Friday, August 7, 2015

Israeli Tomato-Eggplant-Pesto Salad



I picked my first large tomato from the garden today - an heirloom beefsteak variety.  My basil is crying out to be harvested and lures me with its fragrance as I pass the herb garden.  I can't say so much for the eggplants - my plants have been stingy and shy to produce this year,  and I have not yet turned my hand to dairy farming so alas, no homemade provolone, but at least for the next couple of months, I will have tomatoes on my mind and on my kitchen counter and fresh salsa on hand.  That's a nice thought.  And at least once or twice I will make this Israeli Tomato Eggplant Salad I first sampled on a balmy evening on a spacious lawn at a diplomatic function in Tel Aviv, the type of reception where I just hung out at the refreshment table and made sure I was engaging in a very important diplomatic responsibility - as my husband puts it, "Eating for my country."

     Could these colors be any more vibrant, oozing their rich and luscious hues?  The salad tastes as succulent as it looks and transports me with a single bite on a magic salad boat back to the Middle East - undulating among the fragrance of jasmine, the salty ambience of a beach side restaurants serving fish and mixed grill and baguette with a bit of inelegance that makes the food taste locally unique, sauteed in the silkiest of olive oil...... our two young children crawling under the table biting the feet of other diners, the subsequent parental ban of those children from restaurants for a year.....isn't it interesting how fragrances and flavors awaken vivid memories - pleasant or not! This recipe creates a lovely spiral of fresh produce in vibrant red, white, green and caramel, dressed with a nutty, licoricy pesto and will definitely evoke pleasant musings.  Your tomatoes and basil and, if you are more a farmer than I, eggplant, will be truly honored.


Tomato-Eggplant Salad
6 large ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants
20 slices provolone cheese
2 cups pesto
minced parsley for garnish

-Slice eggplants into ½ inch slices.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes to draw out bitterness.  Rinse with water and pat eggplant slices dry, then fry in ½ inch hot oil in frying pan until brown and golden on each side.  Drain well on paper towels.
-Slice tomatoes in ½ inch slices. Cut provolone cheese rounds in half.
-On large flat platter place a tomato round, spread with spoonful of pesto. Spread an eggplant slice with a spoonful of pesto and place next to the tomato slice. Place a slice of provolone cheese next to the eggplant slice.
-Repeat arrangement of tomato, eggplant slices and cheese to create a round, swirling circle on the platter.
-Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

 Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

-Place basil leaves in small batches in food processor and whip until well chopped (process about 3/4 cup at a time). Add about 1/3 of the nuts and garlic, blend again.
-Add about 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese; blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil, stopping to scrape down sides of container.
-Process basil pesto until it forms a thick smooth paste. Repeat until all ingredients are used, mixing all batches together well.

-Basil pesto keeps in refrigerator one week, or freeze for a few months.






Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chocolate Mousse & Salted Caramel Trifle

What do egg yolks, baby pacifiers, butter, salt, and Dr. Spock all have in common - they come and they go - in and out of favor.  What was good for the goose of 1950 is not necessarily good for the gander of 2015 and one thing that the experience of living and eating long does is help you gain a bit of perspective to calmly ride the waves of favor in health, attitudes and cuisine.  That's why I was never too concerned when eggs were called the devil, when butter wore the horns of evil for many years for I knew the trident of "no-no-no' would pass on from those products to others as scientific investigation and experimentation have led us from one fad to another.  The influential "they" will decide eventually, when people just become tired of eating tofu, or pretending to like green slimy shakes that moderation was always a moderate guide anyway.  My hat goes off to those who are committed to a righteous cause, nutritional or otherwise, who exhibit the will power to follow what they consider a just cause....but if your cause is "just cause" and this is one of those moderation times, and this recipe, the extreme that sets the average at moderate, try this dessert and be grateful that fresh cream has had a resurgence.  Lovely, luscious chocolate; creamy, caramel, smooth and silky; layers that ribbon through one another and round about chunks of chocolate cake to glaze the inside of a glass container with whispy promises of the chocolate divine!  Of course this was often one of my daughter's birthday favorites, she being a connoisseur of all things delicious. My Israeli friend's mother made something similar, she called parfait but which I would have called trifle - either way, you will definitely want more than a trifle and it is one dessert that is simply "pairfait" (perfect)!
     Can we now talk about salt....as in the salt in butter, as in the salt in doughs and pastries, as in the salt in caramel - can you believe that there was an entire generation committed to the notion of "no salt is good salt"; in fact, my "Better Homes and Gardens" recipe book of the 1980's took all salt out of the baking recipes, and not long after, the word "butter" became taboo and margarine slipped in as the healthier choice in cookbooks of the times.  I tried to care enough to resist using the $.08 a pound butter we could get off the U.S. Navy ships that visited Tunis and regardless of what anyone said I was such a fan of the depth of flavor and richness that salt lends to sweets as well as savories when a friend asked me why the biscuits he made were so bland, I knew the answer. The day my doctor told me I needed more salt in my diet, I readily agreed I could make that sacrifice. So hold on for the ride, keep your moderate perspective, especially as you watch this dessert come and go.  It's a perfect way to go!


