Please, please please, Spring.

AriCooks, cookies, Jerusalem, Tu B'Shvat

Almond trees are blooming like crazy, the Emek is green and glittering with fresh rain and red anemones, we had our second gorgeous Saturday in a row, and even though our apartment still feels like the inside of a walk-in refrigerator, I know it won’t be long before I can open some windows and trade this cold, stale air, for the new, mild air of spring. That’s the thought that keeps me going as we slog our way through the final stretch of Jerusalem winter.

This past week we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the birthday of the trees, by eating many dried fruits, appreciating the buds and colorful flowers that dot the green spaces, and by planting a tree! Jeff and Auralee, along with a friend, visited The Valley of the Gazelles here in Jerusalem, and planted a carob tree (photos, courtesy of Caitlin Eisner Fisch).

The Valley of the Gazelles is a green space that was saved from developers by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. This area is home to a steadily (re)growing indigenous population of gazelles.

Another welcome happening this week was Sala’s (of Veggie Belly) lovely post on the food tour she did with me in early December. We wandered Machane Yehuda together, tasting as we went, and ate at the Kurdish neighborhood institution, Rachmo. We were also very lucky to be invited into Hassan’s pita and laffa bakery for a private tour, mini-baking lesson, and an informative chat on the history of his business. See her description of our day as well as some great photos here.

And a second must-read for this week is Liz’s piece for The Jew and the Carrot (the Foward’s food section). I love her description of Tel Aviv’s unique Shabbat atmosphere, a city she so clearly loves. The pancakes look wonderful too — wholesome and fluffy, just the way I like ’em.

And lastly, I strongly recommend these sweet, spiced biscotti from Fork Spoon Knife. You can click through to her recipe, or read on below to see how I adapted it slightly. Happy Dunking, and remember to breathe deep, spring is (nearly) here.

Fig, Cashew and Cardamom Biscotti, slightly adapted from Fork Spoon Knife.

So many recipes on the web and in cookbooks really catch my eye. Whether it’s a photo that entices or the use of a specific ingredient that lures me, the end results range from wonderfully satisfying to terribly disappointing. This recipe falls into the former category. Of course, I knew it would be hard to go wrong when figs and cashews are involved, but I did not know that I would also learn something new. Cardamom powder (the so-called ‘ground cardamom’) we buy in supermarkets and spice shops is a bleached, mild-tasting substitute for the pungent, tiny, dark seeds that fresh cardamom pods contain. Do not skimp on this step if possible — use fresh-from-the-pod seeds in this recipe. 

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 Tbs olive oil

1/3 cup cane sugar

1 egg

5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground in a spice/coffee grinder

zest of 1/2 an orange

1/2 cup dried figs, chopped

1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews, chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F/165°C. In a small bowl, whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then beat in the egg. Mix in zest and cardamom. With a rubber spatual, fold in the dry ingredients until just blended, then fold in the cashews and figs. On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a 15 x 1.25 inch log and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until very pale golden (I rotated the pan halfway through). Remove from oven (leaving oven on) and when cool enough to handle, slice with a serrated knife into little biscotti-size cookies. Be gentle.

Place the biscotti back on the pan or directly onto the oven rack and toast on each side for about 7 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool.

Serve with your favorite warm beverage. I enjoyed mine dunked in black tea!

“The way we were” cookies

AriCooks, cookies, Vegan

These tasty almond cookies are a throwback to a more austere time in our little household’s eating and cooking life. When Jeff and I were first living together in Boston, he expressed his true love by suffering through a more extreme attitude towards eating and health on my part, without a single complaint. Although I have mellowed a great deal (and no longer consider nightshade vegetables deadly poison), I have always carried some of the principles and even the practices of Macrobiotics with me as the years have passed. Recently I’ve also been feeling that as life gets more complicated I want to eat more simply. Not only purer ingredients, but also simpler preparation (this is also out of necessity as I am underserviced by kitchen appliances for the time being). I think that I pretty much hit the highest level of exposure to fancy food and cooking techniques that I wish to have, when I attended pastry school, and during our pre-Auralee foodie-discover days in Cambridge. I understand and respect gastro chemistry for what it is, but I cannot forsee a day where I will honestly wish that I had tasted more food foam in my life. Right now, I am enjoying finding out what the internet and blogosphere have added to the culture of Macrobiotics since we were following the movement (pre-blogs and pre-home computer, for us) and it’s nice to see that some of the new voices in that community are willing to include ingredients such as tomatoes, baking soda and a wider variety of raw produce and cooking oils. It’s very exciting to see the way an eating lifestyle can evolve with the freedom and accessibility the internet provides.

