Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Archive for the ‘substitutions’


Gingersnaps 0

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sahar

I almost love gingersnaps more than I love a really good chocolate chip cookie. Almost. It’s a photo finish, really.

Just like gingerbread, gingersnaps date back to Medieval England and predate the cake style gingerbread we know today.

Traditionally, “gingersnaps” are a crispy cookie that “snap” when eaten, hence the name.

Gingersnaps have a long history in Europe, especially England and Germany. The cookies were made using molasses as a sweetener rather than refined sugar because it was less expensive and more readily available to the average person. (At this time, white refined sugar was extremely expensive and only available to the very wealthy.) As England expanded its colonial rule, it brought many of its cooking and baking traditions to these colonized countries, including gingersnaps.

European and British food traditions continued even after the American colonies gained their independence. Recipes that had been passed down, such as the traditional molasses and ginger recipe for snaps, still flourished in American kitchens.(information from www.ehow.com)
This recipe makes a lovely crispy yet slightly chewy melt-in-your-mouth cookie. The combination of shortening and butter is what does this. An all-butter cookie would cause the dough to spread quite a bit and make a very crispy cookie. An all-shortening dough would make a more cake-like cookie. I also like to use brown sugar as opposed to white because I find the cookie has a better texture and flavor. However, if you prefer to use or all you have is white (or even light brown) sugar, feel free to use it. Feel free to play with the spices. Of course, ginger should be your main flavor. However, most traditional gingersnap recipes have cloves and cinnamon.  I decided to buck tradition and used allspice as my secondary spice. Most of the sweet spices have an affinity with each other, so I thought, why not allspice? It works well in this recipe.As for the sugar to coat the cookie dough before baking – it’s a traditional addition. If you decide you don’t want the extra sugar, then skip that step.  However, since I wanted to go traditional (sort of), I did that step using turbinado (raw) sugar.If you would like to add even more ginger flavor, you can add grated fresh and/or finely chopped candied ginger.  Add as much or as little as you like.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

 

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 shortening, room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 c. molasses

 

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

 

Extra sugar for rolling

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don't want to beat too much air into the mixture.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until well combined.

After adding the egg and molasses.

After adding the egg and molasses.

3.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and allspice.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

5.  When the cookie mixture is ready, take a small amount and roll into a ball about 1″ in diameter.  Roll the ball in the extra sugar to coat.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies.  However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies. However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Place the ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.  Repeat about 4 dozen times. Have no more than 12 per baking sheet because the cookies will spread.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread quite a lot, so be sure to have about 2" between each ball of dough.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread, so be sure to have about 2″ between each ball of dough.

6.  Bake the cookies for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Enjoy!

 

Mujadarah مجدرة 0

Posted on October 17, 2014 by Sahar

In the ongoing informal series of foods from my childhood, today, I’m going to introduce you to Mujadarah.

Admittedly, this wasn’t my favorite dish growing up.  I usually picked at it or ate it with lots of salad so I could get it down.  But, as happens with most of us, my palate changed and discovered that I, even if I don’t love Mujadarah, I like it.  It must have been the lentils.

The first record of mujadara dates back to  1226, in the Iraqi cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh by al-Baghdadi. It was known as “peasant food”.  Mujaddara is the Arabic word for “pockmarked”; the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks. Generally consisting of rice, lentils, sometimes burghul (#3 or #4 coarse grind), and, very occasionally, meat, it was served during celebrations. Without meat, it was a medieval Arab dish commonly consumed by the poor. Because of its importance in the diet, a saying in the Eastern Arab world is, “A hungry man would be willing to sell his soul for a dish of mujaddara.”

Arab Christians traditionally eat mujaddara during Lent.  The dish is also popular among Jewish communities of Middle Eastern origin, in particular those of Syrian and Egyptian backgrounds; it is sometimes nicknamed “Esau’s favourite”. Jews traditionally ate it twice a week: hot on Thursday evening, and cold on Sunday.

(Some information from wikipedia and Rose Water & Orange Blossoms)

If the recipe looks somewhat familiar to you, I’ve made a dish similar before, Koshari.  The biggest difference is that Koshari has chick peas and pasta and is generally served with a tomato-cumin sauce.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this dish with white rice, brown rice, or burghul wheat. If you use burghul, be sure to use a #3 (medium coarse) or #4 (coarse) grind. If you use burghul, it will be the standard 2:1 ratio you would use for white rice.

2.  You can use either brown or green lentils.  Don’t use red.  They cook too soft for this dish.

3.  My mom uses just cinnamon as the spice (other than salt & pepper).  Play with the spices and come up with a combination you like.

4.  While some do make this dish with meat, I’ve always eaten it as a vegetarian meal.  If you want to add meat, follow the meat cooking instructions for Kidra.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Use brown or green.

The lentils. Use brown or green.

From top left:

From top left: cumin, allspice, olive oil, black pepper, salt

 

1 c. brown or green lentils

2 c. white or brown long-grain rice

2 lb. onions, cut in half and sliced thin

4 c. water or broth (5 c. if using brown rice)

2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. olive oil

 

1.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the rice.  I used brown in this post.

Sauteing the rice. I used brown in this post.

Add the salt, pepper, allspice, and cumin.  Cook until the spices begin to give off a fragrance, about 1 minute.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice.  Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don't burn.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice. Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don’t burn.

Add the water or broth, bring to a boil, cover the saucepan, and turn down the heat to low.  Cook until the rice is done – 25 to 30 minutes for white, 45 to 50 minutes for brown.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt.  Stir occasionally, until the onions are soft and begin to take on color.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely.  You want caramelization, not burning.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely. You want caramelization, not burning.

Once the onions begin to brown, watch them more closely and stir more often; you want the onions to brown, not burn.  Cook them down as far as you like. (I prefer them to be fully caramelized.)  Depending on how dark you want the onions, it could take anywhere between 20 – 30 minutes to cook them.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

When the onions are done, take them off the heat and set aside.

3.  About halfway through the rice cooking time, place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with water to at least 1″ above the lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook the lentils, adding water as needed, until they are done, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Boiling the lentils.  Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don't dry out.

Boiling the lentils. Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don’t dry out.

4.  When the lentils and the rice are done, mix them together (I usually do this in the pot I cooked the rice in).  Mix in the onions.  Taste for seasoning.

5.  Mujadarah is usually served with either yogurt or a tomato-cucumber salad (basically tabouleh without the bulghur wheat).

Sahtein! صحتين!

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

Three Dressings 0

Posted on July 30, 2014 by Sahar

Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island.  Three dressings that have been ubiquitous  on the American Dinner Table for decades.  Of course, being American, these dressings have been adapted to serve other purposes than just coating lettuce.  They are used for dipping vegetables, marinating, as a sandwich ingredient, and for mitigating the heat of Buffalo Wings.

