A Sunny Saturday

AriCooks, breakfast, Jerusalem, quick breads and tea cakes

After a week of rain and cold, were were lucky to have a truly gorgeous Saturday here in Jerusalem. Families were out in the Emek (Valley of the Cross), enjoying the almond blossoms, cyclamen and the bright red anemones that look incredibly vibrant against the greenest grass we will see this year. Auralee, Jeff and I wandered the valley for hours, until the sun began to set, enjoying the colors and the glimpse of spring-weather.

After wearing ourselves out, we went home to enjoy apricot sage scones, roasted tomato salad with white beans, butternut squash stew, and an apple crisp. Not bad for a short weekend.

Apricot Sage Scones, adapted from Martha Stewart Living, 2005 

I’ve had this recipe in my binder of clippings ever since I first made it in 2005. When my friend Caitlin, a personal chef here in Jerusalem, asked if I had ever made savory-sweet scones, I immediately began singing the praises of these, which reminded me that it had been too long since we’d had them ourselves. You can put the leftover sage leaves on a sheet pan, covered with a paper towel, and allow them to dry for a week or so at room temp. Then crumble them up and keep them on hand with the rest of your dried herbs and spices. 

2 cups flour (I used whole wheat)

1//4 cup sugar

1 Tbs baking power

3/4 tsp salt

5 Tbs cold butter, cut into cubes

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

2 Tbs + 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped

1 cup cold cream or milk (I used soy milk)

standing sugar and milk/cream for brushing and sprinkling

Put the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mixed. Add the sage and apricots and pulse again. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Then add the cream slowly (you may not need it all). The batter should be tacky, not so wet that you can’t handle it. If your scone batter gets too wet, you can add a little extra flour. Turn the batter onto a lightly floured surface and quickly shape into a flat-ish circle (handling the dough as little as possible), about 8 inches around. Cut it into triangles (first in half, then quarters and so forth) and place the scone on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Brush each scone with a bit of milk/cream/soy milk and sprinkle with standing sugar.

Bake at 350°F/175°C until done ~ 18 to 20 minutes. These will make your house smell divine and are best eaten slightly warm.

Things that start with chocolate chip

AriCooks, breakfast, cake

I just made my first traditional banana bread since we arrived in Israel last December. I am not sure what the significance of that is precisely, but I know it’s big. Banana bread was a staple at our house when we were living in Boston, something I made at least once a month and sometimes every other week. There have been a lot of standby-recipes that I haven’t been making here in Israel, some have been out of rotation because of their hard-to-find ingredients, while others have just felt…. out of place. Chocolate chip banana bread made its comeback tonight with the help of goat yogurt and canola oil (substitutions for the vegan margarine I used in the States), and it is completely delicious.

The week before last, another old staple that I’ve been avoiding also made an astoundingly brief appearance in our kitchen (Jeff and I both proclaimed them “dangerously good”) — chocolate chip cookies. Olive oil was the shortening that replaced Earth Balance Margarine, based off a great recipe my friend Liz sent over from Organically Cooked.

And muffins have resumed their rightful place as the breakfast food of choice in our house, with Auralee helping more than ever to sift, beat, stir, and lick the bowl. We are currently on a mission to “healthify” the cafe’s recipe for chocolate chip and apple cinnamon, respectively, with terrific results thus far — more on those in a future post.

Enjoy this simple and easy to adapt recipe. Play with it, and make it yours!

Everything-New-is-Old-Again Chocolate Chip Banana Bread 

Makes one 9 x 5 inch banana bread 

2 large eggs

1/2 cup goat yogurt (feel free to use cows’ milk yogurt or buttermilk)

1/3 cup canola oil

1/2 cup sugar (I use cane sugar)

3 medium, ripe banans, well mashed

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips.

Mix the wet ingredients including the mashed bananas, plus the sugar, in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix, and fold in the chocolate chips. Bake in a greased 9 x 5 pan at 325°F for one hour until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If humanly possible, cool on a rack before slicing.

