Spiced Pear & Brown Butter Muffins

December 27, 2012

One of the first blogs I discovered was Aran Goyoaga's cannelle et vanille. I fell in love with her space right away. It might have been because of her bright, floral set ups, or the way her foods were styled so carefully yet effortlessly. Maybe it was the feel of her images and the tone of her words. I just loved it. To me, it was pretty and lovely and everything that made my creative side happy. I bookmarked her blog (I didn't even know what RSS was). And I came back. Many times.

When I learned that her first cookbook was coming out, I was quite excited to take a peek inside. I expected the photography to be beautiful and inspiring (which it is), and the pages to be colored with bright produce (and it is). She divided her book conveniently by seasons, which I enjoy because it lets me focus on the flavors and offerings of the particular time of year we're in.

All the recipes in the book look delectable. Aran's cooking is very much influenced by her Northern Spanish background. That means lots of shellfish. Not very convenient for me (since shellfish isn't kosher), but I did find ways to adapt some of the recipes (like the soups). The baked sweets, on the other hand, are my favorite part of the book. I can't wait to make her chocolate brioche and brown butter and apple clafoutis.

The first thing I started with were the Spiced Pear & Brown Butter Muffins, after all it was fall when I made them (how did it turn to winter so quickly?) and I wanted the aroma of cinnamon and ginger in my home.

I promise that I say this without an inkling of exaggeration. They are the best muffins I have ever had. They turned out so incredibly moist. They had the deepest fall flavors, especially with the maple syrup and the browned butter that gave them a caramel-like taste. They were perfect in texture and even more perfect in flavors. I ate way more than I care to recall, and I think I cannot make them again since it would be a losing battle with my willpower. sigh.

It was my first time browning butter, and I think I'm hooked. The nutty aroma and the caramelized flavor will take any baked goodies to a whole new level of deliciousness. I promise.

Overall, Small Plates and Sweet Treats is a lovely cookbook that I look forward to using and looking at. I see myself turning to it for photographic inspiration as well as delicious treats. It reminds me very much of Donna Hay's Seasons, which is another beautiful book that I peruse often, just for the pictures.

Easy Spicy Chinese Chicken Lo Mein(ish)

December 24, 2012

This isn't a real recipe. This is how I make dinner hastily with a theme in mind and no plan. I sauté some kind of onion, add some type of chicken, throw in some kind of vegetable, pack in lots of spices and hope for the best.

Usually things work out. This time, the success of my Chinese Chicken Lo Mein is debatable.

It depends if you enjoy fire-hot spicyness. I do. The other people in my family apparently don't. Surprising, I know.

I was planning on making different delicious Chinese dishes for this month's Kosher Connection Link Up. However, I realized really quickly that Chinese food takes planning since it requires quite a few specialty ingredients. So I decided to wing it a little and keep the spirit of Chinese cooking with everyday pantry staples. (Yes, dried mini chile peppers are a staple).

I smothered chicken pieces in sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper, and chile powder. I cooked them with green onions, multi-colored peppers, and snap peas. Added in dried chile and one jalapeno (optional if you're sensitive), and let it cook until it just looked done. I served it over a bed of noodles and declared it Chicken Lo Mein. Simple enough.

Overall, it was a nice experiment that yielded tasty results, notwithstanding the leftovers in my fridge.

Be sure to check out all the other Bloggers who made Chinese food that is most definitely more authentic than mine. 

Roasted Chicken with Fennel, Clementines and Arak

December 19, 2012

Jerusalem, the cookbook, has been sitting amongst my growing pile of books for the past few months. Before I received it, I was really intrigued and eager to peruse the pages and explore Ottolenghi's and Tamimi's interpretations of the foods I grew up with. The foods I cherish, as they are part of my identity and ingrained in my being. (I grew up in a very Israeli-Sephardi home; a tasty combination.)

I'll tell you, I enjoyed looking through this cookbook immensely. The excitement for it stems from my love of the city, and seeing its faceted existence creatively expressed. The food is a big deal in Jerusalem. Just walk through Machne Yehuda and you'll understand the prominence food has in this city (and in Israeli/Jewish culture at large).

I've had fortunate opportunities to spend time in this indescribably beautiful city, being there for weeks at a time on different occasions over the last few years. The city is continuously growing and transforming yet the palpable aura of spirituality is felt by everyone who visits, the food scene is exploding with influences from around the world, and the streets are pulsating with the bustle of every day life.

