Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Go-to pizza toppings

These are some pizzas I made over Sukot, using the same dough I always use.  The pizzas tasted great, as all pizza does, but I'm far from satisfied with my crust.  I have long since ceased baking pizzas directly on my small round stone; the only way to avoid the invariable burning mess (when part of the pizza dangles over the stone) is to make unacceptably tiny pizzas.  Instead, I form the crust on a thin aluminum sheet, and bake that on the stone.  It's a method that seems to be getting worse with time, and I've reached the point where the crusts barely browns at all underneath.  The culprit may be oven temperature, or aluminum's heat capacity, or even soft Israeli flour.  I'm sure a good baking steel would solve my problems, but I don't know where to get one here and probably couldn't afford it anyway...

But I digress.  Here are some tasty pizzas:

Mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.  Classic.  I went with the little balls of מוצרלה בייבי, a slight upgrade from theגבינת עמק on all the rest of the pizzas.  You can taste the difference, but only just.  The basil was fresh from the gahhden.

Carmelized onions, גבינת עמק, thyme, a dash of balsamic vinegar.  No tomato sauce.

טבעול veggie burgers sliced thin, fried in olive oil until crispy and seasoned with hot paprika.  גבינת עמק, tomato sauce.  Use Morningstar burgers in the US.

Mushroom pie.  Can't beat it.

Root Vegetable Soup

Around here we play a little game with the produce in the fridge.  It's called What's Gonna Go Bad Next?  The object of the game is to spot vegetables that look the most vulnerable to extended fridge time, and then make dinner out of them.  What are we going to do with that half bag of spinach?  We should REALLY use those zucchinis soon.  Ooooh, the cucumbers went bad.  Again.  (What is it with cucumbers?)

Sometimes, though, the game gets tiring.  For those times, it's good to make dinners like this one.  See, all the ingredients in this soup - onions, carrots, potatoes, and squash - are all things that we can count on having around and not going belly-up all of a sudden (although the carrots eventually get rubbery, which is the weirdest thing ever).

Besides the vegetables listed above, the soup was seasoned with chicken soup mix, pepper, garlic, and some paprika.  We like chicken soup mix, but you could probably get away without it if you don't want to use it, especially if you throw in a more aromatic root like parsnip.

Oh, and this soup is really good with pita chips like the one pictured above.  Just split some pita, cut into wedges, spray with some oil and season with salt and pepper before broiling in the oven.  Don't let them burn.

Friday, December 21, 2012


From everything I'd ever read about kimchi, it sounded like the best thing I've never tried - pickled cabbage seasoned with salt, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, chili pepper, and unholy amounts of garlic.  Actually, when I put it like that it sounds like heartburn, but still delicious.

Alas, our local שופרסל does not sell kimchi.  But I kind of wanted to make it myself anyway.  To do so, I used a recipe from Modernist Cuisine.  (It's kind of pathetic, but after having owned the book for over a year and a half, this might be the first actual recipe I've tried from it.  It's still an amazing book, but I use it more for reading and inspiration).  The recipe:

Sugar 75g
Salt 22g
Napa cabbage 825g
Garlic 100g
Fish sauce 65g
Light soy sauce 62g
Chili powder 48g
Scallions 37g
Ginger 25g
Carrot 30g
Dried salted shrimp 7g

Like all recipes, though, I had to make some changes.  It called for napa cabbage, which I couldn't get.  שופרסל online was selling something called כרוב סיני, so I ordered that.  When it arrived, I realized it was bok choy.  After a little Googling, I decided that bok choy wouldn't make good kimchi, and opted to go with plain cabbage instead.

Dried shrimp had to go, of course, but I did have the fish sauce!  This is quite an achievement, as it's very hard to find kosher fish sauce.  מזרח-מערב on Agripas in Jerusalem has it, as may other branches of this store.  The stuff kind of reeks, and Rachel once ran out of the room gagging when I tried cooking with it.  This might explain why not many have bothered making it in kosher form...

The first step was to combine the salt with 30g of the sugar, and rub down the cabbage.  I messed up and mixed the salt with ALL the sugar and rubbed down the cabbage:

Then, you let the cabbage sit in the fridge for 12 hours, after which you drain it, and mix it up with the rest of the ingredients (including the rest of the sugar).  I sort of compensated by throwing in a random amount of sugar.