Chocolate Caramel Trifle:
1 chocolate cake, broken into small pieces and left to dry out on the counter for several hours.

Chocolate Mousse:
  9 eggs, separated
  2/3 cup sugar
  6 oz. milk chocolate bar
  4 oz semi or bitter sweet chocolate bar
  1 cup whipping cream
  1 tab. vanilla extract

 -Cream egg yolks with sugar by beating on medium high speed      -Melt chocolate in microwave (at 30 second intervals on high speed until melted) or in saucepan over lowest heat. Allow to cool 10 minutes.
 - Stir chocolate into egg yolks with mixer running on low speed with 1 tab. vanilla.
 - In a clean medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until very     stiff  (about 5 minutes)– set aside.
 -Whip cream in another medium mixing bowl until soft peaks form.
 -Add whipped cream and egg whites to chocolate mixture,  and fold mixture together gently until chocolate is blended in (a few strikes of white may remain).
 - Chill about 30 minutes, until slightly set up.

Caramel Sauce:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 square butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fleur de sel salt or kosher salt

-Over medium heat, combine butter, sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar,
 and karo syrup, until boiling, stirring frequently.
-Cook, stirring constantly, to softball stage.  Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla and salt.  Let cool to room temperature.

To Assemble:  In glass trifle dish, crumble half of the cake, to cover the bottom of dish. Spread half the chocolate mousse over the cake crumbs. Drizzle with half the caramel sauce. Repeat layers. Garnish with piped whipped cream and/or chocolate leaves.  Sprinkle top layer of caramel with a pinch of salt, if desired.


Persnickety P.S.:
**  I generally use a prepared chocolate cake mix and whip up my own, but buying already baked brownies or chocolate pound cake "takes the cake" for ease, though these make for a richer, sweeter dessert.  For a lighter dessert, use chocolate angel food or chocolate chiffon cake.

**To add another variety of texture, crush whole oreo cookies and sprinkle the crumbs as another layer on top of the caramel layers.  Zahra's favorite way! 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Greek Salad Supper

Greek Salad - fresh, firm tomatoes, sweet crunchy cucumbers, tangy feta cheese, and puckery olives. The best ones taste so fresh, with crisp vegetables still vibrant with an inherent sweetness "from the vine" and tossed with a vinaigrette just before you eat it so that the vegetables are truly just dressed as opposed to saturated.  One of our memorable family adventures entailed driving from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands to Amman, Jordan, a journey of 2 1/2 weeks and a wonderful way to show our children Europe, so we thought. Several years later, they say it's still too soon to ask but they realize that it should have been an adventure of a lifetime: however, Europe was particularly hot that summer, seven of us shared space in a car that comfortably seats five, everyone was allowed only 2 changes of clothing for the entire trip.....and by the time we made it to Greece, they were just looking for a McDonald's. An iconic picture we have of them sitting in the shadows of the Parthenon, shows them with their chins in their hands, wondering if they were having fun yet.  Eating time seemed to liven them up and the greek salad served alongside gyro and souvlaki helped bring them around.  We discovered the best way to make the decision as to "what's for dinner" while traveling was to assign each family member a day to choose the restaurant or cafe where we would eat, which made everyone happy except for our son who ate only plain rice, (which was a no-go if a garnish of parsley had been added) or pizza with no lumps in the sauce.  Greek Salad did nothing for him (no vegetable passed his lips until he was 18) and it's a miracle he survived that trip.  This recipe takes the basic Greek Salad to new heights resulting in a complete "supper" that is ridiculously abundant and succulent with beautiful colors. Anything and everything that happily teams with the basic salad ingredients is included and is my husband's favorite dinner.  The potato salad is lean, cleanly uncomplicated and enhanced with grilled shrimp (careful on the grill - 2 minutes per side usually does it) This is a beautiful and impressive dish to take to a BBQ dinner, so fresh and light - and doesn't require a 2-week car trip to Greece!


