Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spanakopita Strudel

Spanakopita is a traditional Greek dish that is made by stuffing pastry dough (usually filo) with a spinach and feta mixture. The dish has always appealed to me because I love spinach but the feta usually scared me away. I can handle feta in small doses in salad but too much of it is overwhelming. Something inspired me to make this for the Melave Malka in strudel form as opposed to the traditional triangular pockets and when I made the mixture I started to get nervous that the feta would just be too overpowering. So, I was so pleasantly surprised when it was such a big hit and that when I tasted it myself the feta just blended in so well with the spinach and was tamed a little by the pastry and all together made a spectacularly delicious strudel. I know some people are scared to work with filo so for those of you that fall into that category you can just use puff pastry but I think you lose something by not having those beautiful thin and crispy layers of dough. Filo is actually much less intimidating then it seems, it just requires a gentle hand and a wet cloth to keep the layers moist as you go but otherwise I find it to be quite forgiving  because I think the little cracks in the dough just add to its visual appeal. So I say give it a try and this dish would be a great beginners filo project. Enjoy!

8 sheets filo dough
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
28 oz or 800 grams frozen leaf spinach, drained and chopped
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs 

Saute the onion with garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach and mix. Let the mixture cool and then mix in the cream cheese, feta and bread crumbs. The mixture should NOT be loose so add more bread crumbs if it is. Taste the mixture and season if need be. Lay one sheet of filo down on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover the rest with a damp paper towel while you work. Brush the filo with some melted butter and top with another layer. Repeat until you have used 4 layers. Place half of the mixture down the long side of the dough leaving about an inch at each end for folding. Fold the top and bottom over the mixture and then roll, burrito style until the dough is finished. Brush the top with butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Bake at 350 until golden- about half an hour. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sesame Crusted Seared Tuna with Wasabi- Soy Dipping Sauce

I have to admit that I have never been a fan of fresh tuna. I love the canned stuff (how un-gourmet of me) but as many times as I try it I just don't love the fresh stuff, maybe it has something to do with my aversion to steak since people say they are similar in texture. Of course, when I say I don't love it it doesn't mean I won't EAT it, it just isn't what I would pick off a menu. That being said, I am always impressed when I see it in a restaurant, a perfect sear, the pink flesh, it really is a thing of beauty. Now, while I am not the biggest fan, my husband loves the stuff and so I decided to make it for him as an appetizer for our anniversary meal. The key is to not overcook it so that it is still pink in the middle and to me the sesame crust is crucial for texture and flavor. I served it with a slightly spicy Wasabi dipping sauce and I have to say, not too bad at all. I mean, I won't be making this all the time (the pricey fish being another reason) but I actually kind of enjoyed the three bites I took. So, if you love tuna, this is a great dish to make that is sure to impress your guests (or your grateful husband.) Enjoy!

2 Ahi Tuna steaks
1 Tbl sesame oil
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
salt and pepper
3 Tbl oil
On a plate mix the sesame seeds together with salt and pepper. Brush the tuna with the sesame oil and coat them with the seeds. Heat the oil till VERY hot and add the tuna, searing for about  11/2 minutes on each side or until you see the seeds are toasted.

For the Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbl Wasabi powder
2 Tbl honey
1 Tbl sesame oil

Whisk all together and serve with the tuna.
                                                                  A thing of beauty...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Braised Goose in Red Wine Reduction

When I was growing up my mother used to make duck for special occasions. It was one of her delicacies, delicious and tender and bathed in a sweet apricoty sauce and we all looked forward to it and enjoyed every speck of it when it was served. Till this day when I go back to visit I hope that her duck will be on the menu. Duck has a distinct game-y taste that is unique but not too overwhelming like other game meat can taste and is very rich and fatty. I remember once instead of making duck my mother tried the same recipe but with goose. A tad bit drier but still meltingly delicious and so when I came across goose legs in the supermarket I knew I would need to make them for our special meal. I decided to take a different route in cooking them- instead of cooking them in a sweet sauce, I braised them in a rich red wine sauce that infused the goose with incredible flavor and color and added some dried plums to the sauce as well for a little sweetness. Served over dumplings to catch the sauce this dish was heavenly. I don't think I'll be able to wait for our next anniversary to make these again! Enjoy!