Each one of these has an origin story that shows off, even in some small way, American ingenuity, taste, and not a little desperation.

Ranch Dressing was created on the true-life Hidden Valley Ranch (a dude ranch) near Santa Barbara, CA.  The originator, Steve Henson, was said to have come up with the original recipe while working as an electrical contractor in Alaska.  When he and his wife opened their dude ranch in the early 1950’s, they served the dressing to guests and it became a hit.  They began selling kits to guests to take home and make their own dressing (just add buttermilk).  The Hensons managed to build a small empire on their dressing, eventually selling their company to Clorox in the early 1970’s (the company still owns the brand).

Thousand Island Dressing has a slightly more murky history.  One story is that Oscar (Oscar of the Waldorf) Tschirky introduced the dressing to patrons of the Waldorf Hotel in New York via his boss, George Boldt, who was served the dressing while on a boat tour in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  It was said the chef on board basically threw together a salad dressing with whatever he had on hand, and it became a hit.  Another story, probably the more likely one, is that Sophia LaLonde, the wife of the fishing guide at the Herald House on the Thousand Islands, came up with the recipe in or around 1911 to serve at the hotel and shore dinners there.  The Broadway actress May Irwin enjoyed the dressing so much she asked for the recipe.  Mrs. LaLonde obliged, and Ms. Irwin took it back to New York and gave the recipe to Mr. Boldt so the kitchen could prepare it for her.  Once the Waldorf began offering the dressing to its patrons, the dressing became popular throughout the country.  The Holiday House Hotel in the Thousand Islands still sells the original recipe dressing at the hotel and online.

Blue Cheese Dressing has a very murky origin story.  It has been suggested that it originated in France, but that’s highly unlikely.  The French prefer lighter vinaigrette-style dressing on their salad; it’s doubtful that putting cheese in their salads would even occur to the French.  Blue cheese has been in America since at least the Revolution where that well-noted Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, enjoyed it at his dinner table.  The first recorded evidence of Blue Cheese Dressing as we’ve come to know it (Then known as Roquefort Dressing) was in Edgewater Hotel Salad Book in 1928.  An earlier version of the dressing appears in the Fannie Farmer’s 1918 Cookbook.  By the 1930’s the dressing had spread in popularity not only through Fannie Farmer, but also through Irma Rombauer’s ubiquitous book, The Joy of Cooking.

(some historical information from wikipedia.org, justserved.onthetable.us, thousandislandslife.com)

A few notes:

1.  All three of these recipes can easily be made vegan.

For the Ranch:  Omit the sour cream; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk.

For the Blue Cheese:  Omit the sour cream and cheese; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk; use crumbled hard

tofu to get the texture of the cheese; add tahini and apple cider vinegar (start with just a small

amount and add to taste).  If you have some nutritional yeast, you can also use that for additional cheesy flavor.

For the Thousand Island:  Substitute the mayonnaise for vegan mayonnaise.

2.  If you can find it (and it’s getting easier to), use “country style” buttermilk.  The flavor and thickness make so much difference in the finished dressing.

3.  If you must use dried herbs in the Ranch Dressing, use 1/2 the amount of the fresh in the recipe.  The dressing will need to  sit for an hour for the herbs to infuse their flavor.

4.  For the Blue Cheese Dressing, I used Amish Blue.  I have used gorgonzola, roquefort, and Stilton in the past.  Extravagant, but delicious.   You can use any type of blue cheese you like – as your cheese department and budget will allow.

5.  For the Thousand Island, I usually add more than 1 teaspoon of horseradish depending on what I’ll use it for (i.e. Reubens). So, adjust according to your taste.

6.  You can substitute low-fat yogurt for some or all of the sour cream.  If you must.

7.  All of these dressings will last up to a week.  If they begin to separate, just give them a stir.  The Blue Cheese Dressing, will, however, thin out considerably as it sits.  Just add more mayonnaise and sour cream to thicken.

Now, I will say, these are my versions of these dressings (and, no doubt, many others have made these same adjustments).  You can certainly add, subtract, and/or change ingredients.  For example, the original Thousand Island Dressing uses finely chopped egg in the recipe; I don’t. The original Ranch Dressing is made with buttermilk only; I’ve added mayonnaise.  I’ve added lemon juice to the Blue Cheese Dressing. I, like many, have also added bacon from time to time (it’s excellent on burgers when you feel like indulging).

Sometimes, I like to go all ’70’s and use an Iceberg wedge when I serve any of these dressings.  A dear, late friend of mine, Chef Roger Mollett, used to say, “Iceberg is the polyester of lettuce”.  He’s right, you know.

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

 

All of these dressings are made the same way:

1.  Add the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.

2.  Let sit for at least an hour, taste and adjust for seasoning.

3. Serve with salad or other food of your choice.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Ranch Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. sour cream

1/4 c. buttermilk

1 clove garlic, very finely minced

1 tbsp. chives or scallion tops, very thinly sliced

If you don't have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

If you don’t have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

2 tbsp. dill, finely minced

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

1/4 c. parsley, finely minced

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Everything in the bowl.

Everything in the bowl.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Not pretty. But it's damn indulgent.

Not pretty. But it’s damn indulgent.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/2 c. sour cream

1 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. black pepper

Buttermilk, as needed

Mixing in the blue cheese. It's a lot. If you have to cruble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes.  It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the blue cheese. It’s a lot.
If you have to crumble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes. It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

My favorite.

My favorite.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

Thousand Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. ketchup

1 tbsp. onion, very finely minced

1 1/2 tbsp. sweet relish

1 1/2 tbsp. dill relish

1 tsp. horseradish

From top right, clockwise:

From top right, clockwise: minced onion (I had some scallion, so I used that), dill relish, sweet relish, horseradish, pepper, salt

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & Pepper to taste

Mixing

Mixing

Sweet-tart goodness

Sweet-tart goodness

The best way to test a dressing – any dressing – is to use some of the greens you’ll be serving it with to better gauge the flavors and how they taste together.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Plus, as well know, when you’re adjusting recipes standing up in the kitchen, the calories don’t count. Plus, hey, it’s lettuce.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Waldorf Salad – My Version 0

Posted on July 08, 2014 by Sahar

The origin story of Waldorf Salad is a fairly straightforward and simple one.  It was the creation of the long-time maitre d’ of the Waldorf Hotel (later to become the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) in New York City, Oscar (“Oscar of the Waldorf”) Tschirky, in 1896.  It became an instant favorite with diners at the hotel.  Oscar, while not a chef, was the creator and inspiration of many of the dishes in the Waldorf’s first half-century. (He stayed with the hotel from 1893 until his retirement n 1943).

