March 29, 2013

Pin It Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Figs

Taken From: Jerusalem: A Cookbook
For Sedar I wanted to try something a little different this year.  I'm not really into making things during Passover that are pretending to be other things.  I'd rather just make something that can stand on its own, made with ingredients on the "things you can eat" list. I quadrupled the recipe (which was about twice as much as we needed) but it was great to have leftovers.  This was really good and really filling. I would definitely make it again, any time of year, but maybe just stick to the original quantities in the recipe.

Ingredients
4 small sweet potatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
Scant 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
12 green onions, halved and cut in 1 1/2 inch segments
1 red chili, thinly sliced
6 ripe figs, quartered
5 oz. goat cheese
Salt and pepper

Directions 
Preheat oven to 475.
Wash sweet potatoes, halve lengthwise and cut each half again into 3 long wedges. Mix with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper. Spread wedges out, skin side down, on a baking sheet and cook for about 25 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Remove from oven and let cool.

To make balsamic reduction, put balsamic and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Decrease to simmer for 2-4 minutes, until it thickens. Make sure to remove from heat when the vinegar is still thinner than honey (it continues to thicken as it cools). Add a drop of water before drizzling if it ends up being too thick before serving.

Arrange sweet potatoes on a serving platter. Heat remaining oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add green onions and chili. Fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring often to make sure not to burn the chili. Spoon oil, onions and chili over sweet potatoes. Dot figs among the wedges and then drizzle on the balsamic reduction.  Crumble cheese on top. Serve at room temperature.

March 27, 2013

Pin It Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds

Bonnie made this for us a while back and it was delicious!  I wanted to try it out myself and it turned out great.  The recipe is very easy, satisfying and filled with unique ingredients (especially compared to my standard go-to salads). Give it a try if you are looking for something tangy and crunchy!

Ingredients
1 tablespoon white vinegar (I used balsamic)
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 1/2 oz. pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small pitas, roughly torn into pieces
1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
5 oz. baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt

Directions
Put vinegar, onion, and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Heat butter and half the olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the pita and almonds and cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring all the time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chili flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.

When you are ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt.

March 25, 2013

Pin It Turkey & Zucchini Burgers with Sour Cream Sumac Sauce - Cook the Books

Taken From: Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Photo Courtesy of Jerusalem: A Cookbook 
Alright, so you'll notice that I took very few pictures for this post.  That was mostly due to the fact that I almost burnt down my apartment building.  Ok, ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I did manage to fill my apartment and the hallways with smoke and I set off the building's (not my apartment but the entire building's) fire alarm.

Managed to freak out some of my neighbors but everything was ok in the end. The problem was that the recipe said to sear the burgers in a pan first, then place them on a waxed paper lined baking sheet and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes. I should have known better.  I accidentally used waxed paper while making cookies in the past and I knew the end result: a ton of smoke fills your oven and apartment. Rookie move.

Apparently at high temperatures, the wax on the paper can melt and will transfer to whatever you are baking. It's food grade wax so it's not toxic, but still not something you want on your baked goods. Here is where the real problem lies (at least for me): The wax also has a fairly low smoke point, which means that any exposed wax paper will smoke while it is in the oven.  There is also a possibility that if you are cooking something that requires a very long bake time or a very high temperature, the paper could actually catch fire. Awesome! So here is my cautionary tale: Don't substitute wax paper for parchment paper during baking, even if it's in the directions for a recipe.

After I got over the embarrassment of setting off the building's fire alarm and freaking out my neighbors, I got to sit down and enjoy these burgers, and they were delicious! They were super moist which was a nice change for a turkey burger. I think the grated zucchini helped add some additional moisture to the burgers and the searing/oven baking helped lock it in.

The sour cream and sumac sauce was also delicious. Unique, but very flavorful and it complimented the burgers nicely.

The directions for the recipe were a little odd as there were some discrepancies throughout about what you were actually making. I thought I was making burgers and the recipe's yield says it makes "18 burgers," but in the directions it refers to them as meatballs.  I assume they mean sliders but even still, they'd have to be pretty small sliders to get 18 from this recipe.  Do whatever you like. I decided to make 4 decent sized burgers and that worked out well.

Ingredients (yields 18 mini burgers or 4 burgers)
1 pound ground turkey
1 large zucchini, coarsely grated (2 cups)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
~ 6 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil, for searing (I used olive oil)

Sour Cream & Sumac Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 425. 
Make sour cream sauce first by mixing together all the ingredients in a small bowl and chilling until needed.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the burgers, except the oil. Mix with your hands then shape into 18 burgers (or 4 large).

Pour enough oil into a large frying pan to form a layer about 1/16 inch thick on the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium heat until hot, then sear burgers in batches on each side. Cook each batch for about 4 minutes, adding oil as need, until golden brown.

