Monday, November 30, 2009

Persian Chicken with Saffron and Sumac

Many Ashkenazi Jews think of Persia only once a year, on Purim. But Persian Jewish communities in Los Angeles, New York and Israel are large, vibrant and growing, and they have a rich history dating back to biblical times. Of course, with Persian Jewry also comes some of the Middle East's best, classically kosher culinary secrets. Because I have a Persian neighbor, I have tasted some of these delicacies myself, but have hesitated so far to try cooking Persian on my own.

Several weeks ago while visiting Los Angeles, I had a chance to meet some lovely friends of my brother Lewis, and because they are of this heritage, it was even more exciting for me that they were willing to share a version of broiled Persian chicken that I felt confident enough to try out.

Before this, I had been generally unable to find kosher recipes for Persian chicken on the Internet, but what I did know was that I needed to use saffron and sumac powder, and that the chicken is generally marinated in lemon juice and then broiled. This is a very "classically kosher" concept, because my attempt with this blog is to get away from heavy sauces and added fats. With broiled food, one locks in the flavor on the plate while leaving the oil and fat in the pan.

Lewis' friends not only supplied me with the best source for the saffron (Trader Joe's!), generally acknowledged to be most expensive and rare spice around (saffron is handpicked from the inner stigma of the crocus flower), they even sent a bag filled with bottles of it for me to take back to New Jersey! I used a bottle of that in addition to ground sumac powder that I found at Golan Dried Fruits on Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

I am not confident of the amounts on this recipe, and though this version was good, I am not sure it was authentic. The spice profile used here is very different from my normal Eastern European flavors (no garlic or paprika, can you believe it?!), and even though I've eaten lots of Middle Eastern food, cooking it is a different thing. I would absolutely love any comments or suggestions. But on this version, my husband and I both found it delicious and unusual.

1 chicken, cut in eights
1 gram Spanish saffron, buzzed into a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder
4-5 lemons, juice only
1 onion, finely grated
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp ground sumac

Marinate the chicken for half an hour, or more, in the lemon juice that you have mixed with the saffron, onion and some salt and pepper to taste.

Bake at 400 degrees for another half an hour, then broil for 5-10 minutes on high, until deeply browned. Sprinkle generously with ground sumac. Here, it is served with aromatic saffron rice and fresh grape tomatoes with parsley.

Saffron on Foodista

Persian Chicken on Foodista

Sumac on Foodista

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quick Savory Piecrust

This is super-super easy and super good. It's my mom's recipe and it's what we used, with herbs, for the herb-crusted quiche. This crust can be used for anything however. Adding 2 tablespoons of sugar to the mix even makes it a great base for sweet potato pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup oil (canola or vegetable)
5 tbsp cold water
1 tsp kosher salt

For the crust, combine the ingredients and mix with a fork. Form the dough into two balls of the same size, about the size of baseballs, and place each between two sheets of waxed paper. Roll them out with a rolling pin and place in pie pans. The crust patches really easily so just flatten it enough to crawl up the sides a bit. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in a 375 degree oven until slightly browned. Remove from oven, fill with your favorite fillings and bake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Gracious Miracle

When Nana, my father's mother, passed away this past September, right before Yom Kippur, we found her ketubah (marriage contract), which was written in 1924, and checked it to make sure we had her Hebrew name correct to say in memorial prayers.

We found that in addition to her Hebrew name of Hanna, which means gracious, she also had a second name of Nessa that none of us had known about. Nessa means miracle. We immediately added that second name to our prayers for our dad's complete recovery from the open heart surgery he had on Rosh Hashanah, which left him on a bi-ventricular assist device with an immediate need for a heart transplant. In retrospect, it was a miracle we had to pray for.

"The call" came last evening, nine and a half weeks after his initial surgery, 32 long days and nights after he had been on the heart transplant list at the most critical level.

Today's transplant, performed by the world-class transplant team at UCLA Medical Center, is indeed a miracle bestowed graciously upon us by our G-d who hears prayer, and it is with deep gratitude to Hashem that we begin the next phase of his recovery.

We continue to pray for Sholom ben Hanna Nessa's complete recovery, and thank our friends and family for all your love, prayers and good wishes. Dad, we love you and are glad to have you with as long as Hashem lends you to us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Herb-Crusted Sun Dried Tomato and Mushroom Quiche

In Orange County, California, the availability of kosher-certified hard cheeses are limited to speciality stores and are not always available in the average supermarket. And as my mom recovered from surgery today, I asked her to tell me what she felt like eating and assured myself that whatever she said, I could whip it up. After all, what good is a daughter who went to culinary school if she can't produce delectable morsels for her mom when she is recovering her strength?