The original recipe consisted of simply apples, celery, and mayonnaise.  Not long afterwards, walnuts were added and became an important component of the salad.

Later variations have included turkey or chicken, dried fruit (especially raisins), lemon juice, orange zest, grapes, and yogurt.

It’s really a dish that simply lends itself to interpretation.

While I’ve stayed with the basic version of the salad, I have added my own variations as well.  Somewhere along the way, I thought, why not add some blue cheese?  It goes well with apples and walnuts as well as cutting some of the sweetness of the dried fruit.  Besides, I just like blue cheese.

 

A few notes:

1.  I like to use a mix of apples.  As always, whenever I use apples in a recipe, Granny Smith apples are my base.  I’ll add Pink Ladies, Gala, MacIntosh, or, if I’m feeling extravagant, Honeycrisp.  The flavor contrast works well.

2.  I’ve used both walnuts and pecans in this recipe.  It just depends what I have on hand.

3.  If you want to use yogurt in the salad, I would recommend going half-and-half with the mayonnaise.  Yogurt alone would be too strong a flavor.  Also, use a full-fat yogurt.  Fat-free – yuk.

4.  My preferred blue cheese in this recipe is either Amish Blue or Maytag Blue.  These are both excellent American blue cheeses and are readily available.  European-style blue cheeses (i.e. Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Cabrales), while delicious, are simply too strong.

5.  I don’t peel my apples.  You shouldn’t either.

6.  I use very little celery in my recipe.  Unlike the original recipe, I use it for flavoring, not as a main component.  However, if you prefer to use more celery, feel free.

7.  To make this dish vegan, simply omit the cheese (if you still want the cheese flavor, use nutritional yeast to taste), and use vegan mayonnaise.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Maytag Blue Cheese

Maytag Blue Cheese. Good stuff.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

 

4 lg. apples, approx. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs.

1 lg. stalk celery, finely diced

1 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, chopped (If you would like to toast them, put the nuts in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Let cool before adding to the salad.)

1 1/2 c. dried fruit – one of each or a combination: cherries, cranberries, diced apricots, raisins, sultanas (gold raisins)

4 oz. (1/2 c.) Amish Blue or Maytag Blue Cheese, crumbled

1 c. mayonnaise

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Cut and core the apples.  I like to use a melon baller to core out the apple and cut out the blossom and stem ends with a “v” shape cut.  With the flat side down, cut the apple in to 1/2-inch thick slices.  Then, with 2 – 3 slices laying flat on the cutting board, cut the apples into 1/2-inch dice.  Place the apples into the bowl.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it's safer than either a knife or an apple corer.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it’s safer than either a knife or an apple corer. (I frankly find apple corers to be completely useless.)

Core. Out.

Core. Out.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Blossom end cut out.

Blossom end cut out.

Apples cored, cleaned,  and ready

Apples cored, cleaned, and ready

2.  Add the celery, nuts, and dried fruit.  Toss together.

All mixed together.

All mixed together.

3.  Add the cheese and mayonnaise.  Mix together until well incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ready.

Ready.

4.  Traditionally, Waldorf Salad is served on a bed of lettuce.  I generally don’t.  However, if you would like to, go ahead.   I like to serve the salad with crackers or a good crusty bread.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves محشي ورق عنب 3

Posted on May 28, 2014 by Sahar

Stuffed Grape Leaves. In Arabic, محشي ورق عنب, or, spelled phonetically, mishi waraq ‘einab.  It was another one of those dishes my sisters & I ate gleefully growing up.  When Mom would make stuffed grape leaves, it was cause for great rejoicing. Especially for Dad.

Many know the Greek word, Dolmas.  Dolma comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be stuffed”.  In Arabic, “mishi” means “stuffed”.  There are literally dozens of variations of stuffed grape leaves all over the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Probably the most common way to make the grape leaves is to cook them in an olive oil – lemon juice based-sauce.  However, the way I was taught to make grape leaves was the way my grandmother made them; with a tomato-based sauce.

I was talking to my mom about this one day.  She said the first time she ever ate grape leaves, the sauce was made from sour grapes.  She said it was awful.  The next time she had the dish, my dad had made it the way he preferred and the way his mother made them – with tomatoes.

I like to call it Palestinian-style.

**********************

If you would like to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, substitute an equal amount of roasted eggplant for the meat, vegetable broth for the beef broth, and add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the stuffing (this will help the filling bind together).

If you would like to use brown rice in place of the white rice, be sure to add 20 – 30 minutes to the cooking time.

**********************

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The spices clockwise from right:

The spices clockwise from right: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt

The grape leaves. be sure to rinse them thoroughly after remaoving them from the brine.

The grape leaves. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly after removing them from the brine; otherwise, the end result will be like a salt lick.

 

1  jar grape leaves

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

2 c. long-grain white rice

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

3/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Lamb shanks, lamb chops, or beef short ribs, optional

1 large can (22 oz.) whole tomatoes

2 c. beef broth

 

 

1.  Take a large saucepan or stockpot and place a rack on the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, use a steamer that sits in the saucepan. (I like to use my pasta pot with the insert.)  This is done not only to keep the grape leaves off the bottom to keep them from burning but to help steam the stuffed leaves as they’re cooking.

If you are using shanks, chops, or ribs, place them on the rack or steamer.  Set aside.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it's an extra treat.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it’s an extra treat.

2.  Carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar (take care not to rip the leaves) and rinse thoroughly.  You want to be sure that the brine is rinsed off. Usually, you will need to separate the leaves when rinsing.  I’ll also fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes, then drain.  You want the water to be as clear as possible.

3.  Parboil the rice:  In a large saucepan, place the rice and cover it with 1″ of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir frequently to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Boil the rice until it is about halfway cooked (take some rice out of the water and test it; it should be slightly chewy with a very crunchy center).  Drain the rice in a colander and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.

The finished rice.  Let this sit until it's cool enough to handle.

The finished rice. Let this sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

4.  In a large bowl, mix together the meat and rice (it’s best to use your hands for this).  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It's best done with your hands.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It’s best done with your hands.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it's seasoned right because of the smell.  I've not yet mastered that technique.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it’s seasoned right because of the smell. I’ve not yet mastered that skill.

To taste for seasoning, take a small amount of the mixture and place in a hot skillet to cook (the flavor will be closer to what the finished dish will taste like). Adjust the spices to your taste.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning.  I also consider this cook's treat.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning. I also consider this cook’s treat.

5.  Once you have finished mixing the filling, it’s time to stuff the leaves. Which I will explain in the following photos. (My husband took these photos across from me.  I rotated them so you could see them from my perspective. So, admittedly, they may look a little skewed. Apologies.)