2 Goose (or Duck) Bottoms, halved
3 Tbl olive oil
1 large leek (or onion), chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of your knife but not chopped
1/2 cup good dry red wine
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dried plums, halved
1 tsp brown sugar

In a heavy bottomed and oven proof pot (like a dutch oven) heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the goose with salt and pepper and place skin side down in the pot. Cook until a lot of fat renders off and the skin is golden brown. Turn the goose over and cook another 2 minutes. Remove the goose from the pot and drain off all but 1-2 Tbls of the fat. Add the leek, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot and cook over medium heat until the leek is translucent all the while scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the wine, stock, thyme, plums and brown sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the goose back in, cover tightly with the lid and place in a 350 degree oven. Cook for about 2 hours or until the goose if fork tender. Remove the goose and skim the fat off the sauce. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Anniversary Menu II

Last year for our 6th anniversary I decided to make a delicious restaurant quality meal at home. It was such a success that I decided to do it again this year but going a totally different route in terms of menu. Firstly, instead of dairy I chose a meat meal and as I browsed in the supermarket for something special and unique to make to celebrate this milestone I came across some goose and knew right away that I would be making it. If goose isn't readily available you can use duck and you can even use chicken with this recipe but the goose was just the perfect unusual main dish for this meal.  It was succulent and bursting with rich wine flavor and we savored every bite! After we ate we tried to calculate how much the meal would have cost us in a fancy restaurant- somewhere around 600 shekel!! And it only cost us about 150 shekel to make! Now that makes for a happy anniversary! Stay tuned for the posting of the rest of the recipes from this at home gourmet experience!

Wine: Merlot
Fresh Ciabetta Bread with Olive Tapenade
Appetizer: Sesame Seared Tuna with Ginger Wasabi Dipping Sauce
Main: Braised Goose in Red Wine Reduction
Grilled Garlic Portabello Mushrooms
Roasted Broccoli with Toasted Pine nuts
Dessert: Fruit Trifle


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Double Peanut Butter Crunch Smores Bars

I should charge for this recipe, that's just how good it is. It is the perfect indulgence, a great combination of so many classic and delicious dessert flavors- smores, peanut butter, chocolate, marshmellows- and textures- creamy, crunchy and pillowy. I have since served it to three different sets of guests with the same delighted reaction each time and I plan on making it over and over again. To me, this is the ultimate bar dessert and the best part was that it was so easy to make! Of course it is also a play on Smores, the campfire favorite so you get to eat it and be nostalgic at the same time. So go on, make a pan or two or three and be generous and try to save some for your guests :). Enjoy!

For the bottom layer:
32 graham crackers or tea biscuits, crumbed in a food processor or by hand
6 Tbl  (3/4 cup) margarine or butter
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 cups mini marshmallows (or the equivalent of regular marshmallows, chopped)

Melt the margarine and peanut butter together. Mix in crumbs and sugar and press into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the marshmallows all over and bake in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes or so until the marshmallows just start to toast.

For the Topping:
2 cups chocolate chips
2/3 cup corn syrup
3 Tbl margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups rice crispies

Combine chips, corn syrup and margarine and melt. Stir in peanut butter and crisps and spread gently over the marshmallow layer. Refrigerate or freeze bars until firm.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Salad with Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette

Winter is the season of weight gain. This is not just my self observation it's actually fact. People on average gain about 4 pounds during the winter! Whether we eat more to keep warm, or because we are bored, or because there is less outdoor exercise or because of Chanukah (gained 4 pounds on Chanukah alone!), or because our bodies subconsciously think we still are going to hibernate for the winter- those pounds find their way every winter. It doesn't help that we (we meaning I)wear layers and bulky sweaters and sweatshirts with lots of room in them so we (I, again) don't feel the weight creeping on. This tirade was not to make you run to the scale or make you (me) put down the chocolate covered oreo, rather it's to guilt you into making this salad. Not too much guilt should be needed though because this salad rocks. It's crunchy, and sweet and tangy and I want to eat it all day long (after I finish my oreo) and I think the colorfulness of it helps to beat the winter blues. So eat lots of this salad and others but if you are anything like me who has no chance against the winter four, then just be glad that spring is only a few weeks away. Enjoy!

