Getting to the party

AriCooks, cake, dessert, Summer, Tips and Tricks

We have a lot of summer birthdays in my family, which, in addition to the summer I spent running a little cake-making business from my kitchen, has taught me a bit about how to make birthday cakes (and frosting) in warmer temperatures, and how to create a lovely-looking cake in stages so that you, the cake-baker, arrives at party day relaxed and ready to enjoy.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you are baking (really, building) a straightforward sheet or layer cake here. I think most of these guidelines would also be applicable to something like carrot cake, which is also often frosted, or even a genoise, which is soaked and then covered with ganache or glaze. Also, I am going to assume that if you’ve gotten this far, you know the basics of cake-baking and may even have a recipe in mind. If not, take a peek at these:
Weeknight Cake Making

Birthday Cake, Straight-Up

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake 

Photo from a million years ago

Photo from a million years ago

So, it’s July or August, or even a steamy early-September, and you have a cake to bake. I like to begin cake-building 3-4 days before the party, especially in the summer,and when there are other preparations that will take up time as well.

  1. The actual baking: After I have made my shopping list and arrived home with my ingredients (and checked to see that I have all the necessary staples– parchment paper, pan spray etc), I bake the cake/cake layers. If it’s hot, this is best done in the early morning (after coffee!), or late evening. Preheating an oven and baking the cake for 30-40 minutes, really increases the temperature of the house, especially if you live in a smaller space. When the cake has cooled (in the pan for 5-10 min, then out of the pan completely) you should wrap it up really well with plastic wrap (layers should be wrapped individually) and freeze it until you are ready to frost it — ideally, the night before the party. Do not refrigerate it. If you have done this step just one day before the party, you can leave it out, wrapped well, but not if the cake has ANY fresh fruit or veggies in it (blueberries, carrots etc).

2. Making Frostings and fillings: Most icings, frostings, and fillings (ganache is not so easy to make ahead) can certainly be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. Most of them will need to be brought to room temp before spreading and something like buttercream will definitely need to be re-beaten before it can be spread. If you don’t mind doing that, then I do recommend making buttercream ahead of time because it is time-consuming and you want to feel fresh and relaxed for the fun part- the decorating. If you are planning an outdoor party, where the cake may be sitting in the heat for a bit, it is HIGHLY recommended that you use at least part shortening or margarine in your buttercream. An all-butter buttercream is very tasty, but butter’s low melting point does not lend it to a stable frosting that will stand up to heat. You want to set yourself up for success after all this work, so unless your summer cake-eating is happening in air-conditioning, I recommend at least half shortening. You can use something like Earth Balance (supposedly healthier) or just a simple margarine.

3. Building your cake: The night before the party get your frosting at the right consistency and unwrap your frozen cake. Frosting a frozen cake has a great advantage: you may not need a crumb layer– that is to first frost your cake with a thin layer of frosting that some crumbs stick to and show-through, and then chill it and frost again with a second layer, thus hiding the crumbs. Frozen cakes tend not to shed as many crumbs, but obviously if your frosting is lily-white and your cake is chocolate, you may need a crumb layer regardless. When you have frosted the cake, and perhaps decorated with any piped frosting, cover the whole thing in some kind of cake-keeper until the day-of. Save any floral, fruit, or chocolate embellishments until right before the presentation, as they will not hold up well to overnight refrigerating.

4. The Day-Of: Complete any final touches on your cake in the hours before the party. Keep cake refrigerated until about half an hour before serving. Also, remember that certain fruit, like strawberries, can bleed color onto white frosting, so don’t leave those on the cake for too long before serving.