Transfer seared burgers to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (not waxed paper like the recipe actually says). Place them in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature with sauce spooned over or on the side.

I cooked for 14 minutes for 4 large burgers, and they turned out great!

March 21, 2013

Pin It Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread - Cook the Books

Taken From Jerusalem: A Cookbook
I thought this recipe sounded intriguing, albeit a little odd.  It seemed like a good non-beany alternative to hummus, which could serve the important role of a pre-dinner snack.

I'll say two things about this recipe:
1. It makes a ton, as I'm sure you'd imagine it would since it uses an entire butternut squash.
2. It's pretty sweet for what I thought would be a savory dip.

It was good, but a little sweet, so it took some getting used to. It was interesting, but not sure if I'd make it again.
Ingredients
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons light tahini paste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon date syrup
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt

Directions
Spread squash out onto a medium roasting pan. Pour on olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix together well and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Roast in the oven for 70 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.

Transfer squash to food processor and add tahini, yogurt and garlic. Roughly pulse so that everything is combined in a coarse paste. This can also be accomplished with a fork or potato masher.

Spread over a flat plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds, drizzle with date syrup and finish with cilantro, if using.
Like I said, it was good, but not my favorite.  However, I was proud that we had on hand, 4 (yes 4) different kinds of sesame seeds.  Excessive? Maybe, but they finally came in handy.

March 16, 2013

Pin It Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

For a St. Patty's Day themed work potluck, I knew exactly what over the top, absurd dessert I wanted to try out: Irish car bomb cupcakes. Not only do these have all the components of an Irish car bomb (Guinness, Irish whisky and Bailey's) but the cupcakes are filled with ganache! I mean come on, how could I not make these?!

I ended up combining the recipe from Brown Eyed Baker (for the most part) with the assembly directions from Wonderful Joy Ahead's ganache filled cupcakes. The BEB recipe has you coring the cupcakes after they've baked and filling the cavities with ganache.  The WJA recipe has you chill and roll balls of ganache, and place them on top of the raw batter before baking.  The balls settle into the cupcake and it really does simplify the process. My end result (before frosting) was not the prettiest as my cupcakes ended up with sunken middles, but that was nothing gobs of Bailey's infused cream cheese frosting couldn't fix.

I started out by making the ganache so it would have some time to chill while I made the cupcakes.

The cupcakes started with a cup of Guinness and 1 cup of butter. 
The two were combined in a saucepan over medium heat until it simmered. I added in the coco powder and stirred until it was combined.  
While that was cooling I mixed together all the dry ingredients and then assembled the cupcake batter.
I recently purchased these awesome batter scoops from Sur La Tab. They come in a set of three sizes, for mini, regular and jumbo cupcakes/muffins. They are perfect for measuring out the exact amount of batter needed, and are handy for pouring too.
After I poured in the batter, I placed the ganache balls on top (per the WJA recipe) and baked the cupcakes at 350 for 17 minutes. 
Like I said, they weren't very pretty when they came out but I remedied that with festive green frosting and sprinkles. 
For the frosting I wanted two things. 1. I wanted it to taste delicious and 2. I wanted the cupcakes to look pretty.  In an attempt to accomplish goal #2, I decided to invest in a new decorating tip.
Most of my tips are small and great for decorating cakes, but this new jumbo tip should be perfect for topping cupcakes.
To accomplish goal #1, I used Joy the Baker's cream cheese frosting recipe, taken from her cookbook:

Ingredients
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Variations:
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
1 tablespoon lemon juice plus 2 teaspoons lemon zest

I added in 6 tablespoons of Bailey's per the BEB recipe.

Directions 
Beat cream cheese for about a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the butter. Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for 1 minute, until thoroughly combined. (If you are using any add-on's, do it at this point). Turn mixer on low and add the salt and powdered sugar, followed by the vanilla extract. Beat until almost incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium speed until all the powdered sugar has disappeared and mixture is velvety soft. 

At this point I slowly added in 6 tablespoons of Bailey's. The Bailey's thinned out the frosting a bit so I added in ~2 tablespoons of additional powdered sugar.
I think in the end, a butter cream frosting would have looked fluffier and held the peaks the decorating tip created better, but the flavor is not my favorite   Plus the BEB butter cream recipe uses 4 sticks of butter and 5 cups of powdered sugar.  I just couldn't do it.
However, despite my mild disappointment in how they looked, these were delicious.  Super rich and decadent.  It's tough to actually eat the whole thing in one sitting, but I thought they were great, and my co-workers gave rave reviews as well.
Final verdict: I love the ganache filled cupcake! Definitely my new favorite way to make/devour cupcakes. I may try the BEB mode for inserting the ganache into the cupcake next time for a prettier finished product, or I could try the complete WJA recipe to see if her cupcake withholds the weight of the ganache better during baking.  I noticed her recipe calls for baking soda and vinegar which I know is used in red velvet cupcake recipes to make them light and fluffy. A good trick to try out next time.