Then you prep all the other stuff.  Side note - 100g of garlic is A LOT OF GARLIC.  Several heads.  Lots of garlic pressing.

Here's what it looked like to rub this mess onto the cabbage:

And here's all the cabbage, rubbed up and packed into a jar:

Then, all that's left to do is let it ferment for 24 weeks.


Did I read that correctly?  24 weeks?  Are they insane?

Ha ha!  Turns out, there's a typo in my Modernist Cuisine cookbooks and it says 24 weeks instead of 2-4 weeks.  Good one, MC!

After about 3 weeks, we started eating it by itself:

Or sometimes with noodles:

My conclusion: kimchi is good stuff.  The cabbage stays crunchy, like sauerkraut.  Also like sauerkraut, it has an acidic touch to it.  And, it goes without saying, the stuff is knock-your-socks-off spicy and pungent.  A real punch in the mouth.

Therein, however, lies a dilemma.  The kimchi has such a strong taste that we don't really eat it alone.  We've been told that kimchi goes best with meat, but a) it has fish sauce in it (and I assume that's a problem) and b) I stupidly cut all the vegetables with a dairy knife.  So we can't have it with meat, and we still have a bunch of it sitting in the fridge.

Anyway, I'm sure this is just the first stop on a lifelong voyage through the land of DIY kimchi.  But before making the next batch, I think I'll detour for a batch of sauerkraut...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shepherd's Pie

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who likes plane food.  Maybe the better question is: why do I like it?  Could the explanation be psychological?  I never flew on a plane at all until I was 13, and when I did, it was very exciting.  I actually still feel a small thrill of excitement every time, even though it's quickly outweighed by discomfort, impatience and occasional fury.  Perhaps my taste for plane food is related?  Or maybe there is a simpler explanation, such as the fact that plane food is heavily salted and spiced to compensate for a muted sense of smell and, consequently, taste (caused by intentionally dry airplane air - or so I read in the NY Times).

Either way, I always find my plane meal satisfactory, and occasionally even inspiring.  Such was the case after eating a shepherd's pie on a flight out of London; I simply had to make it, and sukot was the perfect opportunity.

Scholars debate whether shepherd's pie must have a bottom crust, but I chose to go without.  I made the filling in a large skillet.  First, two onions and two carrots got chopped and sauteed  with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika.  After a few minutes, in went a kilo of ground beef.  Once this was browned, in went a chopped package of white mushrooms, about a cup of red wine, and a healthy squirt of ketchup.  The whole thing was mixed together, and seasoned with fresh rosemary (though dried would work too), cooked down a bit, and scooped into a Pyrex.

The top contains 4 or 5 potatoes that were peeled, chopped, and boiled until soft, and then mashed with about half a stick of margarine and half a cup of soy milk, and seasoned with salt and pepper.  If I could do it again, I'd leave out the soy milk.  The idea was to make the potatoes creamy, but it also gave them a sweet soy milk taste.  I find Israeli potatoes are slightly sweet anyway, and the soy milk didn't help.  Once the topping is mashed and seasoned, it gets spread over the filling and put under the broiler.  Everything is already cooked; the point of the broiler is just to give some nice brown spots on top.

Oh, I also threw some cabbage into the filling, simply because I had some leftover from stuffed cabbage and couldn't think of anything else to do with it.  That's why I didn't mention it before.  You can do this with lots of things - spinach, broccoli, squash, celery, zucchini or pretty much any veggie would work.  When in doubt, toss it into the shepherd's pie.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage and Thumb Cookies

What would sukot be without stuffed cabbage?

I'm sure the stuffed cabbage haters of the world could come up with some snarky replies to that rhetorical question, but for the rest of us, the dish is an irreplaceable part of the suka experience.  Since nostalgia is the secret ingredient in stuffed cabbage, I took the recipe from my Ema, with no changes other than using purple cabbage for some of them (because how often do you get to cook purple?).

While I had Ema's recipe box open, I asked for the recipe for thumb cookies, too.  These are small, crumbly walnut coated cookies filled with jam that can usually be found at the Levinson estate around the chagim.  The name comes from the indentation you make with your thumb.  Once you eat one, it's impossible not to eat a second, but eating more than five in one sitting is just bad manners.

