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Archive for June, 2009

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…on Cooking Manager, a great new blog about efficiently managing your kitchen resources and time. My post is all about chickpeas.

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A reader (“Q”) left a question on my How To Make Light Sourdough post. As her dough didn’t double in size, should she have added some fresh yeast?

My answer was so long it turned into this post.

I don’t advise boosting the sourdough starter with commercial yeast. That’s because I’m a sourdough snob. Commercial bakers sometimes add fresh yeast in order to schedule rising and baking times predictably, but for the home baker, the whole idea is to use the time-proven sourdough method to create a delicious loaf in her/his own kitchen.

My feeling is, if there’s commercial yeast, it’s not real sourdough. But like I said, I’m a snob. Who cares if it’s “real” or not except for yourself? For me, using sourdough is like having captured the soul of the wheat. But people eating the bread just want it to be satisfying and taste good.

There are several streams of thought. Some home bakers just want bread with that sourdough tang and don’t mind mixing yeasts. (I also make certain breads using “old leaven” or a “chef” – a small ball of dough from a previous baking that’s been left to mature and sour.) Some must cater to someone who’s allergic to fresh yeast but tolerates sourdough. Some seek the satisfaction of mastering a basic wild ingredient and getting great natural  flavor, texture, and digestibility. There is so much beautiful bread to make – my best advice is to go with what seems appetizing to you, master that technique, and go on to the next intriguing recipe.

But returning to “Q”‘s problem with a non-riser.

Was your starter recently refreshed and active? And did the sponge become light and spongey? If the answer is no to either question, there might not have been enough yeast to make the dough rise. An inactive starter might look impressive because there’s a lot of it, but it won’t do its job if most of the yeast cells in it are dead.

An alternative reason for a sad dough might might be insufficient flour to keep the yeast fermenting. If the dough was too sloppy to handle, you did the right thing in adding flour. If you’re outside of Israel, your flour will have a different quality than mine, and your recipe will need to be adjusted. In other words, from country to country, flours differ in ability to absorb water. There are other differences too, but that’s outside the scope of this post. Like every living thing, wild yeasts  need nutrients: the sugars in the flour, and oxygen. So with a very loose dough, you could either allow more time for it to rise – hard to say how long, but it could be several more hours – or sprinkle in more flour till you have a pliable, responsive dough.

Where was your dough rising – in a warm environment or a cool one? Too cold an environment will retard the fermentation of the dough, which can be desirable sometimes (allowing it to rise overnight in the fridge) – or not, if you’ve set a schedule.

It does take practice to create a good sourdough loaf. If you haven’t grown up watching Mom or Big Sis handle sourdough, you’ll need to acquire the feeling for the right temperatures, rising times, feel of the dough – by practice. Here’s a tip, though: the way you can tell if your dough will rise is by judging its feel under your hands. A good dough will feel tender yet firm, keeping its shape and even springing back a little under fingertip pressure, right from the beginning. A “loser” stretches out in broad ribbons and just flops back into the bowl; it feels heavy and dead.

If you’re unsure, add fresh yeast, I guess…but don’t put any into your sourdough starter, for it will “fight” with the natural yeasts and beneficial bacteria, spoiling it.

There’s so much sourdough wisdom out there it’s positively intimidating. But here, here, and here are a few of my favorite sourdough sites. Read through, choose your own way, and enjoy.

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Jam, clafoutis,  ice cream,  pie…visions of home made delicacies crammed with cherries floated through my mind as I searched my cookbooks for recipes. While I hesitated, the cherries sat in a bowl looking plump and juicy and radiating crimson sweetness. Everyone passing through the kitchen just had to pop a few of them into their mouths. Before they disappeared altogether, I pitted some for a cobbler.

My cobblers are usually a rich biscuit dough covered with hot fruit, but this recipe calls for batter spooned over the quickly-stewed fruit. We liked it.  It was just enough buttery, lightly sweet crust to offset the rich, juicy cherries. And being cobbler, it’s easy to make, quick to bake.