The most important thing to remember is to not wrap the leaves too tight.  You want snug, but not tight.  The rice will continue to expand when the stuffed leaves are cooked.  If you wrap them too tight, they’ll burst.  Conversely, if you wrap them too loosely, they’ll fall apart.  A happy medium is preferred.

Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

1. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

3.  Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape.  Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

3. Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape. Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

4.  Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

4. Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

5.  Repeat with the other side.

5. Repeat with the other side. The stuffing should be covered.

6.  Now, fold the sides over the filling.

6. Now, fold the sides over the filling.

7.  Repeat with the other side.

7. Repeat with the other side.

8.  Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Done!  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

9. Done! Now, do this another 40 times or so.  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

6.  As you make each roll, place it in the pot.  When you are about halfway through, crush a few of the tomatoes with your hands and lay them on the finished leaves.  Pour on some of the tomato juice. Finish stuffing the remaining leaves.   Crush the remaining tomatoes and place them on top.  Pour over the rest of the tomato juice and the beef broth.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

7.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to low, keep the pot covered, and cook until the rice and meat are cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes.  You’ll need to take one out to test.

8.  When the grape leaves are cooked, place a serving on a plate, carefully pull out one of the shanks or ribs, and spoon out some of the broth to pour over the leaves on the plate.  You can also have some yogurt and pita bread on the side.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

Admittedly, this is a dish that does take some time to put together.  But, the results are well worth it.

 

Sahtein!

Namourah نمورة 1

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Sahar

When I was (much) younger, I have to admit, I really didn’t like Arabic sweets.  They tasted strange and were too sweet (even for my sweet tooth).  Of course, as I’ve grown older and my palate has become more sophisticated, I’ve come to appreciate their flavor, complexity, and their place in my own heritage.

Namourah is a perfect example of a dessert I loathed as a kid but love now.  In fact, I take it to parties sometimes and it’s usually one of the first items to be devoured (and there is a lot of food at the parties I go to. Food people, you know).

Namourah is a dessert that is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  The basic recipe (which I’ll be showing you in this post) is made with a simple syrup flavored with orange or rose water.  However, it is also made with honey and some recipes add coconut.  I like to keep it simple.

This recipe is a classic Arabic dessert in that it’s very sweet and rich.  It’s meant to be eaten in small doses with a group of friends and family with small cups of Arabic coffee.  In a typical Arab home, these types of desserts are served only when there is company over.  Otherwise, fresh fruit is generally in order.

 

This is an eggless cake made with semolina flour.  As a result, this is a very dense cake (especially after the syrup is poured on). And, what leavening that takes place (and there isn’t much) happens when the baking soda and baking powder react with the acids in the yogurt.

You can make this cake vegan is you like by using soy or coconut yogurt and vegan margarine.  However, I can’t guarantee your results will be quite the same.

Traditionally, the baking dish is greased with 2 tablespoons of tahineh.  However, I prefer to use regular pan spray.  I find the ease of cleaning outweighs tradition in this case.

This recipe also uses clarified butter and qatr (simple syrup).  To see explanations of how to make these, please see my post from October 31, 2013, Knafeh (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=1973).

This recipe is an adaptation from what is, to me, my holy grail of Arabic cookbooks, “Sahtein”.  It was originally published in 1976 by the Arab Women Union of Detroit.  It was my first Arabic cookbook and still my first go-to for many recipes despite my now 20-book Arabic cookbook library.  My mom’s original 1976 printing is held together with rubber bands now.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as "smeed" سميد

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as “smeed” سميد

 

2 tbsp. Tahineh or use pan spray

4 cups smeed (Semolina سميد )

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/4 c. laban (yogurt لبن) (I prefer to use full-fat yogurt; I prefer the flavor and texture)

2 tbsp. yogurt

3 c. Qatr (simple syrupقطر)

1/2 c. whole blanched almonds

 

1.  Either grease with the tahineh or spray an 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together the smeed (semolina), sugar, and butter.  Set aside.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

4.  Add the yogurt mixture to the smeed mixture.  Blend well.  It will be a little crumbly and dry-looking.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly-looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

5.  Take the mixture and spread it in the baking dish as evenly as possible.  Use your hands if necessary.

The cake batter spread in the pan.  Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

The cake batter spread in the pan. Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

6.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of yogurt evenly over the top of the cake.  With a very sharp knife, cut the cake into roughly 2″ pieces either in diamond or square shapes (this is necessary so the syrup will soak evenly into the cake after baking). Top each piece with a blanched almond.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I'm terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I’m terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

7.  Bake the cake in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, rotate the cake and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and cut along the original cut lines, if necessary (and it usually is).

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.  As you can see, I had to cut the pieces again along the original cut lines.

8.  Pour the qatr over the cake and let it soak in (trust me, it does).  When the cake warm to room temperature, it’s ready to eat.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

 

 

Really Good Oatmeal Cookies. I promise. 1

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Sahar

Now, let’s face it.  Oatmeal cookies kind of get a bad reputation.  Basically, well, because they’re made mostly of what many people consider the most healthy yet mushy and tasteless breakfast food of all – oatmeal.  And, usually raisins – which I personally consider to be Satan’s candy.

Many times, through many recipes, oatmeal cookies tend to be overly dry, or overly soft & doughy.  Not much flavor is another negative in the oatmeal cookie column.  And no amount of added chocolate chips or dried fruit will fix it.

In my quest to come up with a good oatmeal cookie (because, yes, I do like them; always have), I made many batches, researched recipes old and new, and ate more cookies than I care to admit.  I even made my husband take them to work to use his co-workers as tasters.

I finally hit upon the idea of making the cookies with dark brown sugar, adding some oat flour, and a little maple syrup for flavor.  It just made a wonderful combination.

Oh. And as for the dried fruit – I use dried cherries and cranberries. They are my two favorite dried fruits and I simply like the way they go together. However,  you can use any dried fruit you like: apricots, apples, blueberries, and, yes, raisins.

You can also use chocolate, white, or cinnamon chips as well. If you want to.

Now, admittedly, I tend to make these cookies rather large.  That’s because making cookies is not one of my favorite things to do.  I simply don’t have the patience for it.  I tend to only bake cookies during the holidays – these included.  You can make them any size you like.  But, I will say this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  With the larger size that I bake, this recipe will still make about 5 dozen.  Smaller cookies? At least 6 dozen.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

Oat and all-purpose flours.

Oat and all-purpose flours.

The oats.

The all-important oats.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

 

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 c. sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. maple syrup

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 c. oat flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. dried cranberries

1 c. dried cherries

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Line your baking sheets with foil and parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Set aside.

2.  In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides as needed.

Creaming together the butter and sugars.  Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

Creaming together the butter and sugars. Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

3.  Turn down the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the eggs.  Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly.  This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

Adding the eggs. Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly. This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

4.  Add in the vanilla and syrup.  Beat on medium-low speed until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

5.  Sift together the dry ingredients – all-purpose flour, oat flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. I use it all the time.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. It’s still my favorite.

