take something with me to give to them. At the same time I am not a big fan of clutter - neither on the receiving nor on the giving end.
So I bake.
If you invite me for a party of yours, a celebration of whatever kind, I will be more than happy to bring you a cake, some dessert or cookies.

There were some ingredients in the house I didn't expect to find when I opened cupboards and looked into the pantry. Things like Prego. Or white chocolate.
It's not that I don't like white chocolate. But I don't love it either.
I was treated to mediocre white chocolate as a child and I couldn't get the hang of it. It had the shape and the feel of chocolate but neither the taste nor the color. It just didn't seem like something worth getting excited about.
Well, things are about to change.

When white chocolate marries dark chocolate and espresso is their fairy godfather - good things happen. Like these cookies:

Chocolate Espresso White Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Struggling with the pictures.

This is my second week in Jordan.
So far, I have cooked every day since my arrival.
(Except for Friday where we ate lunch so late that we skipped dinner and Saturday where my husband was the master of the kitchen.)

I have made a nice variety of foods. Even including meat (I hate touching raw meat but did it anyway). More often than not I thought about taking a picture and writing about it here. But it never happened.
I remember a friend saying that I was more of a baker than a cook because I only ever took pictures of cakes and cookies. I get his point. Except: Baked goods are just much easier to photograph.
I want to talk about it all. I do.
But when dinner is ready, I want to eat. And so does my husband.
And while I have no problems snapping pictures of my cookies, it does feel kind of weird doing the same thing for my dinner. Maybe because dinner needs plating. Something I am still learning to do.

So, let's just talk and imagine the foods we had this past week at our house, shall we?
Our first dinner together on Sunday after we arrived: Spaghetti with heated up Prego sauce. Not what you expected? Not what I expected either. We didn't go grocery shopping the first day back in Jordan and while the pantry had dried beans, lentils and pasta there was not a single onion or clove of garlic to be found.
So we ate what my husband had bought in my absence: Prego with meat.
I had wanted to try Prego ever since I saw Malcolm Gladwell talking about pasta sauces (it's not really about sauce, it's about the nature of choices but his example is Prego). I know now that canned sauce is not an option for me. Lesson learned.

On Monday, I made Chana Masala - a spicy chickpea dish with tomatoes. I didn't follow the instructions of the recipe just the general idea. I served it with bread and a green salad. It wasn't the most elaborate dish but healthy, filling and quick - exactly what was necessary after being home late from grocery shopping.

Tuesday saw another Indian dish - same book - because the colors and spices appealed to me. I made a "Kerala-style chicken and cardamom curry" with tomatoes and coconut milk. I served it with rice (faced a fear and my basmati turned out beautiful) and roasted broccoli and while the recipe says it serves 4 the two of us finished it all.

When my husband saw me putting risotto rice in our shopping cart on Monday he requested I make some soon. So on Wednesday he got mushroom risotto (loosely adapted from here but with extra dried mushrooms soaked in water) and a salad with David Lebovitz "Blue Cheese Dressing" (I added more sour cream/less blue cheese and while my husband really liked it with Romaine lettuce and cucumbers I found it still too strong).

Also on Wednesday I prepared some pizza dough and put it in the fridge to rise. I followed this recipe by  The Pioneer Woman. There are a lot of different recipes out there. I chose this knowing that I would get 2 pizzas (the second half is in the freezer waiting for its turn) and I didn't have to watch the dough knowing it would rise slowly in the fridge, developing a nice flavor. I am ready for other ratios of flour to oil to yeast though in the future. I rolled it out really thin and loved it. And so did my husband on Thursday.

So here you have my first week of cooking. Every day could have had its own post with pictures and a recipe (yes, even the Prego one). I'll get there. Some day.
I did some baking too last week. We'll get to that some other time.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cookies, Cakes, Soup in April.

Wow. So, it all started off quite well and now three weeks have passed since I last posted anything.
Even though I am not sure what happened, because I did bake, cook, eat and photograph, I pretty much broke every possible rule for blogging (especially the one about regularity).
I am moving soon (another week!) which is thrilling in a way and exhausting in another.
So much of me is looking forward to being in the kitchen more, again.

Let's recap what I did in the last three weeks.
(For example, I made this soup a second time although it wasn't soup weather anymore. It's too lovely to pass!)

First, I made cookies. Chocolate Crinkle Cookies.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies.
These cookies are nothing new, but I had always loved the contrast of the dark cookie and the white sugar. My version was based on this version, but I halved mine and gave most to friends (which is the main reason for baking for me).

By mid April I was invited to a dear friend's housewarming party which is a good enough reason to bake a cake. Said friend requested apple cake.
Normal German apple cakes look like this and it bored me. Besides, I wanted to make a celebratory cake which required several layers.

So I went back to a cake I made in November, used homemade apple sauce from my mothers pantry, doubled the recipe but dialed back on the sugar and added chunks of apple (because, although I loved it the first time because it has a great crumb and is really moist, I missed the pronounced flavor of the apples) and ended up with a very pretty cake.
Here is my November version (and now imagine a second layer and more frosting!).
spiced applesauce cake.

I also made more soup.
With mushrooms and pearl barley. Two ingredients my mother isn't too fond of. Or, put differently, she despises mushrooms. No matter of which kind - dried, fresh, it doesn't matter.
So, I made a mushroom and farro soup while my parents were still on vacation.
The ingredients are pretty straight forward and not too fussy (except for: How much is 1/3 cup of dried mushrooms?! There is a reason the rest of the world uses the metric system.). See?
ingredients party.
I thought I wanted more grains and added more (only to realize later that the barley sucked all the liquids out of my soup turning it, when reheated more into a stew than a soup). I also added more than that one tiny tablespoon of tomato paste.
The final soup isn't winning beauty contests.

But it's oh so much better than your average "Kill all the flavor with heavy cream" soup.
The lack of dairy makes the soup. The flavors are bold and pronounced.

Finally, for Easter Sunday Brunch I made this rhubarb cake, followed the instructions to the T and didn't take a single picture. It was fabulous. 
The rhubarb was soft and tender and the whole cake was sweet without being overwhelming. I wish there was rhubarb in Jordan, but other fruits will do too.

So, this was April, more or less.
I wish I had more seasonal recipes to offer. More things you could make throughout the summer. 
The weather in Berlin was warm, sunny and much better than your average April, alas I knew I had to make some things before I reach the desert country where hearty soups are out of the question already and probably till November.