 2 heads Romaine Lettuce
2 firm but ripe pears, sliced thinly
3 persimmons, sliced thinly
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 red onion, sliced
candied almonds or pecans
3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (not pictures here)
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 shallot minced
4 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbl Dijon mustard (preferably whole grain)
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together and pour over salad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baked Eggplant Spaghetti

Sometimes it is just fun to eat spaghetti in different forms. This recipe is basically a version of baked ziti but with spaghetti, but what make it different is the crust. The crunchy, cheesy crust is what elevates this to deliciousness. Of course you can make this without the crust, but then this would only be plain old baked pasta so do yourself a favor, and don't leave out the crust. I added some fried eggplant into the pasta because there is nothing that fried eggplant cannot enhance and though the taste of the eggplant is subtle it adds good textural contrast. All in all, a simple dish that is pretty to serve, dishes up easily and is a welcome change to the traditional baked pasta. Enjoy!

1 lb spaghetti, broken in half and cooked
1 large eggplant, cubed
3 Tbl oil
4 cups marinara sauce
1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated parmesan
salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

For the topping:
1 cup  Panko (Japanese bread crumbs -super crunchy!!)
2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Fry the eggplant in the oil and set aside. In a large bowl mix the cooked spaghetti, marinara, ricotta, eggs and cheeses. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic and place in a  round glass dish. Sprinkle the topping all over ( you can double the topping if you want more crust) and bake in a 350 oven until the top is crispy- about half an hour.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pumpkin and Cream Cannaloni

My obsession with pumpkin continues! I'm on my third batch of puree and I'm still not sick of it! This dish was born from my pure unadulterated love for pumpkin coupled with my unwavering adoration of pasta. And let me tell you, my loves do not disappoint! The subtle sweetness of the pumpkin, not to mention its great thick texture combined with ricotta and perfectly baked pasta smothered with a Parmesan sauce all tied together with just a hint of traditional pumpkin spices is truly good eats. It's good enough to serve to company and just different enough to get oohs and aahhs. I was trying to remove the platter from the table to selfishly hoard some for leftovers but by the time I got there there was only one measly cannaloni left. I'll take that to mean I am not the only one who has been bewitched by pumpkin and pasta. Enjoy!

1 box cannaloni
1 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the pumpkin, cheeses and seasonings together. Using your finger, gently stuff the mixture into the raw canneloni making sure not to break them. 

For the Sauce:
1/4 cup butter
2 cups cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

In a saucepan melt the butter. Add the cream and milk and let it come to a simmer. Add the Parmesan and whisk until the mixture is thick. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Line the stuffed cannaloni in the pan and pour the rest of the sauce over it making sure all the pasta is covered. Bake at 350 or about 45 minutes until the pasta is tender and the sauce has started to brown.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Melava Malka Menu II

Here is the menu from a recent Melava Malka I hosted- lots of recipes to follow! A make your own pizza bar is a great idea for entertaining-  Set up a pizza making station at your table by lining an area with parchment paper dusted with flour. Make pizza dough and set out lots of cheeses, sauces and toppings and have your guests make their own pizza! It's a fun, hands on activity and everyone wins because everyone gets to eat the kind of pizza they like.  While the pizzas are baking they can start eating all the other good stuff you have for them so they are not hungrily waiting by the oven for their creations!

Cocktail: Spiked Fruit Punch
Pizza Bar
Pumpkin and Cream Cannaloni
Spanakopita Strudel
Herbed Salmon Fillet
Winter Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
Crudite with Green Goddess Dip
Dessert: Chocolate Swirl Cheese Cake
             Double Peanut Butter Crunch Smores Bars

And here are some of the pics (all taken at night with less than ideal lighting...)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie EVER

My apologies to Tollhouse, Hershey's, Mrs. Fields and Paskesz but this IS the best chocolate chip cookie EVER. I consider myself to be a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur, my qualifications being that I have tasted hundreds of chocolate chip cookies in my lifetime and being that the chocolate chip cookie is my favorite cookie, I am very picky about the ones I will eat. I know there is some controversy about what the texture of a CCC should be, I personally am in the chewy camp and will not waste my time or calories on the crispy ones (I'm quite a CCC snob as well apparently.) Now that you have my CCC resume you must believe me when I say that these are quite simply the best chewy CCC a.k.a CCCC there is. There are two secrets in this recipe that makes it so- the first is that the dough rests for at least 24 hours ( a recipe that forces you to prepare in advance- gotta love it!) which allows the sugars and fat to mingle and produce an almost caramelly butterscotchy flavor and the second which is not so much only for this recipe as it is for all CCC recipes is to take them out BEFORE you think they are done, when they still look a little raw to you which will result in the perfect chewy texture. Now, I must give credit where credit is due, especially for such perfection- these cookies are a recipe from the New York Times (don't stone me, I don't subscribe) and are based on a Jacques Torres (read: king of everything chocolate) recipe that has already crashed websites in its popularity that I have adapted. I promise you they are worth the wait and every bite you will take will be sheer joy. Simply, CCCC heaven.