The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar. I could tell it would be too sweet for us. But if your cherries are tart or you just like your desserts very sweet, use the whole amount.  These Bing cherries were sweet so I halved the sugar, and the cobbler was very delicious.

Cherry Cobbler

Source: About.com southern food

Ingredients:

Filling:

4 cups of pitted cherries

3/4 cup sugar

3 Tblsp. corn starch

Dough:

1 cup flour

1 Tblsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 tablespoons margarine or butter

1/2 cup milk

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F – 200° C.

2. Cook the filling : in a medium pan, blend the sugar, corn starch,  and cherries. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture releases liquid, thickens, and starts to boil. Allow it to boil 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.

3. Make the dough: Blend all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the marg/butter and the milk. Stir till the fat has incorporated into the dough and you have a sloppy dough.

4. Pour the hot fruit into your pie dish or casserole.

5. Drop big spoonfuls of the dough onto the fruit – 6 spoonfuls is good because then you have 6 servings clearly outlined.

6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Serve warm, with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just plain (which is how we prefer it). Eat it up the same day or at the most by lunchtime the following day, as cobbler doesn’t keep well. If you must keep it overnight, stash it away in the fridge and heat it up next time, covered lightly with tin foil. Cool it down again to just warm, and serve right away.

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…another Israeli Kitchen/Baroness Tapuzina adventure.

Picking cherries is so easy. You just slip your fingers  between the stems, tug a little, and the dark crimson, heart-shaped fruit separates from the branch. It’s a sensuous delight, compared to say, picking hawthorns. Lots of shade, and all the sweet fruit you can pop into your mouth…better than a candy shop. Baroness Tapuzina, Mr. B.T., The Little One and I decided that we had to do it.

We set off on the long drive to Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, where their annual cherry-picking festival is taking place. For those interested, there will be two more pick-your-own Fridays on Rosh Tzurim on June 26th and July 3rd.  It was a long, dry drive to Gush Etzion, but we were well equipped with picnic fare and lots of water bottles.

Arriving, we found a shady spot and spread our blankets down to picnic first, pick later.

Just ordinary picnic food: the most elaborate dish was a quiche of Swiss chard and mushrooms.

Hunger satisfied, we packed up the remains of our simple picnic and headed down to the orchard, following the crowd.

The trees and paths between them were hung with netting to keep the birds off the cherries. It was a blazingly hot day, and the net covering made you feel stifled at first.

But the pickers were happy. One good thing about the netting was that there were no bird droppings on the fruit, just a little dust. The cutest was how the little kids got so excited over picking real cherries off real trees. Indulgent Moms and Dads hoisted tots onto their shoulders and pulled branches closer; bigger kids scampered around pulling off whatever they could reach.  We even caught a rare glimpse of The Nymph in the Glade…

…sometimes also known as Mr. Baroness T.

A lot of English was heard there: British and Americans, and some French families too. It was a peaceful mixed crowd of religious, secular, Israeli, foreign – all intent on the cherries. We stopped at the trees bearing Bing cherries. Other pickers ventured further into the netted orchard and emerged with boxes full of Rainiers. There’s no comparison to the taste of fruit popped into the mouth seconds after picking and their taste after being boxed, shipped, and bought a day or three later. So fresh, so sweet and yet slightly tart, so delicious.

Our baskets filled up very quickly, standing as we were under a couple of loaded trees. But it really was hot under the netting – although possibly it would have been hotter under the full sun. We took our treasure back up to the festival grounds and browsed the stands of local artists and food suppliers.

There were framed photographs…

…ceramics…

…olive oil…

…goat’s cheese…

…books, as it’s Hebrew Book Month…

…cotton candy…

…one of those inflated castles for the kids to jump around on – what are they called?…

…necklaces containing a grain of rice with your name engraved on it…The Little One couldn’t rest until she had one…

…a truck taking folks on a tour of the kibbutz…

But what delighted me was the band, who were playing a smooth, flowing run of Cole Porter songs overlaid with a Jazz/Latin flavor. I embarrassed The Little One to death by singing along as we wandered over the grounds – don’t know if she’ll ever willingly hear “Night and Day” again. But hey, the Bossa Nova riff in the middle of that old song was really good. Very easy to improvise vocal variations and scat over it. Good thing I’m still too modest to climb up on stage and take the microphone; that would have killed her.

