Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Fast Fabulous Focaccia – a chewy, crusty, fragrant bread – that’s perfect with salads, beans and pastas. We make and eat a LOT of bread in our house. I can easily imagine living without meat, but not without bread. Since none of us is over-weight, we must be doing something right. This Fast Fabulous Focaccia comes together literally in minutes. After a proving time of about 1.5 hours it goes into a hot oven and is ready to eat. Fresh bread in about 2 hours!

I’m looking out my window at yet another rainy day with somewhat coolish temperatures for this time of year. While I might feel a bit droopy, my plants are on over-drive. Our terrace garden has never been more vibrant and my herbs are growing like crazy. I have been making pesto and mint chutney, putting rosemary into breads and stir-fry with handfuls of my Thai basil. So last night I decided to make a beautiful salad with ripe tomatoes, arugula, bocconcini mozzarella that I had marinated and fresh basil. I cooked up some pasta that I served with my pesto. But I wanted a bread to help soak up all of those beautiful flavors and olive oil. Since it was already 4:00, I knew that I needed to think quickly if we were going to have fresh bread with dinner. Enter this focaccia.

Having made some wonderful focaccia (see below for links to recipes) I knew 2 things: 1) I didn’t have quite enough time to make my best focaccia and 2) those recipes simply made too much for what I wanted. I turned to Molly Yeh. She is VERY perky – frankly, I find it a bit exhausting. And I wouldn’t make most of the foods that she makes – way to fatty. But she is very clever at decorating foods even if she is a bit too in love with sprinkles.

However, I have made two recipes that were wonderful and that worked exactly as written – her falafel and this focaccia. My version is delicious and easy and beautiful in its simplicity. If you choose to make it with elaborate vegetable designs like Molly Yeh and others I have seen, you can find instructions on the web.

A word about EVOO

The olive oil that you use will make or break this recipe. It is used at different stages of the recipe and truly makes the focaccia magical. As EVOO has become more popular, so has fraud in the industry. So don’t take for granted that the EVOO you are buying is actually what it says it is, especially if you are buying a flavored oil. I love using flavored oils in baking and cooking. If you choose to make your own – great. A Mediterranean blend with oregano, rosemary, basil and garlic was what I used. A good quality plain EVOO or one flavored to your choice would all work.

Focaccia is meant to be eaten fresh and warm with freshly drizzled EVOO on top. But we are only two people and even this more manageable-sized focaccia is too big for us to finish off in one night. Left-overs make wonderful croutons or can be used in a bread salad. The focaccia can be re-heated and we did eat it that way. It is definitely edible but it won’t be as amazing.

For other focaccia recipes:

Focaccia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Recipe

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1.24 cups room temperature water

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1.5 teaspoons active dried yeast (or instant yeast)

About 9 Tablespoons EVOO, divided

3 to 3.25 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves (optional, but recommended)

Maldon or flaked sea salt

Directions

Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a measuring cup or bowl. Allow to prove for about 10 minutes. If you are using instant yeast, there is no need to prove the yeast.

Once the yeast has started to get creamy, whisk in 3 Tablespoons of the EVOO. Then add this to 3 cups of flour and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix by hand just to moisten everything.

Using the dough hook, knead the dough on medium-high until the dough is smooth and elastic and forms a stretchy ball. If the dough appears to be too wet (humidity and different brands of flour will all affect the moisture level) add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time until you get the desired consistency. Mine came together perfectly with just the initial 3 cups of flour. It was a lovely, supple dough.

Brush a quarter-sized sheet pan with 2 Tablespoons of EVOO. Place the dough directly onto the oiled pan and coat it in the oil. Using your clean hands, gently press out the dough to almost fill the pan. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and leave in a draft-free place. I use my microwave. It should double and fill the pan. Depending on the temperature of your room, this will take 1 to 1.5 hours.

About 45 minutes in to the rising time, heat your oven to 400 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone or steel, place it on top of the rack in the oven and allow it to heat.

When the dough has doubled, remove the plastic. If it hasn’t totally reached the end of the pan, you can gently press it out to the edges. Add your rosemary leaves, if using. With your fingertips, dimple the dough, gently pressing the rosemary into the dough. Drizzle with 2 more Tablespoons of EVOO. Honestly, I just eyeball it. All of the dimples that you made will allow the EVOO to pool in the dough, a classic sign of a focaccia. Sprinkle with the flaked salt. If you prefer or if you forgot, you can sprinkle with the salt after it comes out of the oven.

