Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

October 31, 2012

I didn't think it was possible but Deb Perelman managed to do it effortlessly. I laughed out loud while reading a cookbook. Does that ever happen? You can feel inspired by a cookbook which will lend a comfortable smile while perusing the recipes, or you can be more placid until you flip to a dish that excites your taste buds and creates excitement. But that's all very civil and contained. Not so with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, you will have bouts of real, natural laughter. That's some talented Manhattanite, that Deb.

She brings funny anecdotal stories and recounts how she came to create some of the recipes. The ingredients get a life of their own as she describes them in such vivid words that you have no choice but to stick a bookmark on that page because she's convinced, or better yet coerced, you, again, that this is the best recipe in the book that you must promise her you'll try.

And there are many such recipes. Too many, I should add. Though I easily cross off the blatantly non-kosher ones, such as the ones with bacon and seafood. Deb does steer back to her tradition and gifts us with a beautiful fig, olive oil and sea salt challah.

But there are so many other delicious recipes to try like the raspberry ricotta scones, and the corn-risotto stuffed poblanos (which is part of a larger Vegetarian section). It's not until you get towards the end of the book that you find the really good stuff, that leaves you off on a sweet note: Deb's desserts. Imagine images of buttered popcorn cookies (popcorn in a cookie? genius!), and chocolate hazelnut crepe cake (which might turn into my husband's next birthday cake), and many more cookies, tarts, and cakes.

Overall, the cookbook is very much an extension of the ever-popular blog by the same name. The recipes are delivered with ease and detailed guidelines that can make the greatest novice into a seasoned chef. They are definitely tried and true, rightful to Mrs. Perelman's obsessive perfectionism.

The first recipe I decided to try from the book is the Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onions Galette. It's not very hard to understand why. This dish represents all the goodness of fall in irresistible flavors. A rustic savory dough wraps slices of sweet, caramelized onions and pieces of roasted butternut squash; a perfect hearty weekday dinner.

I made this savory galette for an intimate dinner party I hosted. My friend was visiting from Montreal with her husband and baby and we had a delightful time together. It's funny how things change so quickly while we're busy growing up. Anabelle and I used to play "mommies in the kitchen" together and here we are being mommies. (I'll let you say the cliche yourself. I rather not state the obvious that time flies.)

After the very first bite, I was demanded the recipe. It was that good. So here it is, Anabelle. Thank Deb Perelman for it.

Oh, and Deb, just wanted to add that my kitchen is positively tinier than yours.

Apple Turkey Burgers with Rosemary Acorn Squash

October 23, 2012

I love discovering new food blogs, and despite the countless ones floating around the web, I thought I had explored all the popular ones and grouped them comfortably in my google reader to enjoy. I guess I missed one, and an important one that is. During a lovely September week, many different food bloggers posted recipes from The Sprouted Kitchen's cookbook: The Sprouted Kitchen: a tastier take on whole foods. You don't have to guess that I quickly clicked over to explore the blog that holds the key to a whole new world of healthy cooking.

Well, if you're still here and didn't click over there, then you should know that Sara's recipes are truly compelling. I just had to take a peek into her cookbook. Suffice to say it was on my doorstep a short while later.

It didn't disappoint.

The book comprises of a collection of recipes that are unique without needing frivolous ingredients. Many of the dishes are vegetarian, filled with fresh herbs and vibrant produce. Sara does a beautiful job dressing up ingredients in layers of flavors that are subtle yet remarkable. It's an interesting combination.

And the photographs. They are positively stunning in their simplicity and elegance. The colors are rich, the shadows deep, and the light breathtaking. Photos are the integral partner that bring the dishes alive.

What I love most about The Sprouted Kitchen is Sara's relaxed approach to healthy eating. She doesn't seek to advocate a specific diet, nor require hard-to-find ingredients. She leads you through the steps, with a laidback voice that gives you confidence and joy in the meal you are preparing. She simply has a passion for real, unprocessed, homemade food. I love that, because that's how I feel about food as well.