It was delightful. Cherries and kids. Live music and food.

We left, saying we’d be back next week – well, maybe. I’m not really sure what to do with all the luscious cherries I have on hand now. I have a feeling that my next few posts will feature them.

Driving away, we saw an entire hillside shrouded in netting:

Baroness and Mr. B. took us home and stopped in for a cup of coffee. They had done the driving and the guiding and were in need of caffeine to finish their Shabbat cooking. I also rushed to pop a chicken in the oven, heat up soup and a potato kugel, wash the lettuce…but that night, all my dreams were of cherries.

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Sometimes I want a loaf that has only a little tang, one that’s much lighter than the typical sourdough loaf.  I get a SD bread that’s positively fluffy following these five steps:

1. Refresh your starter before making the dough. In other words, remove about half of the starter in your jar, and refresh it. Let it grow light and frothy. How long this takes varies on the kitchen temperature. In the summer, it takes about 1 1/2 hours for me.

Note: if your starter has been ignored in the fridge for a long time, it’s well to refresh it twice. That is, once the starter shows plenty of activity, throw out half again and start over. I hate dumping all that water and flour down the sink, but the results are a healthy, active starter with an aroma that’s only a little sour. Of course you have to figure in the extra time when you refresh twice. Better to refresh your starter routinely so you don’t have to do this.

2. Remove 1 full cup from the refreshed starter and put it in your mixing bowl (and refresh the stuff in the original jar so you don’t run out next time). Most recipes calls for 1/2 cup of starter, but I think the full cup of sweet, active starter does the trick.

3. Make a sponge of the cupful of starter, 2 cups of water, and 3 cups of flour. Nothing else. Cover it with plastic and let it rise till very light and bubbly: around 8 hours. Basically what you’re doing is creating a big batch of new starter. It isn’t dough yet.

4. Then stir it down and add the rest of the flour and other ingredients. Knead or stretch and fold, shape into boules. Now you have dough.

5. Let it rise again till light – maybe 3 hours – and bake in a preheated 350° F – 180° C.

So that’s what I did.

Sourdough Walnut Herb Bread.

2 round loaves

At step 4, I added:

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 Tblsp. olive oil

1 Tblsp. salt

1/2 Tblsp. sugar

A few grinds of black pepper. If shaking pepper out of a jar, add 1/4 tsp.

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried, crumbled oregano

1 large, finely-chopped scallion: about 3 Tblsp. You can substitute onion or 1 large clove minced garlic.

- and stretched and folded till everything was incorporated.  I added maybe another 1/2 cup of flour,

sprinkling along till the dough was just firm enough to manipulate. Shaped my boules.

At step 5 I brushed the boules with an egg mixed with 1 Tblsp. cold water and sprinkled coarse salt all over them.  Then I carefully slid them into the hot oven and waited.

The loaves were so light that they took only about 25 minutes to bake.

Tender crumb, delicate herb/onion flavor, and the salty crust…well, it was all very delicious. In fact, irresistible. Especially eaten while still warm, with a film of good butter over each slice. I had some creamy goat’s cheese that was quite, er, aromatic - also very good. Of course the flavors develop as the bread cools and it’s better to eat it cold…but who could wait?

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I had only vague guidelines to make this salad as Adir gave them to me. The lentils I had in the freezer were a different kind, too – smaller and browner. What the heck, I made the salad. And while it had to be different from the one I tasted in Rosh Pina, it was pretty good.  The citrusy herbal dressing softly offset the earthiness of the lentils, and sautéed onions added a pleasant texture and taste. I’d serve it as part of a mezze or make a summer meal out of it with hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers on the side. Pitta, too, of course. Cheese, if you please.

Apart from tasty, the salad is packed with protein and fiber and is free eating for vegetarians, lactose-intolerant folks, or those who must eat gluten-free.