Kosher Salt Magic (An easy chicken recipe)

AriCooks, Jerusalem, Shabbat, Tips and Tricks

IMG_0119Once upon a time I was a vegetarian. For most of my life, actually, and a bit of a health-nut as well. And though my blog (and our table ) is still filled mainly with vegetables and non-animal proteins, I have two very hungry, carnivorous little girls who love roasted chicken and roasted broccoli alike. It began when we moved to Nachlaot. My older daughter, then 3, went to a public nursery school where they served a hot lunch. She was picky at home, eating mostly omelets, cucumbers, pasta and tofu, and not particularly willing to try new things. At school however, whether due to peer pressure, or simply the deliciously salty Osem soup powder added to all their meals, she happily cleaned her plate of chicken with rice, pasta and schnitzel, meatballs and green beans. So I started experimenting at home, cooking up a little chicken here, turkey meatballs there, and was pleased (and a little horrified) to discover that she loved them.

Since that time, I have found that the pleasure of watching my daughters eat well, trumps my desire to find creative ways to feed them vegetarian fare alone. And I am happy to say that this moderate attitude has produced kids who are never disappointed by roasted carrots, cauliflower, beets, or green beans, but rather overjoyed when we have chicken, salmon or meatballs, once or twice a week– they see meat as a treat and veggies as weekday fare.

Of all the recipes I have collected from my beloved Shuk vendors thus far, this one is the most miraculous.

Kosher Salt Chicken

It’s so simple, it’s barely a recipe

1 whole chicken

a lot of kosher salt

Rinse your chicken– if you’re into that. Put it on a pan lined with parchment. Pour kosher salt all around the edges of the pan, and inch or two wide. Don’t let it touch the chicken. Roast in a 375°F (180 C) oven until it’s golden and lovely looking and about 165°F internal temp (get a thermometer if you don’t have one, they are essential). Remove it from the oven. Enjoy.
IMG_0115

I know it’s not easy to see, but the chicken is framed by a good amount of salt.

 

 

 

The Language of the Shuk

AriCooks, Quick Meals, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian

When new English-speaking acquaintances ask me how I learned to speak Hebrew, it is always in the same tone of voice: slightly bewildered surprise. They are often struggling themselves with modern Hebrew, even after years of study in a Hebrew school or Jewish day school. I will speak freely here about one thing I do well, since it is through no exceptional talent that my Hebrew is nearly unrecognizable as anything other than native (on good days). I lived here as a child, I tell them, and usually the conversation ends there. The truth is more complex, and (I think) more interesting than that, however. I learned Hebrew very carefully, and through a system I began devising (somewhat unknowingly) when I was 9 years old.

When my family moved to Jerusalem a few months before my 10th birthday, Hebrew was already familiar to my ears. We had spent summers here and during the school year I attended a Jewish day school outside of Boston where we learned the Hebrew alphabet alongside the English one. Still, I was hardly prepared to be thrust into an Israeli public school on the first day of 5th grade, my loud and aggressive classmates barking in quick, clipped slang as they disobeyed the teacher’s orders to sit down and open their notebooks. When a red-headed girl spoke to me, I recognized only three words in her sentence: “you”, “new”, and “mine”. It was in that moment that I understood that my survival hinged on two things: the red-headed girl’s kind, open smile, and my ability to listen very, very well.

Fifth grade was boot camp for my Hebrew. I can’t say that I learned one other thing that year (certainly not math), but by the time 6th grade began, I sounded exactly like the other children in my neighborhood, at school, and in my Scouts troupe. Had we stayed on as a family, my reading, writing and, in fact, my entire identity would have been quick to follow suit. But my Israeli story is in parts. In the 7th grade we returned to the States, and the next time I lived in Israel was in high school. My 5th grade Hebrew had some catching up to do, and I fell back on a familiar strategy — I listened, parroted, and soon the teenage phrases in the air became my own.

As a college student in Beer Sheva the outdoor market was my favorite place to practice my more grown-up Hebrew. Half the shuk being Arab in Beer Sheva, I learned Arabic words and slang that still tinge my speaking today, occasionally confusing others when my outer appearance does not match the Sepahrdi-colloquial-working class lilt of my words. “Where are you from?” Israelis sometimes ask –not because they cannot place my accent outside the country, but because they cannot place me in it. “Are you French?” “From Bat Yam (a lower-class suburb of Tel Aviv)?” I give them the short answer, not bothering to explain that I learned my Hebrew from children, from the Shuk, from Eyal Golan songs, and from the street.