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle with more EVOO and allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Remove the focaccia to a cutting board and serve!

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style

Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style

Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style is redolent with spices – warming, delicious and comforting. This lovely curry from Chetna Makan is easy to make and sure to please. Don’t be scared off by the list of spices. If you do Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, you will likely have these on hand. And if you are just getting into these cuisines, these spices are basic and easily accessible in most grocery stores and online.

My husband and I find these dishes so satisfying to make and eat. Served over some basmati rice or with a flatbread, you have a satisfying meal. However, I almost always serve these with some chutneys, raita and small salads. When I have these on hand in my fridge it’s like having money in the bank! And I have found that while it may not be traditional, mixing Middle Eastern salads and sides and Indian often works out really well.

Depending on the size of your chicken thighs and your appetites, this will easily serve 6 to 8 people. If you have teenagers – maybe 4!

While you could make this with chicken breasts, I wouldn’t. The thighs are more flavorful, moister and sized better. You will want chicken thighs with the bone in but without the skin. If your butcher won’t remove the skins for you, it is easy enough to do. Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style is made with yogurt, but if you still wish to make this but observe the laws of kashrut, you can substitute, full-fat coconut milk.

I made this for a Shabbat dinner which I always go all out for to make special. So in addition to the curry and salads, we made an easy zucchini and corn fritter (kofta) to along. They make a lovely, simple, vegan appetizer or side, which just require a dab of chutney or yogurt to finish off. I will be posting that soon.

For other Indian sides:

Indian Side Dishes with Something to Please Everyone

For other curries:

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro

Tofu Coconut Curry

Chicken Curry with Spices

Cashew Curried Chicken

Recipe

Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

For Marinade

1/4 cup plain full-fat yogurt or coconut milk

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated or crushed in a garlic press

1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

6 to 8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed and with 3 deep slashes made in the flesh of each

For the curry

3 Tablespoons neutral oil (I use Canola but sunflower etc. is fine)

1.5 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 bay leaf (fresh or dried)

4 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 medium tomatoes, cut into small dice

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Directions

Combine all of the marinade ingredients, except for the chicken, in a bowl and mix well to combine. Place the chicken in a glass or stainless bowl or clean freezer bag and pour the marinade all over. Gently massage the marinade into the chicken. Cover the bowl (or seal the bag) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour but up to overnight.

When ready to cook, heat the oil on medium heat in a heavy-duty pan with a flat bottom that can hold everything in one layer. Cast iron is great for this. Add the cumin seeds and bay leaf.

As soon as they begin to sizzle (about 1 minute) add the onions and cook for about 15 minutes or until a lovely golden color.

Now add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for about 10 minutes or until they have softened. Add the spices and salt and cook for an additional minute.

Add the marinated chicken along with any liquid and mix through. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 40 to 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Chicken Curry Punjabi-Style

This can be made earlier in the day if you like. It is best to allow the curry to rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to fully develop. Reheat on low when ready to serve. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh cilantro.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved the tart fruitiness of rhubarb. My mother would make a delicious compote with rhubarb and raspberries every summer as a refreshing treat. What I never understand is why bother to use rhubarb if you are going to change its personality by adding excessive amounts of sugar? This is a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie that honors the fruit with a clean freshness and tart fruity punch. It allows the rhubarb to shine with the strawberries adding extra color and fruitiness.

What is rhubarb?

Rhubarb

Well to start with, it’s actually a vegetable – not a fruit. But then tomatoes are really fruits and not vegetables. I will leave those arguments to botanists and pedants. What is important, though, is that we only eat the stalks. The leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid which is poisonous. This perennial rhizome is easy to grow in most northern climates and its beautiful rosy stalks are wonderful in baked goods but can even be eaten raw with a bit of sugar or salt.

Why this rhubarb pie?