Up, down, pancakes

breakfast, Dairy Free

Today I was talking to a friend about the emotional ride that comes with moving countries. Even if you have done it before, and you know that there will be unknowns, ups, downs, excitement, loneliness, disappointment, elation, frustration, happy days and sad days, not knowing what will trigger all those emotions makes it feel as if someone else is driving this car. Nearly a year into the move and with a relatively stable day-to-day, it still turns out that everything can seem great one week while the next week finds us dragging our feet (me), watching too many silly television shows (also me), and missing absurdly small things like Earth Balance Buttery Vegan Spread or the way a certain hibiscus looked on a living room window sill, framed by homemade green curtains and the sharp autumn sunlight (okay, all of these are me). It’s been that kind of week.

Having two very wonderful constants does help create a sense of home, wherever we are. And so do pancakes with syrup or jam, midweek, made in my favorite cast-iron pan, and served to my little bean who is late to school as a result of our indulgent breakfasting.

Whole Grain Pancakes from the Gourmet Cookbook, adapted slightly.

I realize that separating and whipping egg whites first thing in the morning (especially by hand, as is the case for me) is not everyone’s idea of a fun way to start the day. I promise that folding the fluffy whites into the batter does make a wonderful difference in the pancakes’ texture, as does the medium- to coarsely-ground corn meal. These pancakes are both light and hearty and, if you are judicious with the syrup, I don’t see any reason why they can’t be considered a healthy breakfast. 

1 1/4 whole wheat flour

1/3 cornmeal

3/4 Tbs cane sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 large eggs, separated

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups soy/rice milk, mixed with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, set aside to curdle for a few minutes

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks, curdled soy milk, and oil together in a large mixing cup or small bowl. Mix into dry ingredients.

Beat the egg whites in a separate, clean bowl until the just hold stiff peaks (even soft peaks is fine, you don’t want it to be too difficult to incorporate them into the batter). Gently fold the whites into the batter, trying to not allow them to deflate too much as you do so.

Heat a cast iron or other non-stick skillet and lightly grease. Fry pancakes over medium heat for a few minutes on each side (flip when you see bubbles just forming on the edges and a firming-up overall). Enjoy!

figs, honey & feta

AriCooks, breakfast, dessert, Quick Meals, Summer, vegetarian

In an outdoor market full of beautiful figs, I was nearly giddy when I came across the most gorgeous, plump, perfectly shaped specimens this season could possibly offer.

The only way to do these fruits justice was to serve them unadulterated with flavors that complimented their seasonal perfection. Figs, I love you.

Mediterranean Fig, Honey and Feta Breakfast

This could also be a snack, dessert, or appetizer. All that really matters is that the fruits are fresh and room temperature and that the honey and feta and both good-quality.

Figs

Goat Feta

Pure Honey

Whole wheat bread of your choice (I got seeded whole wheat honey bread from Russell’s Bakery at Machane Yehuda).

Slice the figs in half or quarters, top with small slices of goat feta and drizzle with honey. Serve with whole wheat bread.

Summer Granola

breakfast, Dairy Free, Summer, Tips and Tricks, Vegan

There are many sweet things about being back in Israel. Tiny countries (or this one, at any rate) have the tendency to feel like an extended neighborhood. There is a sense of one-ness, smallness, and that, “we’re-all-family-here” feeling. Along with that comes everyone treating each other like family, for better or for worse. Shouting at strangers with a vehemence usually reserved for teenage daughters barking at their moms, is not at all uncommon on the streets of Jerusalem. Nor is responding to a stranger’s question with a tone that mixes condescension and playfulness, the way an older relative or sibling might respond. When I’m feeling more Israeli than Bostonian, I find it charming, on days when it is the opposite, well… not so much.

Whatever my mood, the warm weather makes just about any bad day seem a little less so, and good days, even better, as my body continues its great inner-thaw of 2011. And since it is my firm belief (instilled by my dad) that I won’t get very far without breakfast, I must continue to find warm-weather morning-meals, accordingly.

Although I don’t think I’ll ever tire of my favorite granola recipe, it’s good to switch things up a bit sometimes, and with the summer coming a little sooner here, and lasting quite a bit longer than it does in Boston, a lighter, seasonal granola was in order.