Lentil Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup dried lentils

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. salt and more to taste

1 onion

olive oil

Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 orange

1  tsp. sugar

1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint

1 large clove garlic

Method:

1. Pick over and rinse the lentils. Put them in a medium pan with the water and the bay leaf.

2. Simmer till the lentils are tender, but don’t overcook and let them lose their shape. Depending on the age and variety, this may take from 1/2 – 1 hour. Add salt only when they’re just underdone – cooked, but not quite done. Stir.

3. When tasting proves that the lentils are cooked through, drain them of excess water and allow them to cool. Remove the bay leaf.

4. While the lentils are cooling, chop the onion and sauté it till translucent in a little olive oil. Set aside.

5. Blend all the dressing ingredients in a blender. Pour the dressing over the cooled lentils; stir the onions in.

6. Cover and put aside for 1 hour before serving. Even better, leave it in the fridge overnight and serve the next day.

Filling, nutritious, and tasty. Hard to improve on.

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This week I took one of my periodical trips up north, and stopped for a while in the quiet village of Rosh Pina. It looks sleepy but for the new commercial center just off Route 90, at the entrance to the town. There are the usual historical sites, of course; beautiful views and attractive eateries everywhere, as well as wonderful rural B&Bs. On the whole it looks like a one-day stopover for tourists, conveniently set at a Western Galilee crossroads for access to the host of attractions the region offers. But look around carefully – pick up some brochures – there’s a world of art and artisanal manufacture going on in Rosh Pina. This site shows some – each category has descriptions and photos of northern small businesses.

The Old Town has an atmosphere mixed of history and artist’s colony.  I like the mysterious stone houses that peer at the street from their screens of  trees and flowers.

Big bass chimes in front of the wind-chime store sound a curiously solemn, reverberating note as the breeze moves them. It makes me feel a little lonely.

But I recover my good humor viewing a nearby house whimsically covered in clocks of all sizes.  I take my time on the cobblestone streets and wind up sitting in Baron Rothchild’s hilltop garden to breathe the cool air and let my mind empty out.

Eventually my stomach starts feeling empty, too, so I make my way downhill to Pinat Ochel.  It’s a small restaurant set in a house built by the Ottomans, who ruled in Israel from 1516 to 1917 (with a few interruptions from Napoleon and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt). The British conquered Ottoman rule here in 1917 and used the solid stone structure as the regional Customs House.

You walk in and see bunches of thyme hung up on the walls to dry,

and local honey for sale.

Here’s Adir, the owner.

He told me that the building has housed a restaurant since 1967. Looking for a new business enterprise about six years ago, he took over ownership of Pinat Ochel and made it kosher.

“The menu is what has evolved in Israeli home cooking,” Adir said. “Some of the dishes I brought from my Tunisian family’s traditional cuisine, and some are just popular Israeli foods. We get a lot of tourists buying take-away for meals at their B&Bs. On Fridays we turn the whole place into a buffet.”

There are more sophisticated restaurants in town, but I like the simple, generous, home-style cooking at Pinat Ochel. The food is always fresh and tasty; the atmosphere is old-fashioned and busy; and everything is very clean. Prices are popular, too, and that’s because all the ingredients are locally grown or raised.

When I was visited, there was chicken in sauce, grilled breast of chicken, peppers stuffed with rice and ground meat, liver in sauce, farfel, potatoes, zucchini.

Other times the menu has varied some; I guess it depends on what’s available that day. There’s a good salad bar featuring the colorful, flavor-packed greens so beloved to the Mediterranean palate.  Salads of lentils, cabbages, carrots, eggplants, beets, tabouli, techinah, choummous…

So I filled a plate with salads first.

I chose stuffed peppers afterwards,

and then had room only for an espresso.

I particularly liked the lentil salad.

Adir gave me a real down-home style recipe for it: cook the lentils, blend herbs and spices with olive oil and lemon juice, and pour the dressing over the lentils. Add some fried onions. Hm. Looks like I’ll have to make this at home today. I’ll post the results.

Lunch over, I stepped outside and stopped to admire an old eucalyptus tree planted around with flowers and the herbs people here love to steep in their tea: mint and rue.