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I looked at a LOT of recipes. Rhubarb pie is pretty basic and does not contain a lot of ingredients so how different can they be, right? How much sugar to use, whether to use flour, cornstarch or tapioca as a thickener, how long to bake and at what temperature and whether to add any other fruit are all things that varied from recipe to recipe. Of all the recipes I checked out, this was the only one that used lemon zest. For me, that was the deciding factor, although I do think that orange zest would also work. The point is that one change, made the pie sing and really brought out the fresh rhubarb flavor and tartness. So this Strawberry Rhubarb Pie does not taste like some generic fruity mush as so many rhubarb pies that I have tried do. I did make a few tweaks of my own to the original recipe.

Pie Crust

I love a good crust and I am more into wonderfully short, crumbly crusts than flakey crusts- perhaps because that is what I grew up with. My mother was a wonderful cook and baker and I learned early on that if the crust was too easy to manipulate then it probably wasn’t the kind of crust that I like. But this is very personal. So use whatever double crust you like here – even store-bought. If I am being honest, I tried a different crust for this and neither my husband nor I loved it. It LOOKS great, but for my next pie, I am going back to one of my tried and true.

Many rhubarb and other fruit pies use a lattice top and I think they are beautiful. But I found that it is also fun to use a cookie cutter and to place the cut-outs over the top instead. What is important here is the filling.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Let’s talk thickeners

For me, there is nothing worse than a gummy filling. But fruit pies do tend to give off a lot of juice so some thickener is needed or you will end up with soup. This recipe calls for Minute Tapioca. It leaves a very clean taste and allowed the filling to thicken without becoming gummy. Individual fruits may vary in their liquid content but generally speaking, rhubarb and strawberries contain a lot of liquid. I found that the amount of thickener used here allowed the juices to bubble up but once fully cooled, the filling held together nicely. Some people use flour or cornstarch instead of tapioca. I achieved good results with the tapioca in this recipe so I am sticking with it. If the thought of tapioca is icky or you simply don’t have it easily accessible, use an equal amount of all-purpose flour or cornstarch instead. A little of the juices will bubble over which is totally normal for a fruit pie. So unless you want to be cleaning up a mess in your oven, be sure to have a pan underneath. And you MUST use a deep-dish pie plate for this recipe! There is a lot of yummy filling and anything more shallow simply won’t work.

Toppings

Really good quality vanilla ice cream! ‘nuf said.

So this 4th of July, maybe consider making a strawberry rhubarb pie instead of blueberry. But don’t wait for a holiday to make this luscious dessert.

For other rhubarb recipes:

Rhubarb Frangipane Galette

Rhubarb Strawberry Tart with Walnut Crust

Harvest Food: Rhubarb Cake

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings or One 9-inch deep-dish pie

Ingredients

1 unbaked double pie crust

2 Tablespoons crushed bland cookies (digestive biscuit or graham cracker for example) OR almond meal

1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into about 1/2-inch thick pieces

1 pound of strawberries, hulled and sliced in half if small or quartered if large

1/25 cups granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons Minute Tapioca

Zest of one large lemon

1 egg

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Line a deep dish pie plate with pastry. Fold about 1.5 inches of the overhang under and smooth or decoratively crimp, if desired. Trim off any excess beyond that. Spread the crushed cookie crumbs over the bottom of the crust. This will help prevent sogginess.

In a large bowl combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, zest and tapioca. Using your hands or a spatula (Okay, or a large spoon), gently stir to combine. All of the sugar will not perfectly combine with the fruit at this point. Not a problem. And while it may look like a lot of sugar, it is exactly the right amount.

Pour the mix into the crust, mounding it slightly.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Depending on what you are doing with the top crust, either lay the lattice or dough cut-outs over the top and lightly press the edges down. If you are using a single sheet of dough over the top, then make 4 deep slits in the pie crust to allow the steam to escape. This isn’t necessary with the lattice or cookie cutter top.

Beat the egg and lightly brush over the entire crust. This will give a nice shine, but it also may cause some over-browning. More on that in a bit! Sprinkle some coarse sugar over the egg if desired. It will lend some sparkle. ANd who doesn’t need a little sparkle these days?

Place the pie plate on a baking pan with a rim. You can use a sheet of parchment on the pan to make clean-up easier.