I must say I couldn't pick a recipe to try first. There were the lentil meatballs with lemon pesto and the peanut butter pretzel tartlets that made my heart skip a beat. I did run to try the creamy egg omelet first, that completely revolutionized my mornings, with the addition of just one tablespoon of milk to eggs (so simple, yet so significant), I got a creamy, delicate omelet with a hint of flavor that makes all the difference.

But I also wanted to tell you about the roasted acorn squash with hazelnuts and balsamic reduction, and the roasted tomato soup, and how about the plum tartines. There are just so many things to share.

For those wondering about the kosher status of the book, well it isn't officially kosher, but it isn't terribly unkosher. There are no more than 5 out of the 100 recipes that are impossible to adapt in the kosher kitchen. I consider this book to be a great source of inspiration for healthy, family meals and snacks. (Did I not tell you about the crunchy curried chickpeas?)

So I finally settled on the Chipotle and Apple Turkey Burgers. I was having company over, and felt that this was the perfect dish to grill up for a hearty meal.

The burgers were juicy, with the apple, celery and onions giving them a nice texture. I topped it with a dollop of herb aioli, which I made in a flash with store-bought mayonnaise. Finally, I wedged it between a Kaiser roll and paired it with roasted rosemary acorn squash, which I loosely adapted from another recipe in the book. A perfect meal shared with family and friends. I will admit that I even had to hide the last remaining burgers so I could keep them to photograph the next morning. That makes me happy. A delicious meal it was.

I'm really looking forward to cooking from this book, and exploring new flavors, both sweet and savory. (This morning I made the Pumpkin Granola, if you must know. I'll share it with you in a bit.)

(Also, I peaked into a few more cookbooks that I'll tell you about soon enough.)

Israeli Couscous with Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato

October 22, 2012

Being that I'm a stay at home mom, I seldom plan for lunch meals. I reason that since I'm home with my kids anyway then I'll just figure something out when the time comes. Sometimes I pray for leftovers to conveniently nourish my kids mid-day, but that doesn't always happen. So I mostly rely on easy, quick, healthy meals, or a peanut butter sandwich, to feed my two active toddlers.

This Israeli Couscous with Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato  is my latest go-to lunch recipe. It combines the heartiness of the ptitim (as I grew up calling these small pearled pastas), with the bounty and spice of fall, a lighty roasted sweet potato.

Streamline the preparation by either having a batch of roasted potatoes in the fridge, or roast them while the pasta cooks. This also stores well in the fridge for the next day. Who doesn't love leftovers?

Half of the Israeli couscous is whole wheat round ones, and the other half is cute little heart-shaped ones.

 My little ones couldn't wait for me to take the pictures so they could dig in. They loved it and I hope you love it, too. Enjoy.

Israeli Couscous with Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato
1 1/2 cups of Israeli couscous
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups of boiling water
1 medium sweet potato, diced
1 teaspoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
pinch of cinnamon

1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Toss the sweet potato in 1 teaspoon of oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. Bake for 20 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, heat one tablespoon of oil on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the couscous and coat with oil. Add the water, a pinch of salt, stir, bring to a boil and cover. Lower to a simmer and let cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Pour the prepared couscous in a bowl with some roasted sweet potatoes.


Laham Bajine: Syrian Meat Pizzas

October 10, 2012

Before I got married I gave my husband plenty of warnings about my inexperience in the kitchen. I even amused him with a story or two about my catastrophic cooking attempts in college. He wasn't deterred. Somehow, he believed that I would rise to the occasion and cook away. And just to make sure, he happily bought me my first cookbook: Aromas of Aleppo, a collection of Jewish Syrian recipes. Coincidentally, those are the foods he grew up with. He hoped the book would bring me to producing weekly platters of kibbeh and laham bajine, instead I clung to the more approachable recipes like Green Beans in Garlic and Tomato, or Chicken and Potatoes. Kibbeh is an art I left to Syrian women busying themselves in their Brooklyn kitchen.

As for laham bajine, the round mini meat-filled pizzas, I tried making them once for my father-in-law, the first time we had him over for a meal. He took a bite and the unintentional look he had on his face reassured me that it was my first and final attempt. I decided that my husband will just have to enjoy this dish when he visits his aunt Esther in Israel.