March 12, 2013

Pin It Burnt Eggplant Soup - Cook the Books

Taken from Jerusalem: A Cookbook 
Two for two Jerusalem cookbook. You've done it again.

This soup was delicious! I think probably one of my favorite soups I've made. It's a little involved (seems to be a theme with this book) but absolutely worth it. It has a very unique flavor (probably because I've never had eggplant soup before) but it was great and I would totally make this again.

Ingredients
5 small eggplants
Sunflower oil, for flying (I used olive oil)
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon ground cumin 
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, skinned and diced
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 2/3 cups water
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup mograbieh, or alternative such as maftoul, fregola or giant couscous
2 tablespoons shredded basil or 1 tablespoon chopped dill, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions 
Burn 3 eggplants, either over the flame of a gas burner or in the boiler. If you use the broiler, char the eggplants on a foil lined baking sheet on high for 60 minutes, rotating the eggplants to char evenly on each side. Once they are charred  remove from oven and cool slightly. Cut in half and scrape out insides to add to the soup.

While the 3 eggplants are burning, dice the remaining 2 eggplants. Heat about 2/3 cups oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the diced eggplant. Fry for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until colored all over.  Remove eggplant, place in a colander to drain and sprinkle with salt.

Using a large stock pot with ~1 tablespoon of oil, saute onion and cumin for about 7 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute before adding the tomatoes, stock, water, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil and add mograbieh or alternative (I used Israeli couscous). Cook according to directions until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water.

Transfer the burnt eggplant flesh to the soup and blend using an immersion blender. After the soup is blended, add the mograbieh/couscous and fried eggplant keeping some of each for garnish. Simmer for another 2 minutes. Serve hot with reserved mograbieh and fried eggplant on top, and garnish with basil or dill.

March 5, 2013

Pin It Pasta with Yogurt, Peas and Chile – Cook the Books

I'm so excited about this new cookbook; all the recipes look amazing! They seem a little more involved then I'm used to but so far they have proven to be worth the effort.  Really it's not so much effort as it is using multiple pots/pans/appliances, which in the end just means more clean up. However, like I said, totally worth it.

The thing I love about this recipe besides it being delicious is that there is not so much cooking prep needed.  The recipe starts out by making a creamy yogurt sauce using Greek yogurt, garlic, green peas and olive oil.  All you have to do is blend it in a food processor and you've got your sauce. 
Here is the other thing I love about this recipe. It's got such a rich and creamy flavor without all the fat that the usual cream sauce brings to the table. I used non-fat Greek Yogurt so I'm pretty sure this is actually a really healthy pasta dish.  And can we talk about how fantastic Greek yogurt is? So thick and substantial with no fat? It's amazing. I'm not sure how it works but I like it and will not question its greatness.
After your sauce is prepped there are just a few other things that need to be done. Tear up a bunch of basil for later and start cooking your pasta. I used brown rice pasta in an effort to start out my gluten-free month. 

Side note about that: I don't plan on being super strict about this so please excuse me in advance for breaking the rules.  However, I will be making a conscious effort to eat less gluten throughout the month and will try to avoid making anything at home with gluten in it.

While your pasta is cooking, start frying your pine nuts in olive oil and chile pepper. I used Aleppo pepper because I had it PLUS it fell under the category of Turkish or Syrian chile pepper (see full recipe and directions below). 
When your pasta is done cooking, slowly add it to the sauce, then mix in the basil, peas and feta. Top with fried pine nuts and oil and enjoy!
Ingredients (serves 6)
2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (I used non-fat)
2/3 cups olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. fresh or thawed frozen peas
1 lb. conchiglie pasta (I used brown rice spiral pasta)
Scant 1/2 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoons Turkish or Syrian chile flakes (I used Aleppo pepper)
1 2/3 cups basil leaves, coarsely torn
8 oz. feta, broken into chunks (I used fat-free)
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Directions
Put yogurt, 6 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic and 2/3 cup peas in the food processor and combine until a uniform pale green sauce is formed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Cook the pasta as directed. As pasta cooks, heat remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add pine nuts and chile flakes and fry for 4 minutes, until nuts are golden and the oil is a deep red. 

Drain the cooked pasta and slowly add it to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to split. Add in the warm peas, basil, feta, salt and white pepper. Toss gently, transfer to individual bowls and spoon over the pine nuts and the oil.
I really did love this recipe and plan to make it again very soon.  It yields a good about (serves about 6) and made for great leftovers. Don't be thrown by a yogurt based pasta sauce. It may sound a little unusual but I'm all about it...and you will be too.