Fortunately for you readers, although I usually cannot be bothered to write out recipes in full, Ema saved me the work by doing so herself:

Stuffed Cabbage:

For each 1 pund of chopped beef:
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1 egg
 1 onion, grated
1 carrot grated
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup tomato sauce
water to cover

Combine chopped meat, rice and egg. Grate in onion and carrot. Blanch 10-12 cabbage leaves (I just do the whole cabbage in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then I use as many leaves as I can, sometimes even patching together pieces of leaves to cover the meatballs - I make them about 3" Iong, I think). 
Place them close together in a heavy frying pan, add the sauce and enough water to just cover. Cover tightly and cook over moderate heat for 30 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Bake in the oven 20 minutes at 350 to brown on top, turning once to brown under sides (I never bother to turn them). Hot water may be added in small quantities if necessary during the baking period (I never did that).   

Thumb Cookies*:

1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup chopped nuts (any kind you like)
1 cup flour (sifted)
pinch of salt
strawberry preserves

1) cream margarine and sugar.
2) add beaten yolk of egg
3) add salt and flour
4) Roll dough into balls 1"
5) dip in slightly beaten egg white
6) roll in nuts
7) make depression in center with finger
8) place on greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 8 min.,
9) remove sheet from oven and angain, press with finger (it has puffed up) , then bake for 10 min or until done
10) Place preserves on center of each cookie while still warm

*I double the recipe.  Also, instead of steps 8-10, I filled the raw cookie with jam, and just baked for about 20 minutes

Beet Soup

"Beets," she said.  "Let's make a beet soup."

What she didn't say, but what I knew, was that the soup couldn't taste like borscht.  I like borscht, and it's easy enough to make, but Rachel doesn't.  Borscht is cold and sweet, and she wanted something hot and not too sweet.  The soup should taste like beets, but not overwhelmingly so, we decided.  How in the world were we going to pull it off?  When added to a dish, beets have a way of making you forget about all the other ingredients, not always in a good way.

After sifting through some recipes she sent me, and a few more that I found myself, we agreed on the following course of action: put sliced beets (pre-cooked, vacuum sealed), onions, sweet potato, and carrot into a large roasting pan.  Pour over a glaze of honey, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper.  Roast until the thin edges just begin to blacken things, then dump into a large soup pot.  Add water, and puree with a stick blender until it looks like tomato sauce.  Taste.

When's the last time you tasted food that elicited an involuntary smile?  As soon as we tasted this soup, Rachel and I looked at each other for unspoken confirmation - did you just taste what I tasted?  Warm, smooth, thick, and sweet, of course, but not a one-dimensional sugary sweetness.  It was carmelized and savory, like the root vegetables within, all the while with the distinct beet flavor.  This soup was no borscht, and yet it was definitely beet soup.  We had succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

Restaurant Night: Salmon Teriyaki, Potatoes, Zucchini

If I ever buy salmon on a routine shopping trip, I had better be ready with a good justification.  After all, the stuff costs a good 75 shekel per kilo or more.  It's more expensive than the chicken and beef we buy, and even that is only reserved for Shabbat or Yom Tov.  My explanation? Restaurant Night.

Beans, eggs, tofu stir fries and noodle soups are the kinds of frugal, yet delicious foods that we eat on a regular basis.  But what about that occasional luxury that everyone deserves?  Eating out seems like the obvious way to get it, but in our experience it isn't.  Between the sticker shock upon receiving the bill and the schlepping needed to get to and from any decent restaurant in Haifa (when one is sans car), there has got to be a better way.  And that's how Restaurant Night was born.

With Restaurant Night, we can have our salmon dinner for two for a total of about 50 shekel instead of 200+.  Although this is expensive for a frugal meal, it's an incredible bargain for a luxurious one.  Plus, one of the best things about the priciest types of meat, chicken and fish is that they are often the easiest to cook.  Salmon requires only a hot pan with a little oil, and some basting with teriyaki sauce.  It's less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

The potatoes are our now-classic hash browns.  Some poetic liberty has been taken with the name, as the potatoes are cut into chunks rather than grated into a hash.  The chunks are pan fried in shallow oil until about 75% done, at which point any/all of the following are added into the oil: onions, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and herbs (fresh or dried).  The dish is then cooked until everything is golden and delicious.  The zucchini slices were sauteed in the salmon juices.