Bake on the bottom rack for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 45 minutes more or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden. Check on the pie and lightly cover with a sheet of foil if the top seems to be browning too quickly. I should have covered mine a couple of minutes sooner. Don’t worry if some of the liquid bubbles over. That is pretty traditional in a fruit pie, but it is also why you want a pan underneath.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

So Shabbat was coming. My husband was busy making challah and I was trying to decide what I could make for dinner that would feel special. And it was 90 degrees outside! So I came up with this delicious, Greek-inspired, sheet-pan chicken with only one pan to wash. And if I am really being lazy, I can use aluminum foil on the pan and have nothing to wash!

I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have come up with this idea. But mine came to me at 2:00 am when I couldn’t sleep. It’s based on decades of cooking and eating, rather than a recipe. It is an easily adaptable recipe and I have already thought of several variations for other Friday night dinners. Since it is just the two of us, I only made a relatively small batch, but this can easily be doubled or tripled.

Growing up, when chickens were delivered to our house by Irving The Chicken Man, my preference was for chicken wings and breasts. But nowadays, when so many chickens are bred with these ginormous, flavorless and often rubbery breasts, I prefer to use thighs. They have more flavor, stay juicier and more tender and are almost impossible to overcook. And they tend to be cheaper too. Need I say more?

For other delicious sheet-pan chicken recipes:

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Ingredients

About 2 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (You can also use drumsticks, if you prefer)

4 to 5 golden or baby Bliss (red) potatoes, quartered lengthwise

1 lemon, sliced into rounds

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup pitted cured green olives (You can use olives with pits, but be sure to let people know when serving!)

1/4 cup pitted cured black olives (If you only have one kind of olive, then use 1/2 cup)

Juice of 1 lemon plus enough vinegar (I used Balsamic) if necessary to make a generous 1/3 cup

A 5 Tablespoons of EVOO

1.5 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Optional Garnish

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or any fresh Mediterranean herb

Directions

Make deep slits on both sides of the chicken thighs. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of chicken and place in a glass or aluminum bowl or clean resealable, heavy-duty plastic bag.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Add the sliced lemon, potato wedges, sliced garlic, olives and chopped rosemary.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the remaining ingredients and pour it over the chicken mix. Refrigerate for at least one hour, but up to overnight is okay.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Remove from the fridge one hour before ready to cook. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the solid ingredients from the bag or bowl and place, skin-side down on a rimmed sheet-pan that has been lightly oiled. Lightly sprinkle with some additional salt and paprika.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Place in the top third of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then turn the chicken to be skin-side up. Again sprinkle lightly with additional salt and paprika. You can also turn over the potato wedges. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the chicken and potatoes are golden brown. Remove to a platter and garnish with the chopped parsley if you are making a presentation or just serve from the pan to be unfussy. Either way, feast and enjoy!

Crunchy “Asian” Slaw

Crunchy “Asian” Slaw

This past weekend I decided to make my Sticky Asian Ribs, corn on the cob and this Crunchy “Asian” Slaw. Dessert was my Blueberry Galette. While “Asian” wasn’t in quotes for my rib recipe, it probably should have been. Both my ribs and this delightful coleslaw are certainly Asian-inspired, but I sincerely doubt that either would qualify as an authentic Asian recipe. Crunchy “Asian” Slaw is a no-fuss, delicious side that we all will want this summer.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that when I am making food from a particular culture and cuisine, I go to great lengths to buy the right herbs and spices. And I always search for reputable sources for my recipes and try hard to honor and respect these heritages. But there are also times when it is fun to go off book and to create dishes that give you a certain flavor profile without slavishly being authentic.

I’m not a big fan of creamy, mayonnaisy coleslaw. It has its place but it’s often just a bit too much for me. So when I knew that I was making the ribs, I wanted to find a recipe that was a bit lighter and would compliment the star anise and ginger flavors in the ribs. I also wanted it to be easy. With a few minutes spent surfing the web, I came across this recipe and decided to give it a try. Now I hope that you will too.

So if you are looking for a riff on coleslaw to serve at your next barbeque or with some grilled or roasted meat or fish, give this Crunchy “Asian” Slaw a try. It will work with any kind of slaw that you like. I chose a broccoli carrot slaw, but any cabbage or crunchy vegetables will work. The prep is minimal and the slaw will keep for several days in the fridge. And with more time spent outside, isn’t it great to be able to reach in your fridge for a delicious side that’s all ready to eat. This slaw will brighten up any simple meal. Now that summer is here, who wants to spend lots of time in the kitchen cooking? Haven’t we all done plenty of that over the past year?