What I loved most in the cookbook is, of course, the pictures. They truly represent Jerusalem as the holy, eclectic, vibrant city paved in gold stones, walked by diverse people, and scented by rich spices. The integration of propped food photographs with photo-journalistic shots offers a glimpse into the beautiful foods and unique culture that make up Jerusalem. From the frum man selecting pastries, to the heaps of round, braided, perfectly golden challahs lining the stands at the Machne Yehuda shuk. It's a visual display of the life of Jerusalemites.

Many of the recipes I either grew up eating or have picked up from various family members, like Libyan Chraimeh, Helbeh, Mejadarah, Stuffed artichokes, and so many more. I did find interesting that some of the recipes in the book have gotten a slight makeover, either a change in the spices of or an addition of an unexpected ingredient. Overall though the recipes retain their authentic feel and flavors.

I especially enjoyed the historical background in the introductions of each recipe, describing their hotly-debated origins (Lebanese vs. Syrian vs. Iraqi, etc.), as well as the ceremonial and often emotional connection food has in Israeli culture.

The authors did include seafood in one or two recipes and mix meat and milk in a few others, two things that are permitted for Muslims, I learned, though forbidden for Jews.

Overall, I think this is a beautiful book that belongs both on your kitchen counter and on your nightstand. The text is interesting, it reads comfortably, and paints a picture of the food's role in its culture and society. A true testament that food transcends flavors, and is part of a larger context. The recipes themselves are simple, straightforward, and packed with my favorite flavors: paprika, fennel, cumin, cardamom, and so many more. They're sprinkled with lots of fresh herbs, and are beautiful in their rustic, imperfect presentation.

Now, I get to tell you about what I made that was just so, so delicious: Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak.

Ok, I'll admit I skipped the arak, but only because I didn't have any on hand. My daughter apparently thought that the clear bottle that's been sitting in the back of the fridge for the past few years was water. She took a sip, dropped the bottle and as you can imagine it shattered, thereby assuring we will not have any arak on hand for a very long time. How very un-Moroccan of us.
But I wasn't deterred. I skipped the arak, and focused on the citrus, and fennel, and herbs and spices. It came out perfect and I'll admit the photos don't do it justice. I took them hastily amongst very busy Shabbat preparations.

If you have a chance, do take a peak into Jerusalem: the cookbook. Though I do not agree philosophically with all that is written there, I do think the foods and recipes draw you in and reveal the essence of Jerusalem/Middle Eastern cooking. It's a beautiful book, that I look forward to using in my own kitchen.

Happy Chanukah! (latkes and doughnuts)

December 13, 2012

Chanukah is truly a magical time. It is so festive and joyful to share with friends and family the glowing light from the menorah, the indulgent oily foods, and the meaningful message we learn from this holiday. It's truly one of my favorites.

The giggles and excitement from the kids (even though it's mainly derived from the absurd amount of presents they get (not from me!)), is contagious. They have a special fascination with the flames burning from the wicks and oil that's inspiring. I wish I still had that unadulterated curiosity.

On Chanukah, we spend eight nights lighting our menorahs in our homes, night after night, remembering the miracles and bringing light to the world.

The Torah Sages teach us that "a little bit of truth will conquer a lot of falsehood, just as a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness." (Chovot Halevavot, Ch.5)

Just as the days of Chanukah progress and we increase the amount of candles we light, one by one, throughout the 8 nights, likewise we should spend those days increasing the good deeds we perform. Chanukah is the time to do extra acts of kindness, come closer to our spiritual self, and connect to the G-dliness around us. With every act of loving kindness we are bringing down a special spiritual light and thereby brightening the world with goodness. How special is that?

So this Chanukah, make yourself a checklist of the small ways you can increase light and love in the world. You can brighten someone's day with a simple call or a short visit. You can be a little thoughtful and slip notes in your children's lunches. You can bring some doughnuts to the neighbor whose name you can't recall (this is where I need to take my own advice). And if you make them homemade, try these Cinnamon-Sugar Coconut Doughnuts. You can find my recipe here on Kveller.

And since you're already frying, you must make these Mexican Latkes. They will change the world, I assure you.

The tender, pillowy potato batter is the perfect backdrop for the spiciness of the jalapeno and onion. Worry not, it's not unbearably spicy (unfortunately for me), but gives a hint of tanginess with the aid of some cayenne pepper.

I like to believe that this is a little Sephardic twist on this traditional fare.

We had these two nights in a row, and I must retire this recipe from my repertoire because it's highly addictive and dangerous. Give it a try, and thank me later.

Happy Chanukah!

Oh, and the winner of the Chic Cookbook is random number 38: Frieda Kogan. Contact me with your info so you can get the book as soon as possible.

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