And after a dinner like that, both your belly and wallet can afford to split a 20 shekel pint of Ben & Jerry's with your plus-one.

Sourdough Sandwiches

Last Friday we disposed of the sourdough starter that had been cultivating in our refrigerator for the past two months or so.  Over that time I baked three batches of bread which, though not bad, were not really good enough to justify the effort required to properly maintain a sourdough starter.

Keeping a starter sounds easy: scoop some out, discard, feed with flour and water.  Repeat.  The thing is, flour costs money, so I put the starter in the fridge (rather than out at room temperature) in order to have to feed it less.  After a while, it smelled so bad that I started Googling questions like "is it safe to eat sourdough starter if it smells like nail polish remover?".  That acetone phase passed, but the point is that it's easy to let your starter fall into a state of neglect, which only means you'll have to feed it with more and more flour.

Lastly, Peter Reinhardt's instructions were too overwhelming for my schedule.  It's not really his fault - his book is intended for people who want to bake on a professional level, not those who want simple home recipes.  As such, it often instructs its readers through a series of waiting steps that can take days to complete, and requires them to do various things at four hour intervals.  With sourdough, these steps ensure proper development of the wild yeasts and bacteria within, and I took short cuts.  Maybe that's why my bread, while tasting good, ended up extremely dense.  All three times it came out dense, even when I added regular yeast to the dough on my third try.

Still, dense bread is ok for sandwiches when thinly sliced.  And for toasted sandwiches, it's actually great.  We made a bunch of sandwiches with our sourdough.  These (pictured at the top of the post) aren't the best - the best were the grilled cheese sandwiches; they didn't stand a chance of lasting long enough to be photographed.  But these were pretty good in their own right - one containing tuna salad and a combination of red and green lettuce called חסה משי, and one containing the same lettuce with feta and tomatoes.

2012 Spring/Summer Highlights

Falafel-like chickpea balls, using canned chickpeas and flour.  Much easier than real falafel.

Fritters made out of the same stuff as the falafel-like balls, but coated with coarse semolina (סולת)

Breaded zucchini sticks

Pan-fried salami batons over mustard-cabbage stir fry

Salami subs with wilted greens (left) and sweet roast root veggies (right)

Mac & Cheese

Red bean chumus

Miso-glazed eggplant with romaine and scallions on a sub roll

Birthday Bundt cake with chocolate icing

Cheesecake, chocolate cookie crust

Cereal bars with meringue, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate

Shakshuka with feta and green olives

Stir fry with crispy tofu and eggplant

Friday, July 20, 2012

One of the most delicious things I've eaten recently

This is an unflattering picture.  I'm dressed down, and I have food on my mouth.  But I don't care because elote is delicious, and you need to know about it.

Elote is a kind of Mexican street food - grilled corn on the cob slathered with condiments like mayo, cheese, chili powder, and things like that.  I made a sauce of mayo, garlic, paprika, black pepper and feta cheese (goat feta, good stuff).  Since we are not allowed to grill on our מרפסת (curse you, Technion fire safety rules!), I broiled the corn in the oven.

Folks, this corn was sub par.  Off the top of my head, corn may be the only exception to the all-Israeli-produce-is-delicious rule I can think of.  If anyone in Israel grows real sweet corn, I have not found it.  Plus, the oven treatment left the kernels kind of dry and chewy.

But NONE of that mattered.  The combination of creamy, salty, cheese sauce and nutty, roasty, slightly sweet corn was unbelievably good.

Most people I know make corn to go with a cookout, or some other meat meal.  I suggest you make this the center of a quick, delicious weekday dairy meal (we just started the 9 days..).  If you live in the US, you can probably buy amazing sweet corn for next to nothing.  Even if you can't get the ultimate corn, this dish is worth a try.

Noodle Bowl... with SRIRACHA

I'm not here to tell you that miso is delicious, because I already told you that before.