Summer Granola, adapted from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman

While it may be a tad controversial, I admit to subscribing to many of the food-rants in the modern-day vegan manifesto, “Skinny Bitch”. I would like to qualify my appreciation of their book by saying that I do not think it is suitable for young girls in particular, because it does — to my mind — come a little too close to equating being “good” (as in, a good person) with being a healthy eater, which as some of us know is a recipe for disordered eating. That being said, they make many excellent points about health, and expose the nasty underbelly of the meat industry in a way that grabs the reader’s attention very effectively.

2 cups rolled oats

1 1/4 cups chopped nuts (they recommend sliced almonds, I do a combo of almonds, walnuts and either sunflower or sesame seeds)

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 Tbs rice syrup (I use date honey, or more maple syrup)

2 Tbs safflower oil, plus more for greasing the baking sheet (I used coconut oil last time, which needs to be melted)

1 cup chopped dried fruit (optional, I don’t like dried fruit in my granola)

Preheat oven to 300°F/149°C

Arrange the oats on a large rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl, combine the nuts, coconut, and salt. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the oil and syrups. Stir the toasted oats into the nut mixture. Add the syrup mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.

Grease the baking sheet. Spread the granola evenly on the sheet and bake, stirring occasionally until golden 25-30 minutes. Stir in the dried fruit, if using, and cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Green Omelette

AriCooks, breakfast, Quick Meals, Salad, vegetarian

Every vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) cook has their particular area of weakness. Mine is leafy greens. Though I love eating them, preparing them in the kind of quantities necessary to receive their nutritional benefits always seems a bit tedious. There’s the washing, which is very serious business unless you want to bite into a hunk of grit or sand (nothing is worse), the air drying, and then the preparation. Sometimes the third step is minimal, especially if you are eating them raw, in salad or on a sandwich. But if you want your greens cooked somehow, more thought must be applied, and the cook-down factor is so very large that in order to get a few decent servings all available counter space must be resigned to drying piles of spinach/chard/dandelion/watercress/whathaveyou. There are no excuses to be made however when one has access to amazingly delicious and fresh variety of greens — and, as was recently pointed out to me by my fellow Israeli food bloggers, I am LUCKY to be living a 5 minute walk to the best shuk in the country (world?), crowds and all.

Green Omelette with Tomato Feta Salad

A little fresh pita and this breakfast would have been perfection. Until Passover ends, however, we’ll just have to settle for pretty-darn-tasty.

makes 2 generous servings

For the Omelette:

5 eggs

1/4 cup goat yogurt

a little water

1/2 cup chopped rashad (watercress or arugula will work as well)

1/3 cup finely chopped parsley

salt and pepper taste

Whisk the eggs well. Whisk in yogurt, greens, salt and pepper. Add a little water if the mixture seems too thick. Set aside for a moment while you make the salad.

For the Tomato Feta Salad:

2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered (you can use any tomatoes, the cherry toms at the shuk happen to be the best right now)

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup crumbled sheep feta

fresh herbs of your choice

olive oil

zatar

salt and pepper

mix everything together and heat up the pan for your omelette

Heat a non-stick or cast iron 9-10 inch pan with a little oil. Coat the surface and sides of the pan with oil using a brush or paper towel. Pour the omelette mixture in and cook until underside is quite firm. Flip, fold or finish the top under the broiler (I know, technically this makes it a frittata, but that’s how I do it). Turn omelette out of pan promptly when done to avoid burning.

Frozen Food

AriCooks, breakfast, Quick Meals, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian

Even people who love to cook need a break sometimes. In a country where the “fast-food” includes things like fried eggplant, fresh tomato and cucumber salad, delicious little finger foods like falafel, kubbe, and freshly baked burekas stuffed with spinach, cheese, mushrooms or potatoes, grabbing sustenance in the go can turn out to be a rather satisfying experience. The same goes, believe it it or not, for the frozen section of the supermarkets here in Israel. While I suppose some of the more American-style supermarkets may stock things like frozen pizza and TV dinners. What you will find in most frozen sections here, are mass-produced versions of real home-style cooking. Things like kubbe soup, jachnun and malawah, in addition to the iconic corn and vegetable patties that are presented as the vegetarian option in Israeli kibbutz, boarding school and army dinning halls, and are actually pretty darn tasty.