And now back in (a much more religious) Jerusalem, home to Hebrew University but also Machane Yehuda, I listen to the Hebrew of the Persian spice vendors (musical), to my Kurdish neighbors (colloquial), and to the young women who come for alterations at my shop (educated), and my varied collection of sayings and of ways of expressing myself continue to grow. And even though it fails me from time to time, and little old Ashkenazi ladies who probably taught the language to the Pioneers correct my grammar, I love my spoken Hebrew and its mix of inflections. I love that it is mine.

A couple of readers have asked  for the recipe for the Tomato Zucchini gratin, pictured above, left, in the photo from this week’s meals for the L Family.  It is a fairly simple recipe and I am posting the link here. A couple notes: no need to salt and sweat the zucchini. The tomatoes however do benefit from being drained. You can just saute all the zucchini at once if you have a wide enough saute pan. If cow’s milk cheese is a problem, you can use pecorino, which is made from sheep’s milk. Enjoy!

Trumpeldor

Tips and Tricks

Hello food blogosphere! I am missing you terribly, but have been completely consumed with seamstressing (mainly), private-chefing, food tour-leading, and very occasionally modeling for the shop.

Handmade Mexican dress, at Trumpeldor. Photo by the very talented, Judy Kaufman

Vintage Israeli Gotex dress

I have been seriously considering adding a sewing category to this blog, but have no idea if that would be of interest to any of my current readers. If you are an aricooks follower who might be interested in things like basic sewing alterations (zippers hems, taking in/out pants and skirts), and more specifically, alterations of vintage dresses and other women’s clothing, let me know!

 

 

Vegetarian Kubbeh Soup for a Sweet New Year

AriCooks, Dairy Free, soups and stews, Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian

Just as our life in Tel Aviv had a Yemenite flavor from living and shopping near the Yeminite Quarter and Shuk HaCarmel, our life here in Jerusalem, a stone’s throw away from Machaneh Yehuda, smells and tastes of Iraqi and Kurdish cuisine. Our neighbors are immigrants from Kurdistan (now part of Iraq), whose children, grandchildren and great grandchildren crowd into their tiny apartment every Friday evening. Songs, prayers, laughter and delicious cooking smells waft from their balcony and kitchen window.

“This was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in”, their daughter told me. “It was the kind of place where everyone was always cooking together and front doors were open from the time people woke up until they went to sleep.”

Although Nachlaot (and Zichron Yosef, a small offshoot of Nachlaot, where we live) is now home to all kinds of Jewish immigrants, as well as foreign workers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the Iraqi and Kurdish influence is still unmistakable. Up and down Agripas — the main thoroughfare between the outdoor market and the neighborhood — and within the shuk itself, one can find Iraqi flatbreads, stuffed vegetables, mustachioed men playing towleh (an Iraqi version of backgammon) and sipping small cups of strong coffee. If you are lucky, you will also find kubbeh. Stuffed with meat, chicken or vegetables, kubbeh are cracked wheat and semolina-based dumplings that are more or less the backbone of Kurdish cuisine. Joan Nathan writes about one Kurdish grandmother in her book, The Jews of Israel Today, who typically makes about 60 kubbeh every week for the Shabbat meal with her immediate and extended family. This is hardly unusual in this food-centric country, where many of the Jews who came to Israel from Arab nations in search of a better life are still alive and cooking.

Friday afternoons at the Cafe, my coworker Roie throws himself into a frenzy during closing trying to get to his granmother’s house that much sooner for steaming bowls of kubbeh hamousta — a homestyle stew with large chunks of vegetables and fat dumplings stuffed with beef. “What’s the rush?!” I tease him as he hurls dirty aprons towards the laundry pile and scrubs the espresso machine ferociously. “My grandmother’s kubbeh!” he replies, shoving his work clothes into his courier bag and dashing out the door.