The dry ingedients ready for sifting.

The dry ingredients ready for sifting.

Sifted.

Sifted.

6.  Turn the mixer to low speed and, in small scoopfuls (about 1/4 cup), add the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time.  This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time. This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

7.  Turn the mixer off, lower the bowl or lift the top of the mixer, and add the oats and fruit.  Lift the bowl or lower the top of the mixer, and, on very low speed, fold them into the dough.  (You can also do this step by hand.)

Mixing in the oats and fruit.  Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Mixing in the oats and fruit. Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Cookie dough. Done.

Cookie dough. Done.

8.  Drop tablespoons full of batter onto the baking sheets.  Leave at least 2 – 3 inches in between.  These cookies spread a lot.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet.  These are soup spoons, by the way.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet. These are soup spoons, by the way.

The cookies ready for the oven.  These are going to spread out a lot; so, don't crowd too many onto a sheet.  This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2" x 17").

The cookies ready for the oven. These are going to spread out a lot; so, don’t crowd too many onto a sheet. This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2″ x 17″).

9.  Bake the cookies 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time.  Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  (This will result in a fairly crispy cookie.  If you want the cookies slightly chewier, reduce the baking time by 2 – 3 minutes.)

See how much they spread?

See how much they spread?

Try to resist. I dare you.

Try to resist. I dare you.

Enjoy!

 

Sea Salt Caramels 0

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Sahar

Like most of us in my generation, we were raised on the good old standby, the Kraft caramel.  Nothing wrong with them, really.  In fact, we loved them.  They came in tiny individually wrapped morsels and were only found during the holidays, starting with Halloween.

Now, those were fine when we were kids. Basically, because we didn’t know any better.

However, for me anyway, once I had my first soft, small-batch caramel, Kraft just didn’t do it for me anymore.  I decided to learn how to make my own.

And, here is the result.

*************

A short history of the caramel by Samira Kawash from www.gastrnomica.org:

“Caramels first appeared on the American candy scene in the 1880s and its lineage is obscure. In flavor and character, what we know today as caramel candy is closely related to British toffee and butterscotch, which appeared in the early 1800s.  British candy historian Laura Mason suggests that caramels might have evolved in the spirit of dental charity—a softer counterpart to the hard-on-the-teeth British toffee. Stephen Schmidt, author of Dessert in America and an expert in the history of American desserts, looks to the other side of the Channel for caramel origins: “The inspiration behind American caramels were French caramels, which came to this country during the vogue for French cooking of the Gilded Age.”

Whatever its British or French origins, the caramel candy that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century was uniquely American. Home recipes most closely resembled the French version, employing basic combinations of butter, sugar, cream and flavorings. But more unique confections were spilling out of professional candy kitchens: In their quest for market share and profit, commercial producers would experiment with such ingredients as paraffin, glucose, coconut butter, flour, and molasses to alter the texture, firmness and quality of the candies.

As Catherine Owen attempted to explain to her 1887 candy-making aspirants: “Caramel is really sugar boiled until it changes color, but the candy understood as ‘caramels’ is something different.” Sara Rorer’s 1889 Home Candy Making, for example, gives a recipe for “caramel” that includes only sugar and water, boiled to “the consistency of molasses.” This would be sugar cooked to a very high temperature, over 330 degrees. Caramel candy recipes, in contrast, cook sugar with milk or butter at lower temperatures.  This is the flavor prized today as “caramel,” but for Americans in the 1880s and 1890s, that distinctive taste was not so closely attached to the caramel candy sensation. Even in caramel candy’s heyday, chocolate’s appeal and marketability were undeniable. Hence the famed Philadelphia Caramel, which was, as everybody on the eastern seaboard knew, a chewy morsel of chocolate.

Milton Hershey, who would go on to found the Hershey’s chocolate empire, began as a caramel man; his Lancaster Caramels were advertised to include a mix of 30 varieties. Prior to Hershey’s chocolate innovations of the 1890s, milk chocolate was a closely guarded European secret. Chocolate bars for eating were imported, expensive delicacies. Caramel, in contrast, could be made for every taste and budget. Caramel candy in that era was not a specific variety, but a generic form: so Hershey sold chocolate, strawberry, coffee, maple, and coconut caramels. Our familiar plain caramel would have been known in that day as another flavor, vanilla. Soon, the caramels got fancier. Nuts, cream centers, or even chocolate dipped. One day, Hershey looked at those chocolate dipped caramels and saw a new direction for his company. Exit caramels, enter the Hershey Bar.”

***********

Candy making, for the most part, is pure common sense.

1.  Don’t touch or spill the hot sugar. Especially on yourself or anyone else. There’s a reason pastry chefs and candy makers call this stuff napalm. Have no distractions (i.e. kids, pets, alcohol, etc.) in the kitchen when you are working with molten sugar.

2. Don’t make candy on a humid day.  Believe it or not, the difference between 25% and 50% humidity can affect the way the candy sets up. The wetter the day, the quicker the sugars will break down before setting up completely. In other words, the sugar in the candy will absorb the extra moisture in the air, causing it to become a sticky mess.

Conventional wisdom holds that candy is best made on a cold, dry day.  Like, say, in Texas, February.

3.  Use a candy thermometer.  A reliable candy thermometer.  Mine is a Taylor brand that I’ve used for so long, I’ve managed to scrub off the numbers:

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My thermometer is the older-style mercury type.  If the bulb on this breaks, because mercury is, well, poisonous, I’ll not only have to throw away the thermometer and what I am making, but the saucepan as well.

The newer thermometers are made with alcohol that’s been dyed red.  These aren’t as dangerous if the bulb breaks.  You can at least clean out the saucepan and use it again.

These should go from tempering chocolate (90F) up to roughly 400F.  A good candy thermometer will also be labeled with the stages of cooking sugar (thread, soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack).  Also, most good candy thermometers can also be used for deep-frying as well.

4.  Don’t let the bulb on your thermometer touch the bottom of the saucepan. (The better thermometers have the bulb about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the bottom).  Otherwise, you could get a false reading.

5.  Use the right sized saucepan for what you’re making.  Too large and the sugar will cook too quickly and burn.  Too small and the sugar will boil over and burn not only the stove, but you.

Also, invest in some heavy-bottomed saucepans.  Flimsy, thin saucepans (or any cookware) are no good for anything, but especially bad for candy making.

6.  Read the recipe carefully and thoroughly before starting.  Have everything ready to go.  Your ingredients should be measured, your utensils ready to go, your pans prepared, and a clear path made.  There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” in candy making; but when things start to happen, they happen fast.  Pre-preparation is essential.