Malawah

While I know that some of my Israeli friends may chuckle at the notion of my posting about something that is so easily obtained and prepared, (I promise, one day I will attempt malawah from scratch, folks) for Americans I think this food and the way it is served is of interest, and I hope not to be judged for my temporary “laziness”.

This tasty yemeni treat, which is the quick-cooking version of jachnun, is sold in thin round packages, the servings neatly stacked and divided by pieces of plastic or wax paper. Unlike jachnun, which must cook in the oven for many hours (usually overnight), malawah can be made right on the stove top in a matter of minutes. Although the homemade versions are undoubtedly thicker and more layered, the frozen ones are still pretty darn good in a pinch (and are also loved by 3 year olds everywhere — making malawah and hard-boiled egg, an easy lunch option for mothers across the middle east).

eating malawah in her castle pajamas

First you heat a couple teaspoons of oil in  a 9-10 inch non-stick, or cast iron fry pan- you really need very little oil as malawah has its own grease.

Then you fry for a few minutes on each side over medium heat until both sides have this lovely crispy, mottled appearance.

And serve with your choice of sides. Typically, freshly grated tomatoes and some spicy shug (yemeni hot pepper sauce). I like mine with soft goat cheese, minced parsley and fresh tomatoes.

An unassuming Applesauce Cake (for a not-so-unassuming woman)

breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes

Last night I had a much-needed girls’ night with my friend Halani — it was way overdue. We threw together an impromptu array of finger foods and desserts and had a picnic on the floor of her adorable apartment.

Halani and I met back in 2004 when we were both still working in flowers. The shop where we first worked together was a charming, bright little space on Beacon Hill, not much bigger than my living room. I was a refugee from a bucket-shop (a floral-industry term for the older, townie-run shops around Boston) in Central Square. An awful place where slinging empty flower buckets (and expletives) at one another was not an uncommon occurrence, and few employees had a full set of teeth. When I arrived for my interview at Charles Street Flowers on a sunny day in March, I felt like I was walking into an oasis. Pure white orchids and fluffy hydrangea adorned the floor to ceiling window display and there was not a carnation in sight. Best of all, the owner, Peter, spoke comprehensible English and used words with several syllables. He seemed like he might actually be sane. I exhaled. From the work-area I heard a “HALLOO” directed at me, and looked up to see a vision of beauty and elegance sweeping up the morning’s prep debris.

Halani! Beautiful flower-shop girl extraordinaire!

Since 2004 Halani and I have had many adventures, together and separately, both in and out of the flower world. As fierce and loyal as she is lovely and talented, Halani is a treasure of a woman that I am blessed to know. I wish her the very best in her upcoming year of exciting changes. Everyone should be as lucky as I am to have a friend like her.

Flower shop friends, Joe, Eri, Larry, Halani and me

Applesauce Walnut Cake, adapted from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2009

I realize that this little cake is not much to look at. I have certainly photographed many, far more impressive-looking desserts for this blog. I promise however that it is moist, sweet and delicious, especially when shared with a friend over tea, wine or pink champagne…

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used a whole wheat pastry – all purpose mix)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (or margarine), softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar (I used only 1/2 cup)

2 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 minutes

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used a peach-apple sauce – delicious!)

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

GARNISH: confectioners’ sugar (didn’t use)

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: a 9-inch square baking pan (I used a round pan)

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat over to 350°F. Butter baking pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat together butter/margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and applesauce, then scrape down sides of bowl (mixture will look curdled). At low speed, add flour mixture and mix, scraping down sides of bowl, just until flour is incorporated. Stir in pecans.

Spread batter evenly in baking pan. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 30 minutes.

Run a thin knife around sides of pan. Turn cake out of pan, if desired, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

COOK’S NOTE: The cake can be made up to 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.