Last Shabbat at my friend Julia’s house, my resolve to try my hand at real soup kubbeh (as opposed to the fried version, which I have made before) was finally solidified as I slurped my way through a bowl of her mother-in-law’s beet and lemon version. Although the results of my efforts were fruitful, there is so much to learn about how to make all the different varieties of kubbeh, I feel I could be experimenting for a long time before I really find my favorite recipes. I also may try to find my way into Roie’s grandmother’s kitchen for some tips….

Ari’s Vegetarian Kubbeh Stew, with inspiration from Joan Nathan, Vegan Start and the wonders of the internet.

Even food freaks like me fall into a rut from time to time. With all the upheaval in our life this past year, it had been some time since I felt I’d cooked something really adventurous. Although I would make some changes next time I attempt this stew (as indicated below) overall I was thrilled with the finished product here. 

For the Kubbeh filling:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

10-12 baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped

handful of parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Heat a bit of olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute. Cover briefly to allow their juices to release. Add the parsley and cook until wilted.

Allow filling to cool while you make the kubbeh dough.

For the kubbeh dough:

2 cups fine bulgur wheat (Some recipes call for half fine and half coarse. I used all fine.)

2 cups semolina

flour

salt

warm water

Cover the bulgur wheat with salted warm water (a few dashes of salt will do) by about an inch. Let sit in a bowl for about an hour until the liquid has been absorbed (if your liquid gets absorbed too quickly, add more; you want well-hydrated bulgur for this recipe). After the hour, drain excess liquid and mix in the semolina. Begin kneading the dough, adding a bit of flour as you go. Knead until you have a pliable dough that is not too sticky — I would try to add as little flour as possible, but do what you have to in order to get a dough you can work with.

When you have a dough that you feel you can work with, take a plum-sized amount in your hand and shape it so it is concave with an even thickness all around.

Next take a teaspoon of the filling and place it into the middle of the dough.

Then begin to close the dough around the filling, taking care that none of the filling is poking out anywhere (risking kubbeh-eruption during cooking).

 Put your kubbeh in a container with wax paper or plastic between the layers. Cover well and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

Now make the soup:

2 onions, chopped

3 celery stalks (leaves reserved) cut into a smallish dice

1 1/2 cups of butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into chunks

2 beets, peeled and cut into chunks

2 medium zucchini/magda/summer squash cut into large chunks

celery leaves, finely chopped

handful of parsley, finely minced

salt and pepper

juice of 1 whole lemon

olive oil

4-6 cups water or vegetable stock

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a wide soup pot over medium. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Add the celery and pumpkin and saute well until the onion begins to turn golden. Add the rest of the veggies, except the celery leaves and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cover for a few minutes.

Add celery leaves, parsley, salt and pepper. MIx everything well and then cover with 4-6 cups of water or stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.

Begin to drop the kubbeh into the soup — my recipe made about 20 kubbeh, and I used maybe half of them in the soup, freezing the rest for a future soup.

Simmer the kubbeh in the soup for one hour. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Phyllo Pie

AriCooks, Savory pies and quiches, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian

As I predicted, one of my many part-time jobs during this transition into our new life is, dah dah dum…waitressing. Although I am also teaching dance and cooking, there isn’t quite enough of that yet to pay the bills, so off to a cafe I went. Luckily, it’s just like riding a bike — although I have to say that the 32 year-old-me gets a little more exhausted at the end of a 6 or 8 hour waitressing shift than the 22 year-old-me did, a true age-indicator. Sigh.

With less energy (and time) for cooking Shabbat dinner last Friday, I racked my hungry brain for something I could make ahead that would sustain us through the weekend and would not leave me feeling even more my age. I thought of spanikopita (too many steps), then a savory tart (we just had quiche), then a sort of fusion of the two. I think this phyllo pie is rather clever, as it is simple to prepare yet looks sophisticated and tastes delicious.