I have been enjoying Gary Alinder’s blog Macrochef immensely this past week and have discovered his website, the Macrobiotic resource for the Palo Alto area as well. These almond cookies are adapted from his site, the only change being that I used regular whole wheat flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour, as it is unavailable here in Israel (if anyone knows otherwise, do tell!)

Find the almond cookie recipe here. Enjoy!

A pretty delicious weekend

cookies, soups and stews, Spring, Summer, Vegan, vegetarian

Sometimes it’s nice to just be with Jeff and Auralee on Shabbat. And make special things, like Jeff’s favorite Brazilian stew

and challahs that are round instead of straight

and fudgey, gooey, chocolatey cookies that are healthy (made with goat yogurt from the Shomron)

And then, get together with long-lost friends (who are no longer quite so lost at all), and have a picnic at the zoo with Shabbat leftovers and other yummy treats.

Here’s to a good week. שבוע טוב

Brazilian Black Bean Stew, remixed.

This recipe is something I used to make back in our Allston days. It came from a magazine that I clipped, pasting the recipe into one of my cooking notebooks. Although I can’t be sure, I believe is was Vegetarian Times circa ~ 2000 ish. The picture above is of the soup in progress, before adding the cooked black beans. Also, since it is stone-fruit season here, I used nectarines instead of the called-for mangoes, with excellent results.

1 Tbs vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 red bell pepper

5 tomatoes, chopped

1.5- 2 cups cooked black beans (I soak mine for 1 day and then slow cook in the crockpot overnight)

1 small hot green chili, diced

1 ripe mango, peeled and diced, or 2-3 nectarines diced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for a minute before adding sweet potato, tomatoes (with their liquid), bell pepper, chili and about 1 1/2 cups of water. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender but firm, 10-15 minutes.

Stir in beans and simmer gently uncovered, until heated through ~5 minutes. Stir in the mango (or nectarine) and cook until heated though, about 1 minute. Stir in cilantro and salt. Serve hot.

Chocolate Walnut Cookies, heavily adapted from Veganomicon

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup goat yogurt

3/4 cup sugar (I like the brown, cane sugar)

1 egg

1/2 cup soy milk

2 tsp vanilla

2 tsp amaretto

4 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped small

1/2 cup walnut, chopped small

Preheat the oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, sift together flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, oil, yogurt, vanilla extract, and amaretto. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, in batches. Add chocolate and walnuts. When the batter starts to get too stiff to mix with a spoon, use your hands. The batter is sticky and and thick and your hands will get very messy and chocolate-covered, but as Isa and Terry say ,”worse things have happened”.

Wash your hands and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or grease with a little oil. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and press to flatten (it helps prevent sticking, if your hands are a bit damp). Place about an inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sugar Cookies

cookies, Dairy Free, dessert, Tips and Tricks, Vegan

‘With your feet in the air and your head on the ground

Try this trick and spin

Your head will collapse

but there’s nothing in it

and you’ll ask yourself

Where is my mind?’

-The Pixies

People often ask me how I find time to blog, especially now that we have so much to do before December 28th… I have a variety of responses, but the the only one that is true, is that this is what I do (these days) when I should be doing something else. I should be packing, sorting, tossing, posting odds and ends on craigslist, adding to the donations pile, disassembling Auralee’s crib, pulling things out of the kitchen cupboards. But what I really want to do is tell you about these simple, rustic cookies.

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, I see a lot of cookie-recipes-to-top-all-cookie-recipes out there in the food blogosphere. Yet the recipe that has gotten the most play on this blog over the past couple of weeks is this one, for almond crescent cookies. It’s a humble little recipe, not nearly as exotic as the Caribbean Chocolate-Chili Stars I saw on npr’s website, and certainly not as complicated (or as pretty) as the decorated cookies featured on Pioneer Woman’s site this season. I can only deduce from the evidence at hand, that some people like to keep things simple during a time of over-indulgence, and I am certainly one of them… I think. Anyway, here is another no-nonsense, rustic cookie recipe for you to enjoy.

Lemon Cornmeal Sugar Cookies, adapted from Gourmet Today

Don’t be intimidated by having to roll and cut these cookies. They are very hard to mess up. Just be careful not to roll your dough out too thin or else your cookies will be brittle. If you want to get fancy, you could dip these in melted chocolate or use them for ice-cream sandwiches.

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick Earth Balance Vegan margarine, softened (obviously you can use butter)

1/3 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Prepare 2 cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper.

While you gather ingredients, cut margarine into tablespoon-sized pieces and place it (on foil) on top of the preheating oven to soften.

Whisk together flours, cornmeal, cornstarch, and salt.

Blend margarine, confectioners sugar, vanilla, and zest in a food processor until creamy, about 30 seconds. Scrape down side of bowl, then add all of flour mixture and pulse until dough just begins to come together.