I’ll be visiting again.

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The problem with summer’s delectable soft fruits is that they spoil before you can blink. Cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, the short-lived berries…they’ll last longer stored in the fridge, but their flavor deteriorates. So I was looking at a bowlful of mixed fruit and thinking that they wouldn’t last before they get eaten. My usual strategy is to freeze neglected ripe fruit and make a summer wine when about 3 kg. have accumulated. But we’re moving house in August; not a good summer for homebrewing this year. I’ve made all the jams, chutneys and liqueurs that I want.

Then I remembered: fruit soup. It’s quickly made and depending on the amount of sugar, serves either as a first course or as dessert. Really welcome in hot weather. Everyone likes it, little people spooning it up as eagerly as the big folks.

This is what you do:

Fruit Soup

makes 5-6 cups

Ingredients:

4 cups fresh summer stone fruit: I had cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches.

2 cups water

For a dessert: 1 cup sugar and a cinnamon stick

For a first course: 1/2 cup sugar and a strip of orange peel

1 1/2 tsp. corn starch – or use up some of that leftover Passover potato starch

Method:

1. Pit the apricots and peaches.  Check the cherries first for bumps and dimples that may indicate worms, and discard any suspicious-looking fruit. If you’re still concerned about worms, pit them by all means. The plums are difficult to pit and a lot of their juice gets lost in the messy process, so leave them alone.

Note: When measuring, try to cram in as much fruit as you into the corners of the measuring cup without squashing it.

2. Put the water in a pan. Add the fruit and orange peel/cinnamon stick; simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Add the sugar and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Simmer another 5 minutes. Turn off the flame and cover the pan.

4. Ladle some of the liquid  into a cup and allow it cool. When it’s just only warm, mix the corn starch into it. Mix very well and add it to the pan. Stir gently again.

5. When the soup is cool, refrigerate it. Serve cold, plain for a meat meal or topped with plain whipped cream for a dairy dessert. It’s delicious plain, actually, and of course if omitting the cream, it’s also fat-free.

Another note: Don’t use apples or melons in fruit soup as those will go mushy right away and make your soup look like applesauce. If you have to, though, add them just after the sugar and steam them lightly on top of everything else.

Here and here are more recipes, using different fruit. And this article might amuse you.


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“Wait till you see what Mami made,” I heard my husband tell the Little One. He’d seen the corn muffins cooling off on the kitchen table.

Corn is in season now. I like to buy it still in the husk to steam, cut off from the cob,  and mix up a colorful corn salad. Or get fancy with a soufflé. When it’s not just eaten on the cob, with butter. But lately I’ve been using up my fresh corn in these tender, kernel-studded cornbread muffins. My family likes to eat them at breakfast.

Fresh-Corn Muffins

Enough for 12 conventional-sized muffins or 6 large ones.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow corn meal

2 Tblsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

A few grinds of black pepper, or a pinch of cayenne

2/3 cup buttermilk

3 Tblsp. oil

1 egg

2/3 cup cooked corn kernels cut off the cob – about 1 ear of corn. You may, of course use canned corn (but it’s never as good).

Method:

Preheat the oven to 450° F., 250° C.

1. Grease your muffin till very well.

2. Take a large bowl and in it, blend the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper.

3. In a smaller bowl, blend buttermilk, oil, and egg.

4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the liquid mix into it, stirring gently till everything is just blended. Don’t overstir; that will make a tough muffin. That’s a thing we all wish to avoid.

5. Mix the corn kernels in, gently.

6. Fill the muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are uniformly golden brown.

7. All the muffins to cool 5 minutes, then lift them out of the cups – run a knife between the muffin and the cup to loosen it up if you have to – and set them on a rack to cool.

Very good to eat when warm, with a little butter or some cheese on the side.

My old, favorite cornbread recipe is one I’ve baked dozens of times – and it’s here on the blog, but there’s a glitch with the link. To find the recipe, do a search for “cornbread” and it’ll appear together with a post titled “Mama’s Little Babies Love Za’atar on Bread.”

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