3 2/3 cup minus 2 Tbsp flour (the original recipe calls for a mix of cake and bread flour but I just use regular)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 sticks butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup  plus 2 Tbsp white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups chocolate chunks

Mix together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a mixer cream together the butter and sugars until light and golden about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time mixing until well incorporated. Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients gradually mixing until just combined without over mixing.  Fold in the chocolate and cover the bowl and refrigerate AT LEAST 24 hours- I often let the dough sit for 36 hours. Remove from refrigerator  and scoop into balls on a parchement lined  and bake for about 8 minutes until they look almost cooked but a little raw. Remove and cool.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chinese Orange Chicken

I've been seeing recipes for this chicken in the blogosphere for a while now each one talking about how it reminded them exactly of the orange chicken they used to get at their local Chinese restaurants. Now, I was no stranger to Chinese restaurants growing up but I don't think I ever came across anything called Orange Chicken because had I, I would have gotten it all the time. I love Chinese food and I love oranges so the combo is a winning match for me but I guess the Jewish Chinese haunts stick to the basics and so I have been deprived of this deliciousness my whole life. I made this chicken on Chanukah using the excuse that it is practically a mitzvah to eat fried food and though this chicken does admittedly take a little while to make there seems to be some unspoken rule that everything one makes on Chanukah needs to be a patchka so it seemed like the perfect time. The crispy little nuggets of chicken coated with the orange zest and ginger flecked satiny sauce was just the perfect Chinese dish for me and literally took my breath away (my hand got a little carried away with the red pepper flakes.) Definitely a keeper and definitely worth ever minute in front of the stove-Enjoy!

For the Marinade and Sauce:
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast tenders, or whole breasts sliced
3/4 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
6 Tbl rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbl + 2 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbl cold water

Combine the stock, juice, zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes in a sauce pan and whisk just to desolve the sugar. Let the marinade cool slightly and take 1/2 a cup of it and put it in a ziplock with the chicken. Let the chicken marinate for 1/2 an hour. Bring the rest of the marinade to a boil. Mix the cornstarch and water and whisk into the boiled marinade until the sauce becomes thick and velvety.

For Frying:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbl sesame seeds
canola oil

Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk till frothy. On a plate mix together the cornstarch, flour and sesame seeds. Coat the chicken in the egg then the flour mixture twice. Fry the pieces in oil until crispy and light golden brown. Alternatively you can bake the chicken pieces in a 450 degree oven on a sheet pan that has heated oil on it.
Mix the chicken with the sauce and serve.

Still no clue how to rotate....


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Banana Cream Pie

Yum, Yum, Yum, Yum, Yum. No other adjectives come to mind, except Yum. Delicious home-made vanilla pudding layered on top of ripe bananas that sit on a graham cracker crust all topped with vanilla scented whip cream- YUMMMMM! 
If you are a banana fan, if you are a pie fan, if you are a pudding fan or if you just want to eat something that will make your taste buds feel like they are in heaven- then this pie is for you! I made homemade pudding for this and I think it really added to the taste but you can also use instant vanilla pudding for this. I happened to have a graham crust sitting in my house but you can also make your own from either graham crackers or tea biscuits. Either way, this pie is pretty low maintenance by dessert standards and worth every single, delicious, banana-y calorie. Enjoy!

1 9 inch graham crust
3/4 cups sugar
3 Tbl cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk, or rice milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 Tbl margarine or butter
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 ripe bananas

In a sauce pan combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add milk gradually while stirring. Cook over medium heat till bubbly and cook another two minutes constantly stirring and then remove from heat.  Add a little hot mixuture into the beaten eggs to temper them and then immediately add yolks to sauce pan. Cook two more minutes stirring the whole time. Mixture will be thick and glossy. Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla.  Slice the bananas and layer them on the bottom of the pie crust. Top with the pudding and bake at 350 for 10 minutes for the pudding to set.  Top with whipped cream and enjoy!