7.  Watch for crystallization.  This happens when the liquid in the saucepan can no longer absorb the sugar. You end up with just a big cake of sugar in the saucepan.  There’s no fixing this.  If it happens, you have to start over.

The best way I’ve found to combat this is to simply make sure all of the sugar is moistened before I start to cook it.  I just gently push the sugar down and around in the liquid (usually water and corn syrup) until it is completely moistened. Then, I put the saucepan over medium-low heat and let it cook without stirring the mixture.  I let the sugars dissolve on their own.  The more you agitate the mixture, the more likely you’ll get crystallization. So, fight every instinct you have and DON’T STIR.

If you do happen to get some sugar crystals on the side of the saucepan, take a pastry brush, dip it some water, and brush the sides of the saucepan to dissolve the sugar.  If there are any solid, un-moistened crystals, they can also cause crystallization.

Once the sugar comes to a boil and all of the sugar has dissolved, you can, carefully, stir to your heart’s content.  The danger for crystallization has passed.

8.  Don’t cook the sugar too fast.  Medium-low to medium heat is ideal.  You want to give the sugar time to dissolve and the moisture to begin to evaporate before the mixture comes to a boil.  This also gives you more ability to control the temperature and greatly reduces the risk of the sugar burning.

9.  Do not double up a recipe or substitute unless you’re an experienced candy maker.  Candy recipes, along with baking recipes, are like scientific formulas.  If you throw it out of balance or change an element, the whole experiment could fail.

Or, be a spectacular success.

***********

a) If you want to have unsalted caramels, simply use all unsalted butter and omit the salts.

b) In this example, I use a combination of brown and white sugars. I think the flavor and color are simply better. However, if you prefer to use all white sugar, go ahead.

c) I used almond extract in this example.  Again, because I like the flavor.  The more traditional flavoring is vanilla, so, if you have that, use it.  Just make sure, either way, you’re using pure extract, not artificial flavoring.

d) Use cream and butter. This is non-negotiable.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

 

Cream and butter.

Cream and butter.

1 c. sugar

-or-

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. light corn syrup

3/4 c. heavy cream

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. Fleur de Sel or flaked (Maldon) sea salt

 

1.  Line  9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper or foil.  Make it as smooth as you can. Make sure there are no holes in the foil or paper as you press it down.  If you accidentally poke a hole or make a tear, you need a new piece.  Spray or butter the paper or foil and set the pan aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, place the cream, butter, and 1/2 tsp. sea salt and bring the cream to a boil over medium heat.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Take the pan off the heat, add the extract, cover the saucepan and keep warm.

3.  In a medium saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.  I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.
I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil (don’t stir!) and cook until they syrup reaches 302F (Hard Crack).

(Note: This is the progression of the syrup on my stove. Your times and temperatures may vary.)

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We're ready to go.

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We’re ready to go.

At 5 minutes over medium heat.  There is still some undissolved sugar.  Don't stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur; especially if you disturb it.

At 5 minutes over medium heat. There is still some undissolved sugar. Don’t stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur, especially if you disturb it.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point.  The crystallization danger has passed.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point. The crystallization danger has passed.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

20 minutes at 250F. Things start to move fast at this point.  It took about 3 minutes more for the syrup to his 302F.

20 minutes at 250F. Now, things start to move fast. It took less than 5 minutes more for the syrup to hit 302F.

Once the sugar gets past 285F – 290F, it will begin to caramelize.  Be sure to swirl the pan so the sugar doesn’t burn (especially of you’re using only white sugar)

A tip: When you’re using a larger saucepan, the thermometer may not reach down to the syrup.  Carefully tilt the saucepan so the syrup covers the bulb of the thermometer so you will get an accurate reading.  Also, be patient.  It will take some time for the thermometer to read accurately.  Wait until the mercury stops moving.

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doens't flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doesn’t flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

4.  Once the sugar has reached 302F, take the saucepan off the heat, and CAREFULLY pour the warm cream mixture into the syrup, stirring constantly to combine.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to stir.

If the syrup begins to harden, place the saucepan back on the heat and continue to stir.

Stirring the cream and syrup together.  Trust me. It will come together.

Stirring the cream and syrup together. Trust me. It will come together.

5.  Cook the mixture to 240F (Soft Ball).  At this point, it’s OK to stir occasionally.

(Again, these are based on my stove. Again, your times and temperatures may vary.)

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I'm done cooking.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I’m done cooking.

This will make a soft caramel.  If you want a firmer caramel, cook to 245F (Firm Ball).

6.  Take the saucepan off the heat, give the caramel one more good stir, and carefully pour the finished caramel into the prepared pan.

The caramel in the pan.

The caramel in the pan.

Wait 10 – 15 minutes and the sprinkle on the fleur de sel or flaked sea salt over the top.  Let the caramel sit until set, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don't have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won't work.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don’t have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won’t work.

7.  Lift the cooled caramel out of the pan with the paper or foil.  Cut the caramel into pieces as big or as small as you like.

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8x4 and get 32 out of a recipe. If you cut it 8x6, you can get up to 48

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8×4 and get 32 pieces out of a recipe. If you cut it 8×6, you can get 48 pieces.

Keep them in an airtight container either individually wrapped or between layers of wax paper for up to 2 weeks.

If you decide to wrap the pieces, you can do it simply with wax paper you no doubt have already in the drawer. Don’t go out and buy the fancy wrappers – unless you really want to.

I start off with pieces that are about 4" wide.  You don't really want them any narrower than this.

I start off with pieces that are about 4″ wide. You don’t really want them any narrower than this.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

What you should end up with.

What you should end up with.

Start by placing a pice of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1" from the end closest to you.

Start by placing a piece of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1″ from the end closest to you.

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Carefully twist the ends to seal.  If the paper tears, start again with a new piece. This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Carefully twist the ends to seal. If the paper tears, start again with a new piece.
This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Wrapped.

Wrapped.

Unwrapped.

Unwrapped.

 

Hey. It’s the holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makes approximately 32 – 48 pieces.

Ossobuco d’Agnello 0

Posted on November 14, 2013 by Sahar

This time of year provides the perfect excuse to break out some of the recipes that I would never make the rest of the year.  Which, in central Texas, means that I have only about 3 months to indulge in some of my favorite comfort foods.

Ossobuco is one of them.  With the rich lamb, sauce, and risotto, it’s a wonderful accompaniment to a cold night.

The name literally means “bone with a hole” (osso – bone; buco – hole).  Ossobuco is a dish (legendarily) created in the Milano area in northern Italy in the 19th century.  Some say it was created by local farmers as a way to cook tougher cuts of meat (i.e. shanks – the shin portion of the leg. The fore shank is the bottom part of the shin; the hind shnk the upper part of the shin.); others, it was created in an osteria.