Roll out dough on a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin to 1/3 inch thick. Cut out as many rounds as possible with a 2-inch round cookie cutter or drinking glass and transfer to an ungreased large baking sheet (I used a fluted cookie cutter- you can really use any shape you want). Reroll scraps and cut out more rounds. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar.

Bake until undersides are pale golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Garlic & Chocolate

AriCooks, Autumn, cookies, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

Comfort food is a very subjective thing. While macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes with butter may be classic examples of foods that warm both hearts and stomachs, a lactose intolerant person would probably feel quite differently. A midwestern American’s idea of home cooking could be a large juicy hamburger or a steak with potatoes, while someone from Vietnam might crave a big bowl of pho. In our house there are two foods that we uphold as soothing standbys through thick and thin, summer and winter. They are, chocolate and garlic.

One happy fact about these two ingredients is their versatility. I cannot imagine ever getting sick of this or these for example, and I am delighted to share two new recipes that feature the amazing talents of roasted garlic and dark chocolate, exploiting their abilities almost beyond what you may have previously thought possible. Fasten your seatbelts people — this is serious.

The following soup and cookies are brought to you by a wonderful brunch I had today with well-known blogger and all-around fabulous woman, Sharon Kitchens. During our power-catch-up session we discussed cookbooks, as we tend to do, and I realized that when Sharon asked me to list my five favorites for her blog a couple weeks ago, I neglected the wonderful old standby, The Joy of Cooking. Shame on me.

The Joy of Cooking, though dated in some ways, will never cease to be an incredibly useful tool for  home cooks. Simple and straightforward recipes for pie dough, sugar cookies, vegetable stock, potato salad, brownies, pumpkin pie, stuffing, sandwich bread, vinaigrette, stir fry, miso soup, white cake and waffles are just a few of the (literally) thousands of recipes contained in this treasure of a book. And although its author, Irma Rombauer, was depicted in a less-than-flattering light in the movie Julie and Julia (hey- we can’t all be Julia Child for goodness sake), I can assure you that I have rarely had one of her recipes fail me — MANY of them adapting very well to vegan and vegetarian substitutions. Yes, this is a cookbook I stand by.

Friday Night Comfort Food….

Roasted Garlic Soup with Spinach and Manchego and Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt, both adapted slightly from The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer

For the Soup:

6 heads of garlic (yes entire heads)

2 quarts of vegetable stock (I like the Whole Foods 365 brand)

3 slices of wheat bread, cut into small cubes

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp hot paprika

black pepper to taste

juice of half a lemon

A few handfuls of baby spinach (my addition)

gated parmesan or manchego cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 325ºF

Cut off the top thirds of all 6 garlic heads and drizzle each one with a little olive oil. Wrap the heads individually in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, unwrap and let the heads cool for a few minutes. While garlic is roasting, you can whip up your cookie batter (below).

Meanwhile pour broth into soup pot. Squeeze garlic into the pot– it should be squishy– (this is messy and takes little time) and bring stock and garlic to a simmer, while whisking. Add cubed bread when stock is hot, and whisk to break up. Add salt, pepper, paprika and fresh lemon juice. Whisk everything into a slurry and add baby spinach (soup should not be boiling). When spinach has wilted, ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese, if desired.

For the Cookies:

The cherries and the sea salt were my additions, feel free to omit them or substitute nuts for the cherries. Makes about 30 cookies.

1 cup, plus 2 Tbs flour (I used a mix of all purpose and whole wheat pastry)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup Earth Balance Vegan Buttery sticks (or any margarine or unsalted butter of your choice)

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup sugar (she called for 1/2 cup of each, but I like my cookies, like my men, just subtly sweet)

1 large egg

1/4 tsp table salt, plus coarse sea salt for sprinkling

1 1/2 tsp vanilla, plus a dab or two behind your ears

1 cup dark chocolate, chopped (I used a mixture of Scharffenburger bittersweet and Sirius 56 %)

3/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries

Increase over temperature to 375º F

Whisk flour and baking soda together, set aside.

In  a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until well blended. Add egg, vanilla and table salt. Slowly mix in flour mixture, then add chocolate and Cherries.

Drop heaping teaspoons of cookie batter onto to greased sheets and sprinkle sparingly with sea salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes and sprinkle with sea salt again if desired. Cool on racks.

Almond Crescent Cookies

AriCooks, cookies, dessert, Vegan

My Grandma Aurora was a 5-foot tall spitfire of a woman, with gnarled, arthritic hands from years of rolling out dough and a litany of Ladino sayings (a dialect of Spanish spoken by the Jews of Turkey, Spain and other Mediterranean and North African countries) employed liberally throughout her speech. She was an old-fashioned kind of gal in many ways, but fiercely independent nevertheless. A widow long before her own passing, she spent the remaining 30-plus years of her life mostly at home, cooking, baking, sewing and meeting “the girls” to play canasta. During my childhood she must have sent us hundreds of burekitas packed carefully in shoeboxes — both because it was simply her way to do so, and to ensure that my father did not “waste away” on my mother’s eastern european cooking.