For another great coleslaw, try my Holiday Coleslaw.

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

For the Coleslaw

1 pound shredded crisp veggies (cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas etc.) or packaged coleslaw mix (any kind)

3 scallions, sliced on an angle

About 1 cup chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

For the Dressing

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar (I decided to use brown rice vinegar, but any kind will work)

3 Tablespoons maple syrup, agave, or brown rice syrup

1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari

1 large garlic clove, crushed or grated

1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or chili paste (Optional)

Toppings

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Roasted peanuts or cashews

Directions

Toss slaw ingredients in a bowl. Add the chopped cilantro and scallions. Pour the dressing over everything and toss to combine. Garnish with the seeds and/or nuts. Now enjoy!

Blueberry Cheesecake

Blueberry Cheesecake

Do you crave cheesecake? Growing up in New York, cheesecake was dense enough that you could stand up a fork in it. Now you can have that decadent, rich, silky, dense blueberry cheesecake without eggs. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

My mother used to make a marvelous marble cheesecake. And while I adored it, I hadn’t made it in about 40 years. Since most of the time it is just me and my husband – especially since the pandemic – making a cheesecake that serves 12 to 14 servings simply didn’t make sense. And even when I had guests, everyone was either watching their cholesterol, kept kosher or had a deathly egg allergy.

Then I came across this eggless cheesecake and it caught my eye. I had intended on making it for the Festival of Shavuot when it is traditional to eat dairy meals. However, didn’t quite get there. When I saw that it used a 6-inch springform pan I was really interested. Finally the perfect New York-style cheesecake that two people could reasonably consume in a few days! But did it taste good? Because at the end of the day, what’s the point in eating a rich dessert if it doesn’t taste great? It’s wonderful. Not too sweet and while dense and rich, it is surprisingly not super heavy. The cheesecake is creamy and has wonderful mouthfeel. And while it would be delicious with any or no topping, the blueberries add both visual appeal and a lovely counterpoint to the rich filling.

I made a few tweaks both to the instructions and to the ingredients. And while I did make the crust as directed, my husband and I decided that next time, I would likely halve the amount. There was nothing tricky about the process. I did have to purchase a 6-inch springform pan, which is easy to get online and was not expensive. But since I loved the resulting size which was perfect for 6 servings, I will definitely be using it over and over again.

The recipe called for frozen blueberries, but feel free to use fresh especially now that summer is here and they are so plentiful. You will note that the cheesecake itself uses no additional sugar beyond what is in the sweetened condensed milk. This is just the right amount of sweetness and you are left with a very clean taste that allows the creaminess of the cheesecake to shine.

If you are looking for a lighter cheesecake – also not overly sweet – try my Summer Ricotta Cheesecake or this Crostata di Ricotta.

Recipe

Blueberry Cheesecake

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

Crust (This is the amount in the original recipe which makes a delicious but fairly thick crust)

250 g of crushed biscuits (Digestive or graham crackers) This is about 2.5 cups

1/2 cup (113 g) melted butter (salted or unsalted)

Filling

8 oz. (225 g) full-fat cream cheese in a block, softened

1/2 cup (120 g) heavy or double cream

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of one large lemon

Zest of 1/2 an orange

14 oz. can (396 g) of Sweetened Condensed Milk

Topping

2 cups (380 g) of fresh or frozen blueberries

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Zest of half of a large lemon

2 teaspoons corn starch

3 Tablespoons (44g) cold water

Blueberry Cheesecake

Directions

Lightly grease the bottom of the springform pan and line it with a round of parchment. You don’t have to do this but it will make it easy to transfer the cake off of the bottom of the tin.

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor or with a rolling pin until you have fine crumbs. Do not wash the food processor. Just try to remove any excess crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and add the melted butter. Mix until all of the crumbs are moist. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 160 C.

Using a hand beater or the food processor (why dirty another utensil?) beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.