Ari’s Phyllo Vegetable Pie

If you ever want to impress your family, friends or dinner guests, phyllo is the way to go. For most people phyllo has an air of sophistication and mystique, assumed to be much more complicated to cook with than it actually is. The only special tool you need if you are going to work with phyllo is a pastry brush (even a clean paint brush is fine), which you need for brushing the phyllo layers with olive oil or melted butter. Also, it is important to keep phyllo covered with a clean, damp kitchen towel while you work, because it dries out and becomes brittle very quickly.

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 large zucchini, magda or summer squash, cubed

10-12 crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, stems removed, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

pinch of cayenne

1/2 tsp cumin

salt and pepper

1/3 cup finely chopped parsley

olive oil

1 package of phyllo dough, thawed

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until soft, 5 minutes. Add the carrot and saute a few minutes more (I covered the pan to help it cook more quickly). When the carrot has softened add the cubed squash and mushrooms. Cover the pan and cook for 7 minutes until the mushrooms have released their juices. Add the bell pepper and spices and saute uncovered for a few minutes more. Lastly add the parsley and mix into the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Get a 9 x 13 inch baking pan out and brush it with olive oil. Lay the phyllo next to your pan and cover it with a damp towel. Lay a piece of phyllo over each long side of the pan, letting it hang over the outside edges by several inches. Brush the phyllo with olive oil. Repeat this with the short edges and again with the long. You should have 4 or 5 layers of phyllo as your bottom “crust,” all brushed with oil. Spread the vegetable mixture into the pan and layer 3-4 pieces of phyllo over the mixture, brushing each with oil. Then fold the overhanging pieces over the whole thing, encasing the veggies. Brush the top with olive oil and bake the pie at 350°F/175°C until golden brown, ~40 minutes.

The New Englander within

AriCooks, dessert, Savory pies and quiches, Summer, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian

It’s always been like this. When you grow up in two places you develop a split (or “dual” if you’re feeling magnanimous) identity. When Jeff and I returned to the States in ’99, I was on a mission to embrace the American in me (the New Englander, especially) with a new and almost fanatical conviction. Done with feeling rootless, I embraced Boston and all it had to offer. My Israeli past became a footnote in conversation with new friends and acquaintances and over time I was able to avoid talking about it all together. Although I had many unresolved feelings and attachments towards the country where I had spent nearly a third of my pre-adult life, I tried to channel them all into my cooking, and spent little time thinking about or discussing Israel outside of the culinary sphere.

I did that for eleven years. Then one day, I looked at my little girl and realized that if I did not act, she might never have an Israeli identity (however fraught) of her own. Petrified by the thought, I began to reconsider my own position on the matter. Although both Jeff and I had benefited enormously from the experiences and connections we had made in Boston, if we stayed too much longer, leaving would be almost impossible professionally. Other repressed feelings began to well up and, feeling that we were at a crossroads, we decided to return despite the cries of shock from nearly everyone we knew. When you try to ignore a lost love for so long, and fool everyone else even half as well as you’ve fooled yourself, there will be some explaining to do.

All that being said, eleven years was the longest  time I ever spent outside Israel and I did succeed in becoming that American I wanted so badly to be. The New Englander within surprises me with her expectations and sometimes prudishness (shyness?). In a society where manners are at the bottom of most people’s priorities, my inner-Bostonian balks at behavior I would not have noticed at 19. I need an inch or two more personal space than most people and I don’t like touching anyone except my closest friends and family. I imagine these things will lessen over time, but other things, like my love of cranberry season, apple picking, and cider donuts, may not. That I love Maine summers and orange blossoms equally helps illustrate the crux of my problem. Destined to be a New Englander in Israel and an Israeli in New England, trying to figure out how to be at home in the world is my greatest challenge.

Friday Night Quiche and a Saturday Fruit Salad

Vegetable Quiche

SInce it’s July in Israel I suppose it goes without saying that stew was not on the menu last night. Coming up with filling (but not heavy) summer meals is my main culinary challenge right now. Cold noodle and grain salads have been our main courses for weeks and it was time for something else. I decided to capitalize on my challah’s baking time and do quiche simultaneously, a dish we enjoy cold as well as warm. 

