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.