Blueberry Cheesecake

In a smallish bowl, whisk the heavy cream and corn starch until smooth. Add this to the cream cheese. Add the vanilla, sweetened condensed milk and citrus zest. Blitz until the batter is completely smooth. Pour the batter into the pan over the crumb base.

Wrap the bottom of the pan in two layers of aluminum foil to prevent any leakage. Set the pan in a baking dish large enough to hold it. I used a 9-inch square pan. Carefully add hot tap water to the pan until it comes up about half-way up the sides of the springform mold.

Blueberry Cheesecake

Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour or until the center just slightly jiggles. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar with the cheesecake inside. Keep the pan in there until your oven fan turns off or the cheesecake cools down. This prevents the crust from cracking.

Remove the cooled cake to a wire rack and using a sharp, flat blade, just carefully run it around the circumference of the cake. Cool the cake in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours.

Meanwhile make the topping. Place the blueberries, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed pan. On medium heat, cook until the sugar dissolves. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and water (that just means that you mix the two until there is a milky, smooth liquid). Add this to the blueberry mixture and bring it to a boil. Cook until the mixture thickens up. It doesn’t have to be totally solid as it will continue thickening in the fridge, but should be the consistency of a good jam. Allow the mixture to cool.

Add the cool mixture to the top of the cheesecake. I did it in the mold, but the original had you unmold the cheesecake and then add it. Your preference.

When you are ready to serve, unlock the springform and carefully remove the ring. You can then either leave the cake on the bottom for serving or it should come off easily once the suction has been broken. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy.

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer) is super rich, satisfying and, yes, healthy. While the original recipe called for paneer, a mild Indian white cheese, I made it using firm tofu. However you make this incredibly easy and quick curry it will be delicious. If you use canned beans, the dish will be ready in under 45 minutes and any leftovers will last for several days. But if you decide to cook up your own beans (which I did) the cooking liquid can be used in this recipe or as a base for soup.

I only started seriously cooking my own beans this year, but have found it to be both easy and thrifty. And storing dried beans takes up less space in my pantry. An additional benefit is that I don’t have to worry about exploding cans that got lost in the back of my cupboard!

My husband and I were enjoying the leftovers last night while talking about how different our diet was now from what we grew up with. As children of the 1950’s and 1960’s, meat was on the menu almost every night. Since we both grew up on the Eastern seaboard, we also ate a fair amount of fish. And unlike today, our chicken and eggs were delivered to our house by Irving, the “Chicken Man”. Why Irving also delivered fresh pizzas I couldn’t say. Our milk (whole, of course) was also delivered every few days in glass bottles. The cream always rose to the top, forming a plug when you opened the cap. In the wintertime, if the temperatures went below freezing, the bottles could explode and then we were forced to drink powdered milk – super yuck!

While I was never a huge meat eater, red meat now is pretty much reserved for holidays and a bit more in the winter as stew or in soup. Increasingly, though, our dinners are vegetarian, sometimes vegan and poultry as pretty much our only animal consumed. Living in the Midwest, our access to good fresh ocean fish is less and it tends to be VERY expensive. And I do hate the way my house smells when I cook it.

But I digress. As I have mentioned many times in this blog, we love Indian and Middle Eastern cooking (acknowledging that there are many varieties of both cuisines). Both are very fruit, veg, whole grain and pulses forward and by generously utilizing herbs and spices the dishes sing.

Kidney Bean Curry is just one more example of how we can eat healthily and well without meat. Serve the curry over some rice or with a flat bread of choice. We like to add a dollop of yogurt on top, but it is also good without if you are trying to stay away from dairy. This wonderful weeknight dinner comes from Healthy Indian Vegetarian by Chetna Makan with a couple of tweaks by me.

Recipe

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings [It may not look it, but it will make this much with rice]

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons neutral oil [I like Canola]

2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger root

14 oz. can chopped tomatoes [I always buy fire roasted if I can]

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1.5 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 Tablespoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) [If you don’t have this lovely herb, add 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup]

1 teaspoon sugar (light brown granulated or jaggery)

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

3 cups of cooked red kidney beans (about 400g.) [If you are cooking your own, I used 1 cup of dried beans]

18 ounces (500 ml.) of boiling cooking liquid from the kidney beans or water. [If you are using canned beans, only use the liquid if the beans are organic]

14 ounces of firm or extra firm tofu or paneer cheese, cut into 1-inch dice

Directions

Drain and rinse the kidney beans if using canned beans. If you cooked them, simply drain the beans while reserving the liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add 1 teaspoon of the cumin seeds. As soon as they start to sizzle, add the onions and cook on medium heat until golden brown.

Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes, including the liquid and cover the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the tomatoes are well-softened.

Remove the lid and add in the remaining cumin seeds, the other spices, sugar and salt and cook for 1 minute, stirring everything through. Add the beans and the boiling water or liquid from the beans. Cover the pan and cook on low to medium heat (just simmering) for about 30 minutes. The beans should still hold their shape but be very tender.

Stir through the tofu or paneer just enough to heat it. Serve over rice or with flat bread.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Almond Cardamom Cake

Have you ever noticed that something that you never heard of before is suddenly everywhere? This Almond Cardamom Cake is a prime example. Of course, there have been cake recipes with cardamom and almond. But this particular cake is now all over YouTube and the internet. And it has received all of the expected gushing and ooohs and aaaahs. According to The Guardian, Alice Waters says that is the one recipe that she couldn’t live without. Who am I to contradict Alice Waters, famed chef and owner of Chez Panisse? So when I was looking for something different to bake this week, I decided to try this recipe which first appeared in Niloufer Ichaporia King’s cookbook, My Bombay Kitchen. King got the recipe from a Swedish friend who got it from… well, you get the point. So here we are.

I find it fascinating that a spice so common to South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine is also prevalent in Scandinavian baking and drinks. You would be hard-pressed to find more different cuisines. While there are a few theories, including the Moors, many believe that Vikings brought cardamom back from Constantinople 1,000 years ago. However these fragrant pods arrived in the chilly north, they have come to define Swedish baking.

This is a simple cake. There is no frou frou. Not a sprinkle, dragee or frosting in sight. And frankly, that is one of the many things that it has going for it in my opinion. It’s an anytime cake. Great for an afternoon break or the perfect dessert after a well-seasoned meal. And equally delicious with your morning coffee or tea. It’s a “no excuses” kind of cake that comes together so quickly and without any fuss. In other words, it’s my kind of cake.

Almond Cardamom Cake is quite easy to make, especially if you buy cardamom already hulled. The only change I made to the recipe was to use jaggery instead of granulated sugar in the cake itself. For those of you who are unfamiliar with jaggery it is a cane sugar used often in South Asia and it lends a caramel taste to the end product. I’ve only recently begun using it and perhaps the novelty will eventually wear off, but it does seem to add a certain somethin’ somethin’ to baked goods. The original recipe calls for granulated sugar so feel free to use that instead. But if you decide to give jaggery a try, it is especially wonderful with apples, in rice pudding or with pineapple and is available through the internet or in Indian grocery stores.

So what is my verdict on this cake? It may not be a show-stopper, but it is a cake that I could gladly eat without ever tiring of it. The inside is fluffy, moist and fragrant. The outside has a lovely sugary crispness, which is enhanced by the sliced almonds. And while there is no citrus in the cake, I found that there were citrusy undertones, which likely come from the cardamom. SO unless you are craving loads of frosting or think that a cake isn’t special without sprinkles, give this delicious cake its due. You’ll be glad that you did.

Recipe

Almond Cardamom Cake

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

1.33 cups (264 g) granulated sugar or powdered jaggery, plus more for the pan

Scant 3/4 cup (65g) sliced, unblanched almonds

4 large eggs

1.33 sticks (150 g) unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon (9 g) cardamom seeds

1.33 cups (160 g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 pinches of kosher salt

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan. Place a disk of parchment on the bottom of the pan and butter that as well. Then spoon about 2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar into the bottom of the pan. Carefully angle the pan, tapping as you go until the bottom and sides are well coated with the sugar. If there is any excess, just leave it on the bottom.

Cover the bottom of the pan with the sliced almonds.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Using a standing or hand-held mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until tripled in volume and they have reached ribbon stage. This takes between 3 to 5 minutes. You can do this by hand if you have a powerful arm and want a good workout!

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan. “Bruise” the cardamom seeds using a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. You don’t want them ground up – just slightly crushed or cracked to release their essence.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour and salt into the egg mixture, trying not to deflate it too much. Then add the melted butter and cardamom.