For the dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

8 Tbs cold Butter

2 Tbs cold shortening (I use the vegan margarine for this – you can also just use 2 more Tbs of butter)

1 egg yolk

ice water

Have all ingredients very cold (you can even mix the dry ingredients and put them in the fridge for a little while to chill them).

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and add the butter and shortening (cut in Tbs-size chunks) and pulse a few times until butter and shortening are pea-size. Add yolk and a couple Tbs of cold water and pulse a few times until dough starts to come together it should not form a ball in your processor, but rather hold together in a clump, when squeezed. Add more cold water if necessary, just a little at a time, until you have a dough that you can squeeze into a ball. Turn it out onto a counter and gather together and press into a disk (handle as little as possible, so that your butter stays cold).

If you do this by hand, you must work very quickly, cutting the butter into the flour and salt with a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Add the egg and ice water and continue to “cut” it in — not mixing or heating the dough up with your hands.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the filling:

4-5 yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 large red bell peppers, roasted (see below)

I bunch of swiss chard, washed well, stems removed and chopped separately

1/3 cup goat/sheep feta

1/3-1/2 cup grated pecorino

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

olive oil

salt and pepper

caramelize the onions like this.

While the onions are caramelizing, roast the peppers:

Place an oven rack about 6 inches from the heating element and preheat the broiler. Place the peppers on a sheet pan lined with foil and slide them under the broiler. Let the skins of the peppers char on one side, then use tongs to turn each pepper 90 degrees. Repeat until the peppers are evenly charred on all sides and have collapsed.

Place them in a bag or covered bowl and allow the skins to steam off for 15 minutes.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice thinly.

Add some olive oil to a wide saute pan (you can use the one you cooked the onions in) and saute the chopped chard stems with salt and pepper until they are soft, then add the chard leaves and cover the pot until they have cooked down, 5-7 minutes.

Roll out your pie dough — you will need to allow it to soften for 10 minutes out of the fridge. Dust a counter top and the surface of the dough with flour and roll out into a 1/3 inch-thick round. Transfer it to an ungreased pie plate and crimp the edges.

Parbake the crust for 10 minutes at 350°F/180°C, then remove from the oven.

Thinly slice the feta and spread it over the bottom of the shell. Next add 1/2 the onions and the peppers.

Spread the cooked chard (with stems) onto the pepper-onions layer, then add remaining onions and roasted peppers.

Beat 5-6 eggs with 1/2 the grated pecorino plus salt and pepper to taste and a 1/4 cup of milk or soy milk.

Pour the egg mixture into the shell and sprinkle parsley and the remaining pecorino over the top.

Bake at 350°F/180°C, for 35-45 minutes, until it is no longer wobbly in the center.

Summer Fruit Salad

Since I am a dessert show-off, my inner pastry-artist feels a bit stifled when I am asked to bring fruit to a gathering. In an effort to express myself fully while still honoring the hostess’s wishes, I got out my pastry cutter and went to work on this simple 3-fruit salad. 

1/4 watermelon

2 cups rainier cherries

3-4 large plums

mint sprigs

Chop or ball watermelon with a melon baller.

Pit and halve cherries

Thinly slice plums and use a star pastry/cookie cutter to cut stars out of the slices (or use whatever small cutter-shape you have handy).

Use the stars and the slices with the star cut-out to decorate the top of the fruit salad, as well as fresh mint sprigs.

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.

Something Different

AriCooks, Tips and Tricks

Although finding non-processed, (relatively) inexpensive natural foods in Israel is as simple as a walk to the outdoor market, the same cannot be said for things like natural shampoo, lotion, laundry detergent and so on. There is a quite a premium on non-chemical cleaning products in this country, and for a family on a new-immigrant budget, paying a premium for facial cleanser is not an option.

While I know that it is quite possible to clean a house with little more than apple cider vinegar and baking soda (two staples in my cleaning cupboard back in the States) I am more in the dark when it comes to making one’s own beauty products. A little research online has got my interest peaked however, and I am happy to present you all with my first non-food recipe here on Ari Cooks.