The first thing my mom asked for early in the day was a cheese soufle. But before I expressed my intense fear and consternation at being asked to make something that requires finesse when the last time I cooked in this kitchen was circa 1992, she broke in that she thought we didn't have the materials in the house and instead asked for scrambled eggs with cheese grated on top. As late afternoon approached though, and she expressed interest in only light and cheesy foods, we decided a quiche would be perfect. But since we had next to no cheese left in the house, I had to go out to forage for materials.

Unfortunately, there was no hard cheese to be had with a hechsher in the two supermarkets I tried. I am so spoiled to live in Teaneck! Often, my mom said that one can find the kosher run of Tillamook Chedder in local California stores, but the only kosher cheeses I found were Alouette, Philadelphia and various brands of ricotta. I decided to go with the ricotta and the very small bit of chedder I had left over from my mom's earlier scrambled egg lunch.

I also didn't want to use milk or cream in the quiche because it adds excess fat and the dish would pack a large lactose punch, which I am not that excited about. (My whole raison d'etre of Classically Kosher is to modernize Jewish recipes and update them with ingredients that will help us live more healthfully). Of course, you will achieve the same delicious result with low-fat milk, whole milk or cream. So I used unsweetened Blue Diamond almond milk (O-U), which is an excellent cream substitute, very similar in fact to MimicCreme, which is an almond and cashew milk mixture that I wrote about last week here. Almond milk and almond milk blends is probably the next big trend in kosher cooking and baking. It was discovered by Chef Mark Hellermann as he developed pareve recipes for the first time in preparation to teach the first kosher/professional baking and pastry course in the United States, at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts.

Anyway, on to the recipe:

This makes two quiches.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup oil (canola or vegetable)
5 tbsp water
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dehydrated or granulated garlic


8 eggs, beaten (or the same amount egg substitute)
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk)
1 box white mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 clove fresh garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, minced
3 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
15 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (or more) chedder, colby or monterey jack cheese, grated
fresh ground pepper
1 tsp salt

For the crust, combine the ingredients and mix with a fork. Form the dough into two balls of the same size, about the size of baseballs, and place each between two sheets of waxed paper. Roll them out with a rolling pin and place in pie pans. The crust patches really easily so just flatten it enough to crawl up the sides a bit. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in a 375 degree oven until slightly browned. Remove from oven.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and combine with almond milk and ricotta and mix with a fork until smooth. Separately, saute the mushrooms in the olive oil with the garlic until browned. Add this and the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and pour into the crusts. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour until firm on top.

Garnish with more chopped chives and minced sun dried tomatoes. Slice thin for hors d'oeuvres or thickly for lunch, brunch or dinner. These would be great in ramekins for mini-quiches... Yum!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pareve Vichyssoise: Kosher Potato Leek Soup

I love Julia Child, I love soup and I love cream. I mean, who doesn't? But in the Jewish world, because of the combination of cream and chicken stock, a true Vichyssoise soup has never been possible... Until now!

Last week at Kosherfest, our team at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts exhibited next to the MimicCreme*** team! Their product is a Kof-K certified pareve cream product, made from almond and cashew milk, without soy or anything unnatural. And it really tastes creamy, without any weird or chemical aftertaste. It also has fewer calories than real cream, and no cholesterol or saturated fat.

Aside from having wonderful chats with MimicCreme's team throughout the conference, finding them to be just plain nice people, our team at CKCA was also singularly impressed by the versatility and uniqueness of their product.

It comes in both sweetened and unsweetened versions, and I spoke with MimicCreme's founder, Rose Anne Jarrett, about the kinds of recipes that can be developed using the product.

The sweetened version certainly works great for ice cream-style preparations, as we found out by tasting samples of coffee ice cream at their booth. And my fellow blogger Shoshana of the site Couldn't be Pareve, recently blogged about the Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream, a deep chocolate flavored with cinnamon and a wisp of spiciness, that she made with the sweetened MimicCreme. It sounds amazing. I tried a cold preparation too, with the unsweetened stuff with less amazing results. I did a frozen chocolate cream pie, but it froze too hard to cut and serve comfortably. Could have been that my ratios were off, as the taste was still good.

But back to my dreams of Julia Child and Vichyssoise. I used MimicCreme as a replacement for the cream in the classic recipe, and it worked extremely well. I recommend the below version, and look forward to trying out other vegetable bisques with this product. But first, I need more of it!

On that note, the MimicCreme team is looking for a distributor (possibly in kosher stores) for their product, and I hope it turns out, because right now it seems that the only place to get this product is online, at this link.