I am here to either reprimand you or praise you.  If you have already incorporated some form of miso soup/Asian noodle dinner into your regular rotation, well done!  If not, you are seriously missing out!

Take this dinner, for example.  Those aren't even real rice noodles, it's just spaghetti.  The soup is a base of miso with a little sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, black pepper and paprika with added water to make it into soup.  I actually just guessed those ingredients, because I don't remember, and it barely even matters as long as you have the miso base and a little soy.

On top is cubed tofu, which I tossed into the soup, and diced raw scallions.

Next to the bowl of noodles is a bottle of sriracha sauce.  Isn't that exciting?  Here's a little story about sriracha.  Once upon a time when I was a young lad of 19 or so, I tasted a delicious, fiery hot sauce that came in a plastic squeeze bottle, and had a picture of a rooster on it.  It was Huy Fong Sriracha, and the hechsher on it was oh-so-sketchy.   I can still find it here in Israel, with the same sketchy hechsher.  Alas, after fruitless Googlings and scouring inconclusive Chowhound threads, I decided - better not buy it.  I tried buying the Healthy Boy brand of sriracha from Supersol, but it was just a runny, barely spicy, overly sweet sauce that was nothing like sriracha.

But then I visited the Jerusalem branch of the store מזרח-מערב, and behold!  I found a knockoff sriracha by the brand Taste of Asia, with a much more reliable hechsher.  They even copied the plastic squeeze bottle.  And the taste? Sweet, but then the garlic hits you, and then the heat - like a rolling fireball blazing out over your tongue in an expanding delicious inferno.  Whether the tears were from joy or pain, I did not know.  I had found my sauce.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Overstuffed Veggie Hoagies Take #2

These eggplants (zucchinis too) were probably the best I've tasted in a really long time.  The trick, so I hear, is not to over-roast them.  For some of us this may be a challenge but the reward is well worth it!

Slice eggplants and zucchinis into thin slices, follow roasting instructions, place feta or bulgarit into a hoagie, layer up the veggies, wrap and refrigerate for tomorrows lunch!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Roasted Veggies and Bulgarit Hoagies

Yes these are as delicious as they look.

Roast the vegetables of your choice (zucchini, peppers and tomatoes here), add feta or bulgarit cheese, pack into hoagie bread (pita works too) and lunch is ready!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This post is a long time coming, and is specifically for all the coffee addicts out there.  We know who we are.  We need our coffee, and will settle for pretty much anything if given no other choice, but we know the difference between awful, mediocre, good and sublime.  For the most part, we strive to find the cup of coffee that delivers the best flavor (and the most caffeine) for the greatest convenience.  For the remainder of this post,  I'm going to switch from "we" to "I", but stay with me, fellow addicts.

Here is how I used to drink coffee: I bought whole roasted beans from a grocery store and kept them at home in an air-tight glass jar.  I ground them just before brewing, which I did using a cheap plastic cone which held a disposable coffee filter - I simply put the grounds in this, and poured hot water on top.  Sometimes I did this whole thing in a coffee machine, but the coffee would be a little more bitter.

Such was my preferred method.  Second best was buying coffee from a store.  I found that store bought coffee's quality (again, this was in the US) went from excellent to worse in the following order: small coffee shops where they do it right > Wawa > Dunkin Donuts > Starbucks > gas station garbage and others of its ilk.  Instant coffee was pretty much unheard of, except maybe on Pesach or if nothing else was available.  I don't think I ever ordered espresso.

In Israel, everything is הפוך (pun totally intended).  Drip coffee does not exist.  Ok, it technically exists - you can order קפה פילטר ("filtered coffee"), but you should never do this because often they don't have it, and when they do, you'll get stale, gross coffee grounds and gross coffee.  Israelis think all drip coffee tastes like this, by the way.