Greek Salad Supper
5 red potatoes
2 tab. each minced parsley and green onion
2 tab. olive oil
1 tab. red wine vinegar
salt and freshly group pepper to taste
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 - 10 iceberg lettuce leaves to line serving platter
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges or 12 - 14 small tomatoes left 
        whole or cut in half
1 avocado, halved, peeled and sliced
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/2 inch spears
1 large green pepper, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch spears
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 pound cheese, cheddar, provolone, or jack, cut into 1/2 inch 
         by 3 inch lengths
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges
1/4 pound ham, cut into 1/2 inch by 3 inch lengths
fresh lemon wedges
1/2 pound medium raw shrimp, (fresh or frozen)
      peeled and deveined,  marinated in olive oil, garlic 
      and lemon juice for 30 minutes, and then grilled, 
      2 minutes on each side.

-Cook, peel and dice potatoes and while still warm, toss with parsley, green onion, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper: stir in mayonnaise.  Chill until ready to serve.


-Arrange lettuce leaves on large platter.  Mound potatoes in the center, arrange tomato wedges, cucumber, green pepper, onion, ham, cheese, avocado, eggs and black olives on the lettuce bed around potato salad.  Arrange grilled shrimp on top of potato salad and garnish with a dash of paprika. Chill salad until ready to serve.  Serve with dressing and lemon wedges.  Makes 6 servings.


Vinaigrette Dressing:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper

-Combine ingredients and let sit at room temperature 1 hour.

Serve alongside salad.


Persnickety P.S.:
     **A loaf of crunchy country type bread goes nicely with the salad.
     **Lemon juice may be substituted for the vinegar in the salad dressing - more Greek in nature 
         - but more tart than vinegar.  If using lemon juice start with 3 tablespoons, then dip in a piece
         of lettuce, taste and add more lemon juice if desired.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Peanut-Peanut Butter-Hidden Treasure Chocolate Chip Cookies

We are all intimately acquainted with the chocolate chip cookie (invented 1930) and everyone is entitled to their favorite version for as my mother always said, "in taste there is no dispute":  thick and chewy, thin and crispy, thick and cakey, thin and crunchy, lots of chips, semi-sweet, milk or white, with walnuts, with oatmeal, perhaps raisins.... Our favorite is "hidden treasures" thus named because the chips are coated with batter and hiding in the interior of the cookies, which you discover when biting into the slightly chewy yet crispy texture. This recipe is precisely a treasure and if you are somewhat skeptical and convinced they won't measure up to your high standards, may I plead with you to keep an open mind and try them - (I know, you've heard that one before, as when someone is trying to convince you that rabbit tastes just like chicken - just try it!)  The development of this recipe involved late night empty tummies - perhaps not so much empty as craving - while watching the Barcelona Summer Olympics on T.V. and one too few eggs for the standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and ultimately, a gain of 15 pounds over the course of two weeks of olympic watching - I don't remember if that was on one body or three and am afraid to consider the answer.  Since peanut butter has come on the scene (invented 1895) most of us have been persuaded to consider the combo with chocolate a staple (thank you Reeses).  I added the peanuts and peanut butter to this recipe on an inspired whim. See how you think these cookies measure up and if you can't be swayed to call this recipe a "treasure" or find that the results are not to your preferred texture, don't try to convince me.  My mind's already made up and as Mom said, "to each his own."  I wonder if she would consider this recipe a treasure?



Peanut-Peanut Butter-Hidden Treasure Cookies

1/2 cup soft butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4  cup whole roasted peanuts
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup raw sugar for dusting, mixed with 1/2 tsp. sel de mer or
         coarse kosher salt

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-In a large mixing bowl thoroughly cream butter, shortening, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. 

-Mix in salt, soda, and flour, until well blended.  Stir in peanuts and chocolate chips.

-Roll dough lightly into 1 1/2 inch balls.  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and gently push down on each cookie.  Sprinkle small amount of raw sugar on the top of each cookie.  Bake for 12 - 15 minutes until golden around the edges and slightly puffy on top, and beginning to crack.  Remove from oven and place cookies to cool on a wire rack.

-Makes 2 dozen cookies.