Pareve Vichyssoise:

4 cups leeks, white and very light green parts only, sliced
4 cups old or russet baking potatoes(very starchy, not red or new potatoes recommended), sliced
7 cups reduced or low sodium chicken stock (or enough to cover the vegetables)
1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
1 tsp pepper (optional)
1/2 cup MimicCreme
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced

Bring the leeks, potatoes and chicken stock to a boil in a deep, wide-bottomed saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat and add cream. Purée the soup (optional) with an immersion blender or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning. After chilling the soup, you may wish to stir in a little more cream. I learned in culinary school that you have to salt hot foods when they're hot, and cold foods when they're cold. (I'm sure Julia would turn over in her grave if she heard I was serving Vichyssoise hot, but come on, I am JEWISH after all. We view the whole point of soup as being warm and comforting). So depending on whether you are serving the soup cold or hot, make sure to correct the seasoning at the temperture you'll be serving it. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of chives. Makes 4 to 5 generous servings.

Please note I loved this soup, my husband (who thinks he does not eat vegetables) loved this soup, and everyone I told about it promised to make it immediately. Don't delay. It is super-yummy!

*** I have not been paid to shill MimicCreme products on the Internet. I am doing it voluntarily, though I was provided with a sample of the product free of charge, for recipe development purposes only! As always, if anyone wants to send me or CKCA samples, I/we am/are more than willing to test them out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adventures in "Five Minute" Artisan Bread Baking

So I finally tested out the master boule recipe, which I have wanted to do since I first heard about it on the web. It's from a book that I don't own, called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Now, the first thing you need to know, is that it didn't take me five minutes a day to do this. It took much, much longer. Perhaps it will take less time later on after I get the hang of it.

As a cook who doesn't generally bake bread, the first thing I had to do was buy yeast, which was the easiest part, as it happens. Then I had to think for a couple of weeks about how to acquire a bread baking stone. Because I remembered my chef instructor telling me that breadstones were extremely expensive and that there were ways to acquire the same thing without shelling out your inheritance at Williams Sonoma, I asked Chef Avram Wiseman and he told me to measure my oven, then go to Home Depot and get a two-inch thick piece of brick, bluestone or concrete. Not wanting to think about how to find our measuring tape, I then I asked CKCA Pastry Chef Mark Hellermann the same question. He told me to go to a tile store and get a piece of unglazed tile.

Both those options seemed kind of complicated. Especially since I didn't even know tile stores existed. So I did was I usually do: I asked my mom. She said: "They're not THAT expensive. Use your Bed Bath and Beyond coupon."

So that's what I did! I got the Oneida pizza stone, which came with a handy dandy stand too. BB&B was selling it for $19.99 but I got it for about $15 with my coupon.

The other things I needed, I already had: flour, water, a container to both mix and store the dough, and a broiler pan to create steam during baking.

Now, with all the materials in place, I made the dough.

The recipe is as follows: 3 cups of warm water, 1 and a half packets yeast, 1 tbsp kosher salt, and 6 and a half cups of flour. Dissolve the yeast and salt in the water, then add the flour, mix and let sit for like 3 hours, then bake, or store in the fridge overnight. You can read more about the specifics of the recipe here at Global Gourmet.

(Note: Three hours followed by overnight is not five minutes, but I will grant you, the mixing part did not take long).

So the next day, I got up, (showered, got dressed, read the front page of the Wall Street Journal, checked my email, went to the cleaners), put my breadstone in the oven to preheat to 450 degrees, put my broiler pan in there too, so it would be ready to take the water to create steam, and then I shaped a grapefruit-sized ball of dough out of my refrigerated mixture, and placed it, with corn meal, on a pizza peel that I also got at Bed Bath and Beyond, specifically for this occasion. Then you have to let it rest for 40 minutes. Not five minutes, 40 minutes. How are people supposed to do this thing in five minutes a day if they don't work at home?

Anyway, I digress.

After the dough had rested and risen a bit again, it was time to bake. I carefully used my fancy pizza peel to place the dough on the breadstone, then added a cup of hot water to the broiler pan and tried to quickly close the oven door, as per directions, to trap the steam. Then I ran out of the house screaming as the smoke alarms in my house went on, upstairs and downstairs, due to the "steam." Nice.

Anyway, the bread was supposed to take about 30 minutes, and I should have left it in a little longer, perhaps 40 o 45, to really get a brown on the loaf. But the taste was pretty good. I think Alexander will like it a lot.

But it did NOT take 5 minutes.

Artisan Bread In Five Minute A Day on Foodista