Instead, everyone here drinks one of the following:

  • קפה הפוך.  The only coffee machines they have in Israeli coffee shops are espresso machines, and 99% of the time, customers order הפוך, which is a little espresso and a lot of frothed milk (either a latte or a cappuccino, I forget).  
  • קפה שחור.  AKA קפה טורקי, AKA "בוץ".  This is finely ground coffee (between drip and espresso) - you put it in a cup, add hot water, let the grounds settle, and drink it.  It's dirt cheap (pun #2!) and strongly associated with army life.  It's strong, and it's my favorite (more on that later).  I've never seen anyone order this at a coffee shop, other than myself.
  • Instant coffee.  I think of it as workplace coffee, but plenty of people drink it at home, too.  Instant coffee is either freeze dried, spray dried, or old-fashioned-spray-dried-tastes-burnt (this is נס קפה, and the only people who don't hate it are those who grew up with it, or somethin)
  • Coffee from pod machines.  I don't know much about these, other than their expensive price tags, so I'm not going to discuss them.

I immediately ruled out קפה הפוך - not only is it generally too weak and too milky, but how am I supposed to rely on coffee shop coffee every morning?  My stipend isn't THAT big.

Instant coffee is a good choice if you get the right kind.  For me, that's Elite's line of freeze-dried coffee; the Brazilian flavor in particular.  We have this at my office, and I drink one or two cups every day.  I like the flavor, and though it's not the most powerful stuff in the world, more spoonfuls will obviously give it a stronger kick.  

קפה שחור, though, is my favorite Israeli coffee.  It's strong and fresh.  Don't take this freshness for granted, by the way.  All the ground coffee I've ever seen in the US goes stale pretty quickly.  Yet here the קפה שחור, at least Elite's stays fresh.  You get that whiff of roasted coffee beans every time you unroll the bag.  It definitely has to do with the packaging - a triple ply layer of two kinds of polymers plus aluminum (I just might have done a school project on this very packaging...).

The pictures at the top of this post show how I've used קפה שחור to make American-style coffee.  It's simple; I just use my coffee cone with a coffee filter - the basic pour-over method.  I still do this sometimes, both to get that clean coffee taste, which, by the way, I often drink with no sugar or milk whatsoever.  It's also nice to not be left with that cake of grounds at the bottom of the cup, which is annoying to clean and which I shouldn't pour down the sink, because it will clog the pipes.

You know what, though?  I've gotten used to regular קפה שחור.  I like its flavor and strength.  Coffee lovers, we never know where our roasty toasty journeys will take us, but perhaps mine will involve countless cups of the simplest, the humblest of Israeli coffees.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Miso Meatballs Taste Like They Have Cheese in Them

[Not actually my meatballs]

I am making meatballs for the second time in about two months.  Meatballs are great.  We buy a 1 kilo package of מוצר בקר and make them with that, as opposed to pure ground beef.  מוצר בשר is cheap because it contains fillers, and is not 100% beef.  And I'm ok with it, although I wasn't always.  I used to make my meatballs only with pure ground beef.  And when we bought מוצר בשר for the first time I assumed the meatballs wouldn't taste so good.

I was wrong; they tasted amazing.  The truth is, meatballs are kind of "watered down" anyway, since both recipes call for milk (soy milk here), eggs, and breadcrumbs.  There are different kinds of meatballs, but I've come to embrace the kind that's full of spices and herbs and, well, bread.  So what do I care if I'm using beef with fillers?  All it means is the same cheap package will make me more servings come dinnertime.

מוצר בשר, however, is not the secret ingredient in my meatballs.  That secret ingredient is miso.  I mixed miso into my meatballs two months ago and they came out with a hint of Parmesan flavor.  Tonight I mixed in a little more, and when I tasted my creation it was meaty, savory and full of the funky umami taste we call "cheesy".  Great success.

Miso and Parmesan cheese both contain, among other compounds, large amounts of glutamate.  Glutamate is an amino acid which makes us taste umami, and it is delicious - especially in its convenient salt form, monosodium glutamate (MSG).  MSG, by the way, is totally safe.  Yeah, some people get headaches, but a lot of people don't, and lots of scientific tests have failed to find ANYTHING unhealthy about the stuff.  If you don't get the headaches, don't feel guilty about eating MSG.  In the words of Jeffrey Steingarten, "why doesn't everyone in China have a headache" (if MSG gives you headaches, that is).  Have I gone on this rant before?

