Every semester I promise myself that this is the semester I’m going to take it easy and every semester I don’t do that even a little. This semester, for example, I was supposed to accomodate 35 work hours a week by taking easy classes, but that was before I showed up to day 1 of the most amazing and demanding classes I’ve ever taken in my life. The unexpected final addition to the schedule was a positively life changing class on Shari’a, Islamic law. I decided to indulge my inner nerd, and last night I ended up making baklava at 1:30 in the morning.
While it might be ever so totally true that this wasn’t even kind of a class assignment, we WERE assigned a mock divorce court last week (complete with costumes and props) as an in-class exercise and – what do you know? –the mock plaintiff just so happened to own a baklava company! Unfortunately we were representing her mock husband and bringing in baklava for the other side was too time consuming to be justified. But I didn’t have homework last night and so for class tomorrow I will be setting the mood in style.
Besides, baklava is secretly a perfect fall food. With walnuts, honey, cinnamon and thin sheets of phyllo that could easily represent falling leaves, you could not possibly get more seasonally appropriate. I can’t lie, phyllo is a pain in everyone’s butt to work with, but I can promise the results will be well worth it. I may or may have nibbled on a store bought substitute while I waited for this to be ready and I can assure you, there’s truly nothing like homemade.
Do you have any unexpected fall recipes? Or stories of classwork-turned-recipe? Let me know in the comments below!
Last night, my Sharia class had the most depressing movie party a class could ever have. I had briefly mentioned I might make Baklava, to lift the mood but (spoiler alert) Baklava takes like a year make, and I had literally no time. Cookies, on the other hand, take 10 minutes and de-stress like none other. I can’t write a real post because I still have no time. So, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, speak for yourselves.
Do you have no time? Do you make cookies? Tell me all about it in the briefest comments you possibly can 😉
2 tsp vanilla extract (optional because I forgot to buy it and it turned out fine) (not really optional though) (also, I suspect Jack Daniels or Jameson would make a great substitute – somebody should try it out)
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 cups dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350
In a medium-large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and soda and spices.
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix butter and sugar on high, until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Mix in egg, vanilla and pumpkin also for about 3-4 minutes, until blended. Don’t freak out if it looks curdled, it will do that, and it will be ok.
Slowly add the dry ingredients until just mixed. Then slowly mix in chocolate chips.
Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet.
Bake until edges are golden brown. The recipe I was working off said 10 minutes, mine took like 25. Start checking at 10 – you’ll know.
Cool on sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to baking rack and eat them all!
I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.
For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.
So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a 12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!
So what, you say? Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are). There’s really no end on how you can use them.
Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!
Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3
From: Heide Lang
8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)
During my time in Morocco, I lived with a mother and daughter who cooked as well as they broke out in song while cooking. One of their favorite ingredients to prepare was what we know as couscous in its numerous forms; on Friday afternoons, we had our communal tajine of couscous, and occasionally, we started lunch with a small dish of Palestinian maftoul. One of the best feelings in the world is running your fingers through a bag of maftoul fresh from the marketplace on a sunny Saturday afternoon – mostly because it is not as small as couscous to get stuck between your fingernails!
So what on Earth is maftoul? Maftoul originated from the Palestine/Israel area as hand-rolled bulgur wheat the size of uneven peas. You most likely know the close sister of maftoul: the pearl Israeli couscous, or ptitim in Hebrew. Maftoul is rarely mass produced and almost always handmade, thus only available in Middle Eastern grocery stores. In most recipes, maftoul can be replaced with the mass-produced Israeli couscous. Regardless of whichever one you cook with, I cannot stress how important it is that food has absolutely no political affiliations.
You can make your own hearty dish with maftoul in your own kitchen. This Levantine cuisine-inspired dish is easy to cook and takes some time to simmer on the stove, meaning you have the time to clean your counters and stick your utensils in the dishwasher before even finishing cooking! Or if you are me, try to beat the incredibly difficult Level 50 of Candycrush and again, fail miserably.
Be warned! This dish calls for saffron and white wine. A tiny bunch of saffron can be replaced with one teaspoon of turmeric. White wine can be replaced with white grape juice or chicken stock. My alcohol intolerance is personally a big fan of the white grape juice substitute. Final fun fact for all: alcohol actually remains in large percentages in foods unless it has been cooked for at least 3 hours. SCIENCE!
Israeli Couscous with Chicken, Tomatoes, and Lemon
1-1/2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
2 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add couscous, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl, and return skillet to heat.
