Sunday, June 10, 2018

Baklawa

       Yes, you read it right - Baklawa - with a "w".   I was trained in creating this most succulent, layered treasure by a Lebanese friend and since Arabic has no "V", "W" is substituted.  Much the same is true with the "P" - does not exist, so "B" is used, which makes Pepsi become Bebsi.  In loyalty to one of the best Arab cooks I ever knew, I somewhat pretentiously insist on the Arabic pronunciation.  But regardless, eating and enjoying it are the same, whatever it might be called.

      I have been away from posting for almost two years, busy exploring other experiences in my life but I haven't stopped cooking, and often cooking includes baklawa, which then requires teaching others to make it.  This is one dessert whose preparation terrifies people.  And when first made in the rustic, dusty kitchens of the Middle East, it must have terrified most anyone, because the paper-thin dough would be rolled out on a large table, only the expert achieving a uniform thickness.  With modern technology that laborious task has long been a labor of the past - in fact I never met an Arab cook who makes the dough by hand.  We all know a good thing when we see it - and the frozen packages of phyllo dough in the market are good enough!


      When I first made baklawa in the states years ago, phyllo dough was hard to find, and when I did find it, it had sat in a freezer for a long time, and the sheets were always stuck together and difficult to work with.  Being a more common ingredient now, the sheets generally pull off neatly from the sheet below it, but not always.  Regardless, it is a good idea to only work with phyllo when you have plenty of time, get everything you will need together, sit down and take a relaxing breath and whistle a happy tune as you gingerly pull the sheets off from one another.  But be sure the dough is completely thawed or that will not happen.  When you bring it home frozen from the store, place it in the refrigerator if you will be working with it in the next few days,  If it will be longer than a week freeze it.  If you need the dessert that evening, open the package, take one encased roll at a time and microwave on full power for 1 minute.  Let it sit for 10 minutes then zap it again for another minute (not recommended but is usually successful when in a hurry.)  And if the dough sticks and tears, take another deep breath and be assured that only the top layer has to look perfect - everything underneath it can be patched and folded and holey.


      When teaching cooking classes, this is the one dish that is most often requested and though I now have its preparation down to 15 minutes tops, I still call it a sitting job - there just aren't enough of those, so enjoy the sit for those jobs that you can.  One student asked if they could use Pam instead of butter between each layer of dough. I told her sure, but that I wouldn't want to eat it.  If you're going to bother with it in the first place, use ingredients that will make it taste as delicious as it was meant to be. Butter is a must. I prefer salted butter for the salty contrast that plays against the very sweet notes.   Butter will create the distinct layers so that when you bite into a piece you hear a hundred different pops of crunchy buttery, sweetness in your mouth.


      As suggested earlier, what's in a name - baklava or baklawa - "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet";  so let's talk about rose water....then let's talk about ghee.   Rose water is generally added to the syrup in the Middle East but is an acquired taste.  I would rather dab rose water on my wrists than eat it, so I don't use it.  And then ghee (clarified butter) is called for in many authentic recipes which I think is totally uncalled for; ghee has a distinct flavor that those in my family refer to as a little "goaty".  That's difficult to explain, but suffice it to say, it is not pleasant.


      With all this being said, baklawa is not difficult to make.  Perhaps a bit tedious but once adoring fans have eagerly consumed it, you will probably feel it was worth it.  My children gather round like panting wolves ready to pounce on its prey as soon as it is ready - or even before.  My oldest can eat half a pan but is ill the rest of the day after doing so but seems to lack the control to stop.  Baklawa is a demanding taskmaster - sitting there glistening with all its buttery layers and crunchy nuts teased with cinnamon; expecting us to master our appetites and yet punishing us when we give in to its temptation and don't.  Pay attention to the specific notes and recommendations below. I have made it so often I know a lot of tricks.  I have even been told by Arabs themselves that mine is as good as their mothers. (But don't tell their mothers.)



Baklawa
1 lb. pecans, walnuts or shelled pistachios, finely chopped
    (or use a combo of all 3 nuts) 
1/3 cup sugar
2 tab. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 package phyllo pastry, thawed
1 ½ cups melted butter

Syrup:
          3 cups sugar
          2 cups water
          1 slice lemon
          1 stick cinnamon

-Combine nuts, 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon and cloves in food processor. Finely chop and set aside.

-Butter bottom of 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish. Unwrap 1 roll of phyllo dough and lay out flat on work surface. (Dough will dry out quickly.  If this is your first time working with phyllo you may want to place a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough while you are working with the sheets in the pan. Once you are faster, this won't be necessary.)


-Place 2 sheets of phyllo in bottom of dish.  With pastry brush, brush with melted butter.  Place 2 more sheets and brush with butter. Continue layering and brushing 2 sheets at a time until you have used 12 sheets of phyllo. (if the dough sheets don't fit your pan exactly, you may fold the dough under on one end, and alternate the fold to the other end with the next layer.)


-Sprinkle phyllo with 1/3 of nut mixture. Place 2 sheets phyllo over nut mixture and brush with butter.  Repeat filling and phyllo layers two more times.


-Continue layering and brushing 2 sheets of phyllo at a time until you have used all the sheets in the package - both rolls (approximately 24 more total sheets of pastry.)

-Tuck in edges of phyllo and cut into diamond shapes approximately 2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide, with a sharp serrated knife.  (Do this by cutting vertically along the long edge making 5 even cuts.  Then at a 45 degree angle, start at one corner and cut to the opposite side.  Make your next 45 degree angle cut about 1 1/2 inch from your first one.  Wet fingers to keep phyllo from sticking to them or place the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes before cutting.  Pour remaining butter over baklawa.  Sprinkle with water to keep top layers from curling during baking.

-Bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  It top becomes too brown, cover loosely with foil.

-Meantime, prepare syrup.  Combine water, sugar and cinnamon stick in medium saucepan.  Stir and bring to boil over medium high heat. Let boil for 10 minutes on medium low heat. Do not stir once mixture begins to boil or it will become cloudy.  (Cover the pan with a lid for the last 3 minutes to melt any sugar crystals that may have formed on the side of the pan.) Squeeze the lemon quarter's juice into the syrup and add lemon to the hot liquid. Let mixture cool to room temperature.


-Pour cooled syrup over warm baklava.  (The pastry appears to be floating in the syrup at this point - you will be amazed to see how it soaks it all up.  Let sit for several hours or overnight at room temperature.  If you don't let it sit long enough, some of the syrup may not be absorbed but can still be served - just a little soupier than the ideal.)  Re-cut pieces again with sharp knife to make sure you have cut through all the layers and serve.


Persnickety Notes:

**Phyllo dough is sold in most grocery stores in the frozen foods department most often near the frozen berries and frozen pie crusts.


**This recipe uses half the melted butter called for in traditional recipes by brushing every other sheet with butter. All sheets touch butter on one side this way, but the crunchiness is not affected and you feel as if you have saved yourself half the calories - a win-win!

**To store baklawa, simply cover very loosely with foil at room temperature.  Do not seal in airtight container or bag and do not store in refrigerator as this will make the layers of dough soggy - what a shame to lose that marvelous crunch!  The best way to store it is in an open pan in a cupboard where flies or overeaters can't get to it.


**You can freeze baklawa once it is assembled and cut but before baking. Remove from freezer about 1 hour before baking and continue recipe as described above. (If frozen after baking, you loose all the crunch.)



                     -Items needed to make baklawa



-Brushing layers of dough with melted butter...




                      -Sprinkling nut mixture after the 12th sheet of dough




         -Cutting the baklawa into diamond shapes, 
       before baking.



-The finished product!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cookie Dough Brownies


     The daisies are just about gone, the leaves on the mountains across the valley are already turning red, and the kids are back in school, but the calendar won't concede summer to autumn for another couple of weeks.  We resist with the swan song to all things summer with a  Labor Day picnic.  Some of us are ready to breathe a deep breath of coolth, (as we like to call it for if there is warmth, can't there be coolth?).  Others of us refuse to put away sandals and shorts until well into November, but there's still time to mix up a batch of brownies to take to a picnic, camping or to make the kids smile for a "welcome back to school" treat when coming home from school.
     This combo is a winner - chocolate cookie dough brownies - the creamy layer is reminiscent of a fingerful of cookie dough scraped from the sides of the mixing bowl while making chocolate chip cookies (or snitched in deliberate handfuls from the dough). The chocolate of the rich, dense brownie and the drizzled chocolate glaze whisper "chocolate chip cookies" to your senses.  A birthday favorite of one of my sisters was raw cookie dough - allowed as a "once-a-year" treat for the celebration.  I always requested cheesecake for my birthday but wasn't averse to joining in the cookie dough gluttony.  
     The quintessential American treat, these brownies are perfect to take with you to a picnic or cookout and admittedly require more labor than a plain, unfussy brownie, thus apropo for "Labor" Day.  Come to think of it, no one ever declared brownies taboo after Labor Day like white pants or dresses or swimming at the beach in Tunisia, so no worries - these delicious sweets are just as much appreciated in cold months as well - unlike daisies, ubiquitously seasonal and enticing throughout the year!




Cookie Dough Brownies:

One recipe plain chocolate brownies  (see below)


Filling:

          1/2 cup butter,softened
          1/2 cup brown sugar
          1/4 cups sugar  
          2 tab. milk
          1 tsp. vanilla
          1 cup flour
          1/4 tsp. salt

-In a large bowl beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add milk, salt and vanilla. blend well.  Add flour, mix well.  Spread over cool brownies.


Glaze:

          1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
          2 tab. butter
          3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

-Melt chocolate chips and butter in microwave until smooth, about 1 minute on high. Stir until smooth.  Let cool 10 - 15 minutes then spoon glaze over filing, drizzling to cover.  If desired, sprinkle with walnuts, pressing down lightly.  Store in fridge.  Cut when chilled.


Brownie Recipe (dense and moist)

     4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened baking chocolate
     1 cup butter
     4 eggs
     2 cups sugar
     1/2 tsp. salt
     1 tsp. vanilla
     1 1/4 cups flour
     1/2 tsp.baking powder

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray or grease well with oil.


-Roughly chop the chocolate and place in a bowl with the butter and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals until just melted and smooth.  Let cool about 10 minutes.


-In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla for 2 minutes.  Slowly add chocolate/butter mixture. then flour and mix to combine.  Stir in baking powder and salt.   Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.. Cool completely.


Persnickety P.S.

**You may use your favorite brownie recipe, cakey, fudgy or chewy.  In a hurry, even a favorite box mix will do - especially Ghiradelli's brownie mix.

**Brownies with a topping are so much easier to cut once chilled.  Use a sharp knife, heated in hot water and/or a short metal spatula.


**If desired, increase the filling to make a thicker creamy layer by increasing each ingredient by half.



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 ambiance of a beach side restaurant serving fish and mixed grill, sauteed in the silkiest of olive oils and baguette with a bit of inelegance that makes the food taste locally unique...... 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
1/2 cup smooth peanut 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)