This famed aunt Esther is the star cook in my husband's Turkish-Syrian family. She makes the traditional foods just like her mother used to make, and lovingly toils over every laborious step, keeping things authentic. A far cry from my cooking style of simple and convenient. Naturally, I was intimidated and never bothered asking for her recipe.

And then, this past summer, we made our way into her home and my husband re-experienced the aromatic scent of her cooking. It captivated his nostrils and he looked at me with sincerity and asked me to get the recipe for laham bajine. He was ready to beg, I could sense by the droop of his eyebrows. I couldn't not agree, that would have been an obvious marital faux pas. And like a devoted wife, I asked dear aunt Esther how she made her signature dish. With great alacrity and real Israeli informality, she told me how she makes these little meat pizzas. And all I could say afterwards is: that is so easy! What I was so fearful of turned out to be something I could easily do.

Back in my LA kitchen, I surprised my husband with these for Shabbat. When he took the first bite and I held my breath in anticipation to his reaction, he smiled big. They got a passing grade.

I will note that this recipe is not the traditional Syrian way of making laham bajine, however this is the way my husband's family loves it. This recipe features meat mixed with tomato paste, luscious caramelized onions, a touch of lemon juice for an unexpected tanginess, and a mix of spices that brings it all together. The crust is a simple flour, yeast, and water mixture; the perfect canvas to let the flavors of the meat shine.

Maple Spice Bundt Cake with Walnuts

October 4, 2012

I feel like I was just here. Like I just removed the crumbly goodness of a cake that had my kitchen smelling the aromas of summer and fall simultaneously. The plum crumb cake didn't make it through the weekend, just so you know. 

But then I got busy with the beautiful, joyous, crazy, rejuvenating holiday season September brings. It's indeed a special time, filled with family gatherings, brimming with hope and anticipation for a new year with new goals and endeavors. There was Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and we're right in the middle of Sukkot. You can imagine there have been many, many meals. Thirtheen, so far to be exact. And guess what I'm running back to tell you about: another cake.

See, I try to keep the recipes I share somewhat balanced. A side dish and a dessert one week, a meat dish, another. But I think I've failed at that attempt. Rather, I come and share things that deserve a special mention. The recipes that shine and please. Those that when you come over will warrant a: you have to try this, coupled with a tinkle in my eyes from sheer excitement.

This Maple Spice Bundt Cake fits the bill.

I made this cake on the eve of Yom Kippur, on a whim. It began with a neglected bundt pan that I found buried in the back of a kitchen cupboard, the kind you need a chair to reach. It looked forlorn, reminiscent of days when boxed mixes lined my pantry shelf and I used it as a trusty mold to bake my convenient cakes. But now, when rarely would you find such a, um, mix in my home, the pan seemed neglected. So I decided to use it, without a recipe in mind, a few hours before the holiest day of the year, with absolutely no clue as to the direction this recipe will take. Usually, you would find me (over)researching all kinds of bundt cake recipes to find the perfect skeletal recipe I could play around with. But time is precious, especially when the "research" sometimes takes more time than the actual baking.

But I found my way.

I started with a brand new bottle of dark amber Grade A Maple Syrup, sprinkled in some fall spices whose smell still lingered from aforementioned Plum Crumble, and finished off with handful of raw walnuts. A new cake was born. The perfect accompaniment to the warm tea that soothingly flows down your throat as you break the fast.

The maple syrup added a delightful taste to this fall cake, keeping it moist and fragrant, without overburdening the flavors. The cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg spices are delicate and lend to a flavor that's understated, yet enjoyed in every bite. I scaled back on the sugar, as I do on most of my recipes, yet let the brown sugar shine. I prefer my cakes, lightly sugar-kissed, rather than overly sweetened.

It's such a thrill, it even feels somewhat victorious, when an experiment turns out successful. I hope you will try it soon. It's the perfect way to usher in the new season with the last days of lingering in the Sukka, in the sun, wherever you may be.

Happy Holidays.

As a side note, it was The Kosher Spoon's First Birthday (the very first post). How exciting is that? Because I'm hopelessly unceremonious, I did not celebrate appropriately but I did want to extend my deep gratitude to you. To all the readers, thanks for dropping by. I appreciate the company. 

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