Honey Yogurt Facial Mask

This facial mask is actually completely edible (as most things we put on our bodies should be — after all we absorb everything through our skin!) and quite tasty. Jeff said it “smelled like breakfast”.

1.5 Tbs plain yogurt

1 Tbs all natural honey (the kind that has been boiled or purified does not contain the beneficial nutrients you want to put on your skin)

2-3 Tbs oat flour (I ground up whole oats in my spice grinder

Mix the yogurt and honey in a small bowl and slowly mix in the oat flour until the mixture comes to a consistency that looks thick enough to spread onto your face. Using your fingertips, gently massage mixture onto face avoiding the eye area. Leave the mask on for 10-15 minutes (it will dry as it sits on your skin) then wash off thoroughly with warm water and pat dry with a clean towel. Seal in the benefits of the mask with a natural facial moisturizer.

Before Cheesecake…

Dairy Free, Savory pies and quiches, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian, Yeast bread

I am trying to get quite a lot in here before Wednesday’s holiday, which is all about cheese. Well, it’s actually about Revelation, but we eat cheese while feeling that something is being revealed. For more on Shavuot you can check out Jeff’s blog here. For more on food, stick with me.

Before I get swept up in the cheesecake baking, I have this Roasted Red Pepper and Kalamata Tart to share with you all, which is actually dairy free and nearly vegan (with the exception of one egg in the yeasted dough). The addition of caramelized red onions gives it depth of flavor and a nice consistency. I suggest making it in stages; roasting your peppers a day ahead, and maybe chopping and caramelizing your onions a day or two ahead as well. The more you can simply assemble — rather than cook and prepapre — on baking day, the more you can enjoy sitting down to eat (i.e. not exhausted)!

Roasted Red Pepper and Kalamata Tart with Yeasted Crust, adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

For the Dough:

2 Tbs active dry yeast

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup warm water

3 Tbs olive oil

1 egg lightly beaten

3/8 tsp salt

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a medium bowl and let stand until bubbly ~ 10 minutes. Add the oil, egg, and salt, then stir in flour (not all at once, you may not need all of it). When the dough is too stiff to work with a spoon, turn it onto the counter and knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. Add more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking. Set dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk — 45 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile prepare the filling.

Tart Filling:

2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced

3 Tbs olive oil, plus extra for the crust

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (I used 4)

3 large red bell peppers

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/8 tsp saffron threads

1/4 tsp anise seeds

salt and pepper

2 Tbs chopped basil

8 kalamata olives halved and pitted

Roast the red peppers whole, under a broiler, rotating every couple of minute until they are evenly mottled. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with a plate or cutting board to let the skins steam off ~ 15 minutes. Peel and seed the the peppers and finely chop up all but 2/3 or one pepper. Cut the reserved 2/3 pepper into thin strips.

Cook the onions in the oil over medium heat until they are soft, about 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, turn down the heat to low and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes more. Do not burn. While the are cooking, peel, seed, and finely chop the tomatoes (to peel tomatoes, cut an X shape in the bottom of each tomato, place in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for a minute or two, then pour out the hot water and cover them in cool water. Drain and peel). Add the garlic, chopped tomatoes and diced peppers to the onions, crumble the saffron threads and anise seeds into the mixture, and season with 1/2 tsp salt and a little pepper. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, especially towards the end. The mixture should be quite thick. Taste for salt and stir in the basil leaves.

Preheat the oven to 400°F/210°C. Roll out the dough and drape it over a 10 inch tart pan. There will be plenty of overhang.

Trim it and crimp the dough around the rim. Add the filling. Take the reserved, narrow strips of pepper and use the to make a lattice design over the top (I didn’t have quite enough pepper to do this — any design you make will be lovely). Place the olives in the spaces formed by the peppers.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove and brush the rim of the crust with olive oil. Unmold the tart onto a platter and serve.