Cook chicken, smooth side down, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip, and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate, reserving drippings in skillet.
Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, garlic, lemon peel, and saffron, and cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes begin to break down, 2 to 3 minutes.
Return chicken to skillet. Add wine, and cook for 4 minutes. Add stock, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and couscous, and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until couscous is tender and chicken is cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in peas, and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately with lemon.
One of the best things in life is when you get to try brand new dish or ingredient you didn’t even know existed. I was driving Gabrielle back to school for the fall semester (actually it was our second trip the week after labor day because Gabrielle can never fit all of her stuff in the Honda Odyssey in one trip!) and we decided to have a leisurely lunch in New York before saying goodbye. We set very simple but specific parameters for the meal. The restaurant had to be cozy and unpretentious. We didn’t care if it was famous at all, but it had to serve real food. So Gabrielle put our conditions into the magical search known as Google and out popped Petit Abeille. This tiny restaurant seats only about 20 people and it was a bit gritty and cramped, but the aroma of onions and fried things from the open kitchen made us feel like we were in our own kitchen. It smelled like home cooking, a rarity I’m afraid for most restaurants.
There were many great things on the menu, including lot of offerings featuring real Belgian waffles, including one with fried chicken, which we naturally ordered.
There were the usual omelet brunch yummies as well, but our eyes were especially drawn to the chalkboard, which explained a food we had never even kind of heard of.
We ordered a second fried chicken with stoemp and it was heaven. I love fried chicken sometimes more than life, but I practically ignored my chicken and just inhaled the potatoes. What a brilliant idea and a damn nearly perfect fall food. You have potatoes, cream, butter, and root vegetables all working together to create a cozy rich feeling in your mouth and tummy. And the potatoes were properly salted too! Go Petit Abeille!
Stoemp is a richer version of a similar dish from the Netherlands called Stamppot, which also consists of mashed potatoes, other vegetables (especially root ones), cream, butter bacon, onions or shallots, herbs and spices. You can use any combination of dairy fat, onions/shallots and vegetables you like, but I decided to use two vegetables – kale and spinach – that I don’t really love because I figured all the cream and butter and bacon would more than offset bitter or “good for you” taste from the vegetables.
I couldn’t wait to get home to work on my own version of stoemp, which was good the first time around, but needed more butter, bacon and cream. What doesn’t, really? Here’s my final version, with an added bonus. Most people don’t know this, but there is actually a science to making mashed potatoes. This recipe shows you how to make proper mashed spuds. Russet, Idaho and Yukon make the best mash because they are not waxy and are less likely to lump together. Here, we use russets because I think they yield the tastiest and smoothest mashed potato. You should also dry mash your potatoes first and coat them with some fat (usually butter) before adding milk and cream. It keeps the potatoes from getting gluey and weird as long as you don’t over mash and can live with some lumps.
Stoemp – Road Home Style
From: Heide Lang
6-8 strips bacon (local, if possible)
1 large onion or two medium onions coarsely chopped
4 pounds russet potatoes peeled
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
1 cup chopped fresh kale*
1 teaspoon or more of salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Heat a medium size saucepan and add the bacon. Cook until crisp over medium heat.
Remove bacon from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the fat.
Crumble the bacon with your fingers when cool, and set aside.
Drain all but 3 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan.
Add the onions to the bacon fat and cook until they are brown and have caramelized, about 30 minutes.
Add the kale and spinach to the onions and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside.
Cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on their size. You want to make sure the potatoes are the same size so they cook evenly.
Place the potatoes in salted cold water* and bring to a boil. Lower temperature to a simmer and cook until a fork easily goes through the potatoes, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the potato.
Drain the potatoes in a colander and “dry mash” without the milk or butter for two minutes over a low flame.
Add the butter and gently mix into the potatoes without mashing (you don’t want to over mash the potatoes or they will be gluey).
Combine the milk and cream in a small saucepan and warm milk.
Gradually add warm milk and cream to the pot and mix thoroughly.
Mash potatoes until smooth or coarse, your preference.
Mix in the bacon, vegetable mixture, salt and pepper until combined well.
Stoemp is best served fresh, but may be made several hours ahead of time.
* You may also add any other root vegetable or greens you like.
** Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean. You can always add more salt to the dish once it is assembled, but potatoes like everything else tastes MUCH better when properly cooked with salt during the process instead of after the fact.