The original recipe is made with veal shanks, cinnamon, and bay leaves with no tomato.  The more modern and more popular version is made with tomatoes, vegetables, and red wine.  And, while veal shank is still used widely, lamb shank is gaining in popularity.

As for myself, I prefer the lamb shanks.  I find they have far more flavor.  And, if you can get hind shanks, more meat for the money.

***********************

A few notes:

1.  In this example, I’m using fore shanks.  The butcher I bought these from didn’t have hind shanks that day.  But, they were large and worked well in this dish.  Also, I bought these still in the cryovac packaging.  The butcher had received them from the farm that morning and they hadn’t been fully trimmed yet.  More than likely, the shanks you buy will be already trimmed and ready to go.

2.  If you prefer not to use wine, then you can omit it all together.  As substitutions for red wine you can use extra stock for deglazing (you can add 1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar per 1 cup of  stock for tartness), or 100% cranberry or pomegranate juice; for white wine, you can use extra chicken or vegetable stock (you can add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar to 1 cup of stock for tartness), verjus (a juice made from unripe green grapes), or unsweetened apple cider or juice.

3.  The traditional accompaniment for this dish is risotto.  However, of you prefer, you can also serve this with polenta, mashed potatoes, or pasta.  If you do use pasta, use a shaped pasta (such as campenelle or rotini)  or a wide pasta (such as paprdelle or bucatini).

4.  Gremolata is served alongside the Ossobuco as a way to cut through the richness of the dish.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients for everything.

The ingredients for the Ossobuco.

The ingredients for the Ossobuco.

The produce: Starting from top left - lemon zest, garlic; middle, from top - carrots, celery, onion; right, from top - thyme, rosemary

The produce: Starting from top left – lemon zest, garlic; middle, from top – carrots, celery, onion; right, from top – thyme, rosemary

Lamb shank fresh from the farm. If you can get hind shanks, do so.  These fore shanks were great.  I just had to clean them.

Lamb shank fresh from the farm. If you can get hind shanks, do so. These fore shanks were great. I just had to clean them.

Cleaning the lamb shank. You must remove the silverskin (or have your butcher do it). It doesn't cook down and your meat will be chewy and tough.

Cleaning the lamb shank. You must remove the silverskin (or have your butcher do it). It doesn’t cook down and your meat will be chewy and tough.

The cleaned lamb shank.  Admittedly not perfect, but a whole lot better.

The cleaned lamb shank. Admittedly not perfect, but a whole lot better.

 

Lamb Ossobuco

4 large lamb shanks (preferably hind shanks)

Salt

Flour

3 tbsp. Olive Oil

1 lg. onion, minced

2 carrots, peeled, either diced or cut into thin rounds

2 stalks celery, diced

3 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 c. tomato paste

1 c. dry red wine

2 sprigs rosemary

4 sprigs thyme

1 ea. 2″ strip lemon zest

2 – 3 c. chicken or beef broth (or a combination of both), more if needed

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly sprinkle salt on the lamb shanks.  Then, lightly flour the them, shaking off any excess flour.  Set aside.

2.  In a large Dutch oven or a deep, stove-proof casserole dish, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the lamb shanks and sear until browned.  Cook the them in batches if needed.  Remove the shanks from the heat and set aside.

Browning the shanks. Do this in batches if you need to; don't crowd the pan or the shanks will steam and not brown.

Browning the shanks. Do this in batches if you need to; don’t crowd the pan or the shanks will steam and not brown.

3.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the vegetables and garlic and saute until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

Sauteeing the vegetables.

Sauteing the vegetables.

Add in the tomato paste and cook another 3 – 4 minutes.

Adding the tomato paste. Let the paste cook until it begins to turn a burnt orange color.  This is the sugar caramelizing and helps to deepen the flavor.

Adding the tomato paste. Let the paste cook until it begins to turn a burnt orange color. This is the sugar caramelizing and helps to deepen the flavor.

Add in the red wine to deglaze the pan and cook another 5 – 7 minutes to reduce the wine and soften the flavor.

Cooking down the wine.

Cooking down the wine.

Then, add the rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Simmer another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the lemon zest, rosemary, and thyme.

Adding the lemon zest, rosemary, and thyme.

4.  Lay the reserved shanks on top of the vegetables and add just enough broth to come halfway up the shanks.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Cover the casserole or Dutch oven and place in the oven.  Cook for 2 to 2-1/2 hours (flipping the meat halfway through) or until the meat is tender.  Check for liquid content, adding more if needed.

5.  After you take the baking dish out of the oven, remove the shanks and set aside.

So tender, it's falling off the bone.

So tender, it’s falling off the bone.

If you like, set the baking dish on the stove over medium-high heat to reduce the sauce.  Remove the rosemary and thyme stalks and discard.

I like to reduce the sauce a bit to concentrate the flavor. It's up to you, however.

I like to reduce the sauce a bit to concentrate the flavor. It’s up to you, however.

6.  Traditionally, the shank is served whole with the risotto and Gremolata.  However, if you prefer (and I do if I use fore shanks), trim the meat off the bone and mix it back into the sauce; then serve with the Risotto and Gremolata.

The meat trimmed off the bone. I prefer to do this if I use fore shanks.

The meat trimmed off the bone. I prefer to do this if I use fore shanks.

The meat back in the sauce. You can do this if you want to help stretch the meat. I like to do it when I use fore shanks.

The meat back in the sauce. You can do this if you want to help stretch the meat. I like to do it when I use fore shanks.

 

******************************************************************************************************************************

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Saffron. The world's most expensive spice (currently about $3000/lb.). It comes fron the stamen of the Crocus flower. It takes approximately 50,000 - 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron.   Be sure to buy saffron that is in it's whole form. Don't buy powdered saffron; it's usually cut with turmeric.

Saffron. The world’s most expensive spice (currently about $3000/lb.). It comes from the stamen of the Crocus flower. It takes approximately 50,000 – 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron.
Be sure to buy saffron that is in it’s whole form. Don’t buy powdered saffron; it’s usually cut with turmeric.

 

Risotto alla Milanese

6 c. stock – beef, chicken, lamb, or vegetable

1 tsp. saffron, crushed

4 tbsp butter

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c. carnaroli or arborrio rice

1/2 c. dry white wine

3/4 c. fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Bring 5 cups of the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Reduce the heat to low and keep the stock warm.  In a small saucepan heat the remaining 1 cup of stock with the saffron.  Again, reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

2.  In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic.

Sauteing the onion and garlic.

Add in the rice and sauté, stirring constantly, another 5 minutes.

Adding the rice.  This will help to flavor the rice and begin the cooking process.

Adding the rice. This will help to flavor the rice and begin the cooking process.