That's why miso makes these meatballs taste like cheese.  Yeast and yeast extracts, by the way, also have lots of glutamates.  Have you ever noticed that there are lots of Israeli snacks that taste cheesy but are Parve?  Doesn't this strike you as a remarkable scientific accomplishment, worthy of global recognition?  That's how I feel, at least. Snacks that taste like cheese but don't have it probably could only develop in a place such as Israel, which makes me proud as a Zionist, and intrigued as a religious food scientist. I may not be able to mix meat and cheese, but with the proper tools I can attempt to mimic the taste!  I think my next experiment will be a dish of scalloped potatoes with a "cheesy" white sauce...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Solet: Bread and Cake

Way back in the Winter of 2003-4, I was a student at Yeshivat Har Etzion. One of my fondest memories is eating hot bowls of "diysa" - basically cream of wheat - that the kitchen made out of leftover milk. That creamy porridge, made with full-fat 3% milk, was delicious.

Flash forward to the present day. After a long time I finally figured out that this porridge is made with סולת - a coarse semolina that you buy in the flour aisle, not the breakfast cereal aisle, which is why it took me so long to find it. I bought it in the only size available - a 1 kg bag. Turns out, though, making a large portion of diysa only requires like 1/3 a cup of solet. In other words, I had to find some other uses for the stuff.

Enter solet bread and solet cake. In both cases, I made sure to google recipes in Hebrew, to avoid confusion with the fine milled semolina that people use for pasta making. Solet cake is a traditional Israeli dessert, and recipes abound. Solet bread is less common, but there were still a number of recipes I could choose from, based on which worked best with the ingredients I had around the house.

For the bread, I chose a sweet, enriched recipe. The dough included eggs and honey, and a mixture of solet and regular flour. It was a bad recipe; the final dough was excessively sticky and I had to add in a bunch more flour until it attained proper bread dough consistency. Oh, and I cut my flour with gluten, as I am wont to do when breadmaking.

Despite the bad recipe, the final product was very satisfying. The crust was toasty and crunchy, while the interior was soft, and slightly sweet. The bread lasted a while, making good sandwiches but even better toast. The sandwich pictured above is a spicy tuna sandwich - tuna salad mixed with hot sauce. Oh man. Make this sandwich...

I don't have the recipe for the cake but, again, they can easily be found online, and are all pretty much the same. The defining feature of a solet cake is the syrup that's poured over it after it comes out of the oven. Orange syrups are common, but we based ours on date syrup, giving dark, bittersweet caramel flavors to the cake. The cake itself is similar to a corn muffin - a dense, rich, crumbly texture.

Spinach pesto pasta

In our fridge, we had a relatively large quantity of spinach, and a smaller quantity of fresh basil. From these, the dish above was born. Fresh garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil were also involved.

I found this pasta a little bland. Good flavors all around, but just not enough oomph. I realize now that by not cooking the spinach, I gave up on those bitter and savory flavors one finds in sauteed spinach.

An improved version, then, would involve a) cooking the spinach first and b) more flavor - more basil, maybe some pine nuts, maybe some Parmesan

Oh, it's pretty though.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coconut oil cookies

I'm always looking for innovative butter replacements. I'm pretty unsatisfied with margarine, or at least the hard, tasteless cheap margarine I buy at Supersol. Sure there are softer, tastier (and more expensive) margarines on the shelf, but I haven't experimented much with them because a) they are more expensive than regular margarine and b) they probably contain emulsifiers and other polymeric stabilizers which I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH PHILOSOPHICALLY but might mess up my cookie dough.

Anyway I subscribe to a blog that's all about parve desserts, and here is a link to it: http://www.couldntbeparve.com/ The blog reminded me about coconut oil, which I had been thinking about some time already. It is solid at room temperature and is supposed to have a buttery taste.

Here's where I'd normally go off on a tangent about solid fats for baking and shortening and trans fats and how now they make shortening with no trans fats and how you can't get shortening here except maybe in Jerusalem, Efrat or Ramat Beit Shemesh. But I won't.

I'd seen coconut oil before in the organic food store, but never bought it because it's super expensive. But I decided to take the plunge and buy a small jar after seeing a recipe on the aforementioned blog for sugar cookies using coconut oil (I'll leave you to search for the recipe if you want).

Another reason I wanted coconut oil was because I read online that if you make popcorn in coconut oil it tastes like movie theater popcorn, because that's what movie theaters pop their popcorn in.