Francesca is a very picky eater. She’d be happy to eat “yellow pasta,” penne with a little bit of kosher salt and olive oil, practically everyday. But like every kid, she can be unpredictable. Her eyes light up when I open the lid of the Dutch oven and she sees we’re having “fesenjoonie,” as she calls it. The actual name of this ridiculously delicious Persian khoresh (stew in Farsi) is fesenjan, and it is also one of favorite dishes of all time.
We had the privilege of visiting Iran 10 years ago with when hubby Mark was invited to give a talk in Tehran. I foolishly thought before visiting that I had tasted all the great cuisines of the world, so I gave little thought to Persian food and spent most of the time reading about the great sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis and ancient city of Esfahan.
Dumb dumb me should have thought about the food. I probably had never tasted real Persian cuisine before and just assumed it would be in line with more familiar Middle Eastern foods, such as hummus and pita bread. I was so very wrong.
We arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night, and almost instantly a whole world of spices, nuts, and fruits opened up to us. We stayed with relatives of our dear friends Vahid and Shahla Mohsenin and were greeted by mounds of perfect pistachios, dried apricots, and dates. This 3 a.m. greeting party was considered just a little nibble. The food essentially never stopped coming for the two weeks we visited this beautiful and baffling country.
You will no doubt hear a lot about Persian food from Gabrielle and me. Persians are famous for their hospitality and it seemed there was a lavish dinner party every night once the word got out that there were Americans in town (fewer than 500 Americans were allowed to visit Iran at the time). Many dishes combine the same ingredients – saffron, rose water, orange water, nuts, pomegranates and dried fruits –in countless ways to create unforgettable dishes. Fesenjan, for me, combines all of my favorite Persian flavors. The blend of slow-cooked pureed walnuts, saffron, pomegranates, and onions with chicken creates an earth, nutty, exotic taste you can’t imagine until you’ve taken your first bite.
I’m not sure how Persian households eat this way all the time (and they seem to), because some Persian dishes take a little while to prepare. Not only is the investment worth it, but also keep in mind that any Khoresh, like most stews, usually tastes better a day or two later so they are perfect do-ahead company food.
I became a fesenjan connoisseur while we were in Iran, and sampled many interpretations of this extraordinary dish all from Teheran to Yazd. When we arrived home, I immediately bought the classic Persian cookbook available in English by Najmieh Batmanglij titled, Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Her version of fesenjan inspired my own, which is quite different. I’ve substituted some of the traditional pomegranate juice, God help me, with wine! Alcohol is forbidden in Iran, but I think wine adds a lovely fruitiness to this exquisite dish. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 very fine Syrah was produced in Shiraz, and so I’ve used a full-bodied Syrah in this dish. (Sadly the vines are now used to only to produce grapes.)
Here is the recipe, and do let us know if your taste buds are as tickled as ours by this very unique dish:
Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh (Chicken Pomegranate Stew)
From: Heide Lang
½ pound (2 cups) walnuts finely chopped
5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
12 chicken thighs, bone-in (approximately 5 to 5 ½ pounds)
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups Syrah wine
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons grape molasses or sugar (optional)
¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
3 tablespoons toasted walnuts (optional)
Toast the walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (8 quarts is ideal) over medium heat until very hot. Sauté the onions until they are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1-2 tablespoons of additional oil and brown the chicken (you will need to do this in two batches).
Remove the chicken from the pot into a medium bowl and set aside.
Puree the onions and the walnuts in a food processor. Add 1 cup of pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron water and grape molasses (or sugar) and mix well to a creamy paste.
Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl and add the remaining pomegranate juice and wine.
Add the onion-walnut mixture to the Dutch oven and stir well. Add the chicken and gently mix again (if stirred to aggressively, the skin will come off the chicken).
Bring Mixture to a boil and give the stew a good stir. If you are cooking the stew in an oven-safe Dutch oven or pot, cover and cook in the middle of the oven at 350 for one hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may also cook the stew on the stove top on low for an hour.
Taste the khoresh sauce after the first hour. It should be sweet and sour and have the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust the taste by adding more pomegranate molasses for sour, and more grape molasses (or sugar) for sweetness.
Stir the stew well again and place back in the oven until the chicken is thoroughly cooked the sauce is the thickness of heavy cream.
Remove from the oven and let cool uncovered before refrigerating (covered) overnight. When ready to serve, re-heat in the Dutch oven at 350 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, heat on stovetop with a low-medium flame, stirring occasionally.
Serve over basmati rice or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Chelow, a saffron steamed rice with a golden crust. You may also add sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts (optional).