Apple Walnut Muffins

Autumn, breakfast, Dairy Free, Vegan

Last weekend we hosted an in-house tag sale in an attempt to purge some of our belongings before the holiday hullabaloo goes into full swing. In our usual fashion it was a bit thrown together and chaotic, but that’s just… the way we are. When the doorbell began ringing on Sunday morning hardly anything was priced, there was a very tall pile of dirty dishes in the sink, Auralee and I were both half dressed and Jeff was in bed with a fever, BUT I did manage to have a lovely array of homemade tasty tag sale treats baked, and a fresh pot of coffee brewed. (My priorities are clear.)

These moist and delicious apple muffins were a huge hit and even though the Joy Of Cooking recommended making them the day they are served, I don’t think they suffered very much from being baked the night before (I also suspect they would freeze wonderfully). I cut down on the amount of sugar originally called for by a third and the muffins were still very sweet.

Alissa-approved

Apple Walnut Muffins, adapted slightly from The Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition

1 1/2 c. flour (I used almost all whole wheat pastry and a little bit of all purpose)

2 t. baking powder

1 1/2 t. cinnamon

1 t. baking soda

scant 1/2 t. salt

2 large eggs

1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. coarsely grated or finely chopped peeled apples (about 2 medium), with juice

5 T. warm melted butter/magraine

1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper cups.

Whisk eggs and sugar together; stir in apples with their juice and let stand for 10 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, soda, and salt together thoroughly.

When the apple mixture has stood for 10 minutes, stir in butter and nuts. Combine with dry ingredients, stirring just until mixed. Batter will not be smooth.

Divide mixture between muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 14-16 minutes. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before removing from pan to a cooling rack.

Hunger pains and a Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

Autumn, breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Vegan

The summer Jeff and I got married my parents took the whole family to Southern Spain. It was a really wonderful trip, exploring our Spanish roots, drinking wine, wandering through white villages, and seeing the Al Hambra. The only problem was the food. While I am sure that for some people Andalucia is a gastronomic paradise, if you are a non-pork eater, a vegetarian, lactose intolerant or simply prefer a few vegetables with your proteins, I wouldn’t recommend traveling there for the food alone. Jeff and I nibbled crackers, dark chocolate and sipped wine (it was cheaper than water) for most of the trip, and cooked for ourselves as much as possible. It was an incredible time, but after three weeks of picking ham out of our gazpacho, we were more than ready to return to Boston — food-wise anyway. A person can only eat so many tortillas espanolas before the idea of another egg becomes a little vulgar.

This week we had to travel very briefly to New Orleans (like, 24 hours) where my mother was being honored at the General Assembly for her work in Jewish Education. While the occasion itself was very exciting, and we were happy to be there to support her, I left hungry. I realize that many people love crawfish (I have no idea what it is, actually), shrimp, grits, jambalaya, mixed drinks, po boys, and sausages and I respect their preferences. For us, returning home from a whirlwind trip was made even sweeter by the easy and immediate access to our favorite Thai Food place and the remaining cranberry crostata waiting in our fridge.

Lissy, eating crostata and wearing mouse ears, last Friday

This latest candidate for Thanksgiving weekend’s food festivities is a little vegan tea cake that could be served alongside the Thanksgiving meal itself, as a breakfast treat, or afternoon snack. You could also make it into mini breads and deliver them as Thanksgiving gifts!

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread, from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1/2 cup soy milk (I used almond milk)

1/4 fresh orange juice

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole wheat pastry)

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1 Tbs grated orange zest

1 cup chopped fresh craberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

the hardest part of this recipe is chopping up these guys -- they roll EVERYWHERE

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the soy milk, orange juice, canola oil, sugar and vanilla.

Sift in the flour, baking soda and powder, salt and allspice. Mix until just smooth. The batter will be thicker than a normal cake batter.

so thick, you can stand a spatula in it

Fold in the orange zest, cranberries, and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for about 1 hour. Let the bread cool for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan – inverting onto a cooling rack. Flip it right side up to cool further.