Aurora had many sayings that would go down in our family history, among them were:

To me, in regards to my sister, “Don’t worry Ariella, looks aren’t everything.”

To my father, regarding his choice of footwear, “Boats! You could sail away in those things!”

“Colico, Colico!!”, a Ladino word meaning bottom, which she shrieked as she chased after us trying to smack our bums.

“You’re too thin,” to everyone (but especially my father, a thinly veiled jibe at my mother’s cooking.

“You’re getting fat,” also to everyone.

Just to be clear, my mother’s cooking was fine and no one was really too fat, or too thin (or particularly wanting to have their bum smacked). But Aurora was stubborn and had her own view on things — she had some rather choice words on many more modern subjects, which for the sake of political correctness I am leaving out entirely. Aurora Darsa was a character.

These almond cookies are similar to one of the several varieties that she kept in adorable little metal tins around the house, hidden in drawers and cupboards and under beds. I never fully understood why she always hid the tins but my father’s childhood nickname “Tubby” may provide us with some clue. At any rate, these are practically impossible not to love, and rather dangerously easy to consume in quantity. The recipe I used calls for ground almonds but hazelnuts could be used as well.

Almond Crescent Cookies, slightly adapted from, The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan

Though these cookies have a rather unassuming, plain sort of look to them, they are buttery, simple and actually….kind of perfect. Enjoy them with a cup of coffee or tea; their shape is perfect for dunking.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine (I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks), softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup very finely ground almonds (I pulsed mine in a food processor, but you could also buy almond flour/meal, or just chop the nuts finely as you can — I believe this is what Aurora did)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

dash of salt

Preheat the oven to 250º F

Put the butter/margarine and the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the almonds and then the flour and salt, using your fingers to mix the ingredients until you have a soft dough (you can also do this in a food processor or a mixer, but just make sure not to over-mix or you will miss out on the crumbly texture of these cookies).

Take a piece of dough the size of a prune and roll it into a 2 -inch long tube. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Shape each piece into a crescent and press the ends flat.

Place the cookies, close  to each other but not touching, on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake them for 40 minutes, until they are firm to the touch. The cookies should be white in color, not even slightly golden. Remove from the oven, let them stand for a few minutes, and, while they are still warm, sprinkle with additional sugar (optional, they are fine without it).

The Gingeriest

cookies, dessert

It is GORGEOUS here in Boston! The temperatures have dropped below 75º and it is time for some serious baking.

We love ginger around here. My daughter can make a meal out of the pickled ginger condiment that comes with sushi, and considers crystallized ginger a major treat. I love it in tea, soup and cake, not to mention cookies. These cookies pack so much ginger per bite, I feel I need to to warn those of you who may only be casual ginger fans. They are spicy, sweet, crispy, and contain THREE different forms of that hot little tuber: ground, fresh and crystallized (candied) ginger. If ginger is not one of  your favorite flavors, approach with caution.

Three-Way Gingersnaps, from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri

Measuring out and rolling each cookie in sugar before baking takes a little while, so be sure to leave yourself time to do this, and get into it… put on some music have a glass of wine, invite a friend to help!

2 cups all purpose flour (do NOT pack your flour into your measuring cups, scoop or spoon lightly and level off with a knife)

3 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies before baking

1 egg

1 Tbs grated fresh ginger (you cannot use a microplane zester for this unless your ginger is frozen. Use the small tear-drop shaped holes of a box grater, or just mince your ginger VERY finely)

2 Tbs finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 Tbs honey

Prepare 2-3 cookie sheets by greasing, or lining with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325º F (160º C).

Mix the four, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, set aside.

Combine the softened butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and beat with a paddle on medium speed until lightened, ~ 3 minutes. Beat in the egg until smooth.

Decrease the mixer speed to low and add half the flour mixture. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Beat in the fresh ginger, crystallized ginger and the honey. After they are incorporated, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Remove bowl from mixer and use a rubber spatula to give it one last mixing.

Roll 1/2 a tsp of dough in your hands at a time to make a little sphere. Then roll it in a shallow bowl of sugar (I think I used about 1/2-2/3 cup of sugar for the rolling). Flatten it just slightly and place it on the prepared cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining dough keeping about 2 inches between cookies and sides of the pan.

Bake the gingersnaps until they spread and become deep golden, 15-20 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, switch the placement of the pans in the oven so the cookies bake evenly. Cool cookies on pan for a couple minutes, then transfer to racks or plates to cool completely.