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fatteh - Eggplant & Yogurt Casserole


What did you picture when you heard the name eggplant as a child?  Probably something similar to what I did - and I thought eggs came from chickens!  When I understood that plants and eggs could share the name, I was still hesitant, suspecting that the vegetable tasted of rotten eggs - why would it be purple?  No way I was going to taste it and since it was not served or even mentioned in my home, it wasn't a problem.  As an adult, I was offered aubergine - what a delightful name for a lovely shiny slender vegetable, and before I knew it I had been tricked into love!  An aubergine by any other name would be as delicious.
When returning to Jordan after years away, the first dish I bought from a Lebanese cook we had once frequented, was Fatteh, (fe-tay) not to be pronounced "fatty" as in what you will become if you eat too much of it. In Arabic the work "fatteh" means "crushed" or "crumbs", as in bread crumbs, or croutoned bread. I don't remember when I first had it or who first served it to me - I will admit it doesn't look nearly as appetizing as it tastes - but it is in my top three favorite Arab dishes. As I brought the aluminum container aboard our small tourist bus and was about to partake in this romantic reunion, the aroma bumped about the bus as we did and there were others who wanted to help me eat it.  As hesitant as I was to share - after all we had forgotten to bring spoons - it was wrested from my hands and passed down the bus, as creative tasters devised eating implements of yogurt lids, emory boards and credit cards to scoop out samples of the casserole.  
The very nature of eggplant succumbs silkily to oil when fried and this dish, topped with fried bits of Khoubiz, (pita bread), and pine nuts is succulently smooth and richly velvetized   It has such a depth of flavor; smokey, garlicky, lemony, meaty,  ---all those flavors that make you pause and say, "I want to remember this."  There is also a chickpea, yogurt version that is also very popular though less complex in flavors.  
Thin small eggplants like the variety sold in the Middle East are recommended as they are more tender than larger ones. Few recipes for raw eggplant exist owing to the fact that the toxin solanine, which raw potatoes contain as well, can cause intestinal distress, but once eggplant is cooked it complies beautifully with digestion. The raw product is also cursed with a bitter flavor which can come through in the cooking, though more modern hybrids are said to be less bitter. To avoid the bitterness, salt the eggplant well after slicing or cubing it and let sit for about 30 minutes. The salt causes the flesh to weep and draws out the bitterness.  Rinse well, blot dry with paper towels and use as described in your recipe.  Give this eggplant recipe a try and if you, like me, pictured boiled eggs growing among foul smelling leaves, this dish will wipe away those childish misconceptions!



Fatteh with Eggplant:
1 1/2 pound ground beef or lamb
4 small eggplants
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tab. grenadine molasses 
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
5 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
2 loaves pita bread
chopped flat-leaf parsley

-Toast pine nuts in dry saute pan until lightly browned; set aside  Cut bread into 1 inch squares and fry in 3 tab. butter until browned; set aside.  Combine sour cream, yogurt, 1 tsp. salt and crushed garlic in bowl; set aside.

-Chop eggplant into 1 inch chunks, place in large bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt and toss.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse eggplant and fry lightly in 3 tab. oil in large saute pan until golden and starting to soften.  Remove eggplant from pan and set aside.

-In same saute pan, melt 2 tab. butter. Place ground beef and onion in pan with salt and pepper, cinnamon, allspice and fry, stirring frequently until meat is browned. Drain off any extra fat. Stir in beef stock, tomato sauce and molasses then bring mixture to a boil.  Add eggplant and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and sauce is thickened.

-In an oven-proof casserole dish, pour the eggplant/meat sauce on the bottom and then cover with the yogurt sauce.  Place the toasted pita aqures on the top.  Bake in 350 oven until just warmed through, about 15 minutes.

-Garnish with pine nuts, chopped parsley and sprinkle sumac on top.  Serve warm.  Serves 8.

Persnickety P.S.:
**The original recipe has you place the bread squares on the bottom of the casserole dish, then cover with meat sauce and finally the yogurt sauce.  I, however, like my croutons to stay crispy so I place them on top.
**Sumac is used in the Middle Eastern diet to add a lemony pop to soups, salads and meat dishes. It is made from the ground fruit of a species of sumac bush and is a dark red/purple color.  Can be purchased on Amazon or at Middle Eastern groceries.
**Grenadine Molasses:  This molasses used in Middle Eastern and Persian cooking, is a thick syrup made from pomegranate seeds, sugar and lemon, is dark purple in color and adds a tangy, sweet zest to dishes.  It is available in Middle Eastern Groceries.  (To substitute in this recipe use 2 tsp. regular molasses and 1 tsp. lemon juice)




Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lemon Drop Bread

On occasion, I have been known to magnanimously do some volunteer pruning, when so inspired - pine branches from a forested area in Jordan for Christmas swags which included a volunteer roving-eyed lizard (doesn't everyone have a Christmas lizard?), rose petals from a ridiculously abundant blooming rose bush next door for the garnish for a 1920's recipe of Chicken a la Rose, and lemons from a lemon tree branch dangling precariously low over a public sidewalk in Israel - someone could have been injured!  (and besides, I was out of lemons). My noble and selfless efforts are only employed that vegetation might thrive.  May the lemon be among them - Live on, oh mighty Lemon! Live long lemons, and prosper! A child's expression the first time they taste them, makes you wonder which ancient Asian child kept tasting them until they discovered this puckery fruit was just waiting to meet sugar to zing into the forefront of culinary taste! The luxurious smell of the blossoms in spring, would make you think that the fruit is as sweet as promised, but the result packs a walloping tart and sour surprise but is yet a dose of the Renaissance itself to flavor and color, little orbs of the sun that give vibrant life to foods that would otherwise be drab as a winter's day without them. And shaped like those little orbs are a candy we call Lemon Drops, created in Britain in the1800's, though they may be harder to find today than Lemon Heads but they pack a punch to this exquisite bread and say, "Pucker up"! (Available at Walgreen's) A delicious variation is the suggested version with blueberries, or bluebs as my family calls them.  Due due to their tendency to sink to the bottom of the batter as they bake - Blue Bottom Lemon Bread it became! 



Lemon-Drop Bread
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
8 - 10 crushed lemon drops

-In large mixing bowl, cream together shortening, butter and sugar for about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Stir in milk.  Add flour, salt, baking powder, and grated lemon rind.  Mix until just combined.


-Grease or spray with non-stick spray, a regular sized loaf pan.  Pour batter in pan.  Bake at 300 degrees until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.


-Meanwhile, mix lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar and crushed lemon drops in a small bowl.  Set aside.


-Remove the bread from the oven and allow to sit 5 minutes in pan.  Score the bread with a serrated knife to a depth of about 1 inch in 3 lengthwise cuts.  Forcing the slits slightly apart drizzle the glaze into the slits and over the top of the warm bread.  Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan.  Let cool completely before slicing.  Cut into slices and serve.  Makes 8 - 10 slices.


Persnickety P.S.

**Coarsely mash the lemon drops in a mortar and pestle or place in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pan or the bottom of a heavy saucepan.

**Grate lemon with a microplane, one of my "can't do without" kitchen implements, a long thin micro-grater that allows you to grate right over whatever it is going into, easily held by a long handle.

**A combo of butter with shortening creates a softer bread than using just butter alone (similar to what the less popular margarine produces.)


**I sometimes make half again as much glaze when I want the bread very moist and popping with lemon flavor.


**When making the Blue Bottom Lemon-Drop Bread,  mix the batter as directed above, pour into the prepared loaf pan and then scatter 3/4 cup fresh blueberries on the top of the batter, patting down gently with a spatula. Bake and glaze as directed.

Let cool completely before slicing or it will crumble apart.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rice Krispie Spring Nests

Admit it - you love Rice Krispie Treats!!  There are just some universal truths where taste is concerned and foods that make anything taste good - cream cheese frosting, caramel sauce, raspberry puree, melted marshmallows - this elite group of toppings that would make even wood chips delicious.  (Glad that someone was inspired to combine marshmallows with cereal instead of wood chips).  Following is a Spring Nest version that is such fun for the kids to make for an Easter craft and treat!  I would imagine even birds would opt for this medium to build their nests!  The kids can melt the marshmallows, stir in the cereal, add the green food dye and shape the nests - a children's activity that requires just the ingredients and a little supervision!


Rice Krispie Spring Nests:
8 cups Rice Krispies type cereal
1 package (40 large) marshmallows
1/4 cup butter
2 -3 drops green food coloring
extra butter for hands
parchment or waxed paper
large colored jellybeans or Cadbury Mini-Eggs (preferred)

-In large saucepan, over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add marshmallows and stir frequently until marshmallows have melted and mixture is smooth.  Stir in food coloring.

-Place Rice Krispies in large mixing bowl.  Pour marshmallow mixture over the cereal and stir until well combined.  Let mixture rest and cool for about 5 minutes.

-Place a sheet of paper on work surface.  Rub a small amount of soft butter on clean hands and take a tangerine-size handful of mixture.  Shape and push into a ball and then flatten onto the paper, making an indentation in the center for the bird "eggs".  Arrange 3 - 5 mini-eggs in each nest.  Let sit and set up for about 20 minutes as children lick off their fingers and what remains in the bowl.  Makes 12 - 14 "nest" treats.

Persnickety P.S.:
-You'll win the "favorite grandma award" when you help the grandchildren make these!!