Add a pinch or two of salt, stir again, and add in the wine.  Stir constantly until the wine has been absorbed by the rice.

Adding the wine. At this point, constant stirring of the rice will help to release the starch.

Adding the wine. At this point, constant stirring of the rice will help to release the starch.

3.  Lower the heat under the rice to medium.  Begin adding the 5 cups of stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the broth has been absorbed.

Adding the broth. Be sure to constantly stir the rice.

Adding the broth. Be sure to constantly stir the rice.

After you have added the 3rd cup of broth, add in the broth with the saffron.  Continue stirring.

Adding the saffron broth. Now, the risotto will become its classic yellow color.

Adding the saffron broth. Now, the risotto will become its classic yellow color.

4.  After you have added the 5th cup of stock, begin testing the rice to make sure it is al dente.  You may not need all the broth.  When the rice is al dente (or to your liking), add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the Parmigiano.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Adding the butter and parmesan.

Adding the butter and parmesan.

 

******************************************************************************************************************************

 

The Gremolata Ingredients

The Gremolata Ingredients

 

Gremolata

Zest of 2 lemons

1 bunch of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, minced

Salt to taste

2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive oil

 

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and serve along side the Ossobuco.

 

The finished Gremolata. Easy.

The finished Gremolata. Easy.

 

 

Buon Giorno.

Buon Giorno.

 

Buon Apetito!

 

Blueberry-Honey Jam 2

Posted on August 08, 2013 by Sahar

As we are now officially in the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to stay inside and bottle up some of the more pleasant summer memories of summer by making some more jam.

And there are few better memories than (seasonal) blueberries.  While, admittedly, they are not my favorite berry eaten out-of-hand, once blueberries have been cooked, they are a lovely thing.

Wild blueberries are grown as far as ideal conditions will let them; even as far north as human habitation (think northern Canada). Botanists and culinary historians believe that the indigenous peoples of America used wild blueberries for a number of foodstuffs: eating out of hand; drying them in the sun for preservation and use in pemmican (a form of dried meat), cakes, and puddings.  The dried berries were also ground for use in soups.

The blueberry that most of us know today were first commercially cultivated in the early 20th century.  They’re a variety called “highbush”, meaning that they are grown on bushes and small trees as opposed to in boggy soil of the lowbush blueberries.  Highbush berries are also larger than the lowbush varieties. Most  commercial cultivation of highbush blueberries comes from  British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington.  Lowbush blueberries are a native fruit crop to Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Maine.

Blueberries are in the same genus as cranberries.  The Genus Vaccinium.  Blueberries are also related to lingonberries and huckleberries.  All of these fruits are grown in acidic soil and can have a wide variation in acidity both in pH and in taste.  One thing they all have in common is they are all very high in natural pectin.

(Some information from wikipedia.org and The Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson, 1999).

As I stated above, the indigenous peoples of America have used blueberries for millennia before settlers were introduced to them.  Now, thanks to importation and cultivation, blueberries are grown and eaten all over the world.  They are especially prized in France for use in pastries.

And, of course, for jam.  Yummy, yummy jam.

Now, on to the recipe.

***************************

A few notes:

1.  You can use frozen blueberries in a pinch for this recipe.  I like to use blueberries in season – which, in Texas, would mean May – September – but, I have used frozen in the past and they work fine.

2.  Always buy extra blueberries.  This will make up for any that are bad, not ripe, or what you eat.

3.  If you would like to make this a totally sugar-free recipe, sugar-free honey is available at some grocery and health-food stores.  You can also use maple syrup if you’d rather go that route.  I don’t use artificial sweeteners, Stevia, or Splenda in my jams, so don’t ask about substitutions. Or, you could just omit the sweet component altogether. However, this will affect the set-up of the finished jam.

4.  Don’t forget the lemon juice.  It adds the acidity needed to activate the pectin in the blueberries.

5.  Don’t use too dark a honey (i.e. cotton or buckwheat).  The flavor will overpower the blueberries.  You want them to compliment, not compete.

6.  The set of this jam will also depend on how long you cook it.  The longer you cook, the more solid the set.  However, it won’t set up as stiffly as a jam made with commercial pectin.

7.  For the complete hows and whys of canning, please see my post from August 10, 2012, “Classic Strawberry Jam” (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=756).

 

The Ingredients.

The Ingredients.

Beautiful blueberries.

Beautiful blueberries.

 

6 pt. blueberries (12 c./approx. 4 1/2 – 5 lbs)

-or-

8 ea. 10-oz bags frozen blueberries, thawed, juices saved (5 lbs.)

1 c. honey (I like to use wildflower or clover honey)

2 tbsp. lemon juice

 

1.  Wash and pick through the blueberries.  Discard or compost any that are spoiled or underripe.  If you are using frozen berries, place them into a large colander set over a large bowl and allow to thaw.  Be sure to save any juices that accumulate in the bowl.

I ate these.

I ate these.

2.  Combine the berries, honey, and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. (If using frozen thawed berries, add the juice as well.) Stir to combine.  If you want to crush the berries with a potato masher to release some of the juices from the berries, go ahead.  It’s not necessary, however.  The berries will break down as they cook.

Blueberries, honey, and lemon juice in the pot and ready to go.

Blueberries, honey, and lemon juice in the pot and ready to go.

3.  Cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir frequently.

4.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, uncover the saucepan, reduce the heat to medium-low and boil the mixture for about 1 hour or until the jam looks thick and glossy.  Again, stir frequently.

The berries beginning to cook and break down.

The berries beginning to cook and break down.

Boiling the berries.  If you like, you can put a thermometer in the jam.  220F is the temperature where jelling happens. However, be patient. This takes time.

Boiling the berries. If you like, you can put a thermometer in the jam. 220F is the temperature where jelling happens. However, be patient. This takes time.

Another way to test the thickness of the jam.  Place a small bit of the jam on a frozen plate (or, in my case, an ice mug), run your finger through it, and see if it runs. Once it gets to the thickness you like, it's done.

Another way to test the thickness of the jam. Place a small bit of the jam on a frozen plate (or, in my case, an ice mug), run your finger through it, and see if it runs. Once it gets to the thickness you like, it’s done.

The jam ready to be jarred.

The jam ready to be jarred.

5.  Once the jam is ready, ladle it into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Be sure to wipe off the rim of the jar, otherwise the jars may not seal properly. Place the lids on top and finger-tighten the rims. Process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water. (Begin timing after the water comes to a boil.)

6. Take the jars out of the water and set them on racks to cool.  Once the jars have sealed (you’ll hear a “ping” noise, the lid will be concave, and, if you pick up the jar by its lid, it won’t come off), tighten the rims.  Let the jars sit until they are cool.

Nice.

Beautiful, delicious, blue-purple  blueberry jam.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 



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