Lastly, I had a sneaking suspicion that coconut oil was a secret ingredient that imbued certain baked goods with delicious flavor, namely Green's babka and Marzipan's rugelach.

Our verdict on the cookies - good, not great. We wanted crispy sugar cookies but we rolled the dough a little thick, so they came out soft. We tried putting them back in the oven but that just made them sort of hard/burnt.

I could taste the flavor of the coconut oil, and it was an improvement over margarine, but it wasn't as good as a butter cookie. But it was only a first experiment, and I have ideas for more. For example, I have a knockout hamantaschen dough recipe that includes orange juice and zest, the acidity of which makes the cookies irresistible. I think a coconut oil sugar cookie with orange zest may make waves...

We've made at least 3 batches of coconut oil popcorn. It's good, but there's no noticeable movie theater taste. I'd have to try it side by side with popcorn cooked in canola oil or something. Plus, I still haven't perfected my popcorn technique - the stovetop pot method still comes out a tad soggy...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Noodle Soup

Let's talk about miso for a second:

Pros: Tastes delicious, lasts forever in the fridge, good for soups

Cons: You never actually finish it, and begin to wonder if it's chametz when Pesach rolls around

We have a container of miso in our fridge from lord knows when. It gets used here and there but my favorite application is for miso/noodle soup.

Disclaimer - I don't know anything about authentic soups of this nature. I've never had a "real" bowl of ramen. The soup we ate tonight was definitely inauthentic in every way. But it was easy and delicious.

Here's how I made it: I sauteed some miso in vegetable oil and added garlic powder, red chili flakes and celery salt (I've started putting celery salt in everything these days). Stir that up a bit, add boiling water and soup mix. Try to get soup mix with MSG if you can find it. Season with a little vinegar. Taste the broth and continue to season (maybe a little more salt, maybe a little more vinegar, maybe some sweet, maybe some spicy...) until it's to your liking.

Here's where things get awesome: you can add pretty much whatever you want. Ideally, you should make this soup when you have random leftovers in your fridge. You can add meat if you want. You can add vegetables. Ramen noodles work. Egg noodles work. Leftover spaghetti would work and I bet you could even cook raw pasta in this broth although I've never tried it.

What did I do? First of all, we had a big head of lettuce whose outer leaves had wilted. Don't throw out wilted lettuce! It's no good for salad, but it's perfectly good for cooked greens. I cleaned mine and then trimmed out the tough stem and them sauteed them in olive oil and garlic. I did this last night, saved them, and added them to the soup today.

We also had some shaved carrot (that's a carrot that's been shaved into noodle-like shapes) in a bag. Into the pot it went, as did a package of egg noodles. We actually buy those specifically for soup.

Lastly, I poached two eggs in the boiling broth to add some protein and richness.

People, this soup was really good. Totally inauthentic - the broth was instant soup mix rather than long-simmered chicken or beef broth. The noodles were egg noodles, not ramen noodles. It contained no pork because swineflesh is unclean and forbidden. But seriously, who cares. It's amazing and filling. You can make yours even healthier by adding more veggies and maybe throwing in some tofu instead of the egg.

Make this soup!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cornbread Muffins

What do you do when you have A LOT of cornmeal?

Make corn muffins!

I'm pretty sure this is the recipe I used with a couple changeups.  Stay tuned for more cornbread recipes...

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup date honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/200 C.
Into a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter, and honey. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.
Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.

Cranberry Applesauce Muffins

Admittedly I don't have much to say about muffins. It's a good thing to grab for breakfast when you've run out of homemade bagels (post to come) or granola OR it's not Friday morning so you don't have time for french toast. I thought that if I used applesauce they would be health(ier) muffins but that's debatable. I used this recipe from yummly.com. If I made them again I would cut down on the flour so maybe they wouldn't be as dense. (The batter was almost dough like in consistency.) But I'm not a food scientist...

1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 beaten eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour (purpose)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen, chopped)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a muffin pan, or use paper liners.
2. In a small bowl, mix together applesauce, oil and egg. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture. Stir until just moistened. Fold in cranberries and pecans. Spoon into muffin cups, 2/3 full.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 2 minutes before removing.

(Apologies for the lack of a picture - you'll have to try it yourself to see what they look like!)