Almond Cardamom

Give the batter a good stir through so that everything is well distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and thump the pan on the counter to get out air bubbles.

Bake in the middle of your oven until the top feels dry and springs back when lightly pressed. The original recipe said 30 to 35 minutes, but ovens can vary so much. Mine took about 45 minutes but I also had my springform pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips (there weren’t any). Remove the cake from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Then take a thin blade and gently go all around the sides of the pan to make sure that the cake doesn’t stick anywhere. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and loosen the springform. Remove the ring and carefully take off the bottom. My parchment stuck with the pan, but if it stays with the cake, then gently remove that and allow the cake to cool completely before cutting. It lasts for several days and will become even more flavorful.

For other unfussy but absolutely delicious cakes:

Rye Chocolate Crumb Cake

Orange Semolina Cake

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

Valentine’s Day Cake

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake with Roasted Strawberries

Cashew Curried Chicken

Cashew Curried Chicken

While it may officially be Spring, the weather is still quite chilly, damp and a bit dreary. Normally, I would cheer myself up by heading to the Art Institute or Museum of Contemporary Art, but until very recently these have been closed. And although you now can go to the museums, you have to think ahead and make reservations. So to brighten up our lives, I have been turning to Indian and Middle Eastern foods even more than usual. This Cashew Curried Chicken with its bright spices and herbs lend color to my otherwise somewhat dull existence. As mentioned in a previous post, I have become a fan of Chetna Makan and watch her on YouTube almost daily. This recipe is hers with some tweaks from me that do away with a pan, an extra step and the order of adding a couple of ingredients.

Do not be put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients. The spices are used over and over again in both Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. So if you enjoy these foods, you will easily use them up. And everything is readily available online or in many grocery stores these days. But because the spices and herbs are so integral to the dishes, please look for the freshest ingredients and grind your own spices whenever possible. It only takes seconds in a spice or coffee grinder and you will be rewarded over and over with the most vibrant flavors. And by buying whole spices, they will remain fresh longer in your cabinet.

Chicken thighs are used here. They are more flavorful than the breast, in my opinion, and almost never get dried out or tough. However, if you really want, you can use an equivalent amount of chicken breast meat instead.

This curry comes together easily and you can have dinner on the table in about an hour. Served simply over rice or with a flatbread, it’s a complete meal. Since my husband just made some delicious pita, we went with that. But if you have the time and add on a raita and some pickle, you can have a feast. So brighten up your life and enjoy this luscious and luxurious Cashew Curried Chicken soon.

Recipe

Cashew Curried Chicken

Yield: 4 to 6 servings, depending on appetite and sides

Ingredients

1/3 cup raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour in hot water to cover

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped in a fine dice

2 Tablespoons neutral oil with a good smoke point (I use Canola)

4 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or crushed

3-inch piece pf fresh ginger, peeled and grated

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs – 2.5 pounds of boneless meat, trimmed of all fat. (You can use thighs with the bone-in, but you will need to increase the cooking time by 10 minutes.)

4 Tablespoons whole milk natural yogurt

1 sweet bell pepper, cut into large cubes

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8 pieces

1 Tablespoon fenugreek leaves (also called methi)

Spices

Cashew Curried Chicken

4 green cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves (dried or fresh)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions

In a large, deep pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves and cumin seeds. Allow everything to sizzle and become fragrant – about 30 seconds.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Now add the chopped onion and stir through the oil and spices. Cook until golden, stirring occasionally for 10 to 12 minutes.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Stir through the chopped tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Then cover the pan and on medium-low heat, cook for 10 to 12 minutes. The tomatoes should be softened and a sauce is beginning to form.

While the tomatoes cook, drain and crush the cashews into a paste using either mortar and pestle, food processor or spice grinder.

Turn off the heat! Now add the yogurt and crushed cashews and stir through, mixing well. By turning off the heat, you prevent the yogurt from splitting.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Stir through the coriander, garam masala, turmeric, salt and chili powder.

Nestle the chicken thighs into the sauce and coat with the sauce. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes if using boneless chicken and 30 minutes if the thigh is on the bone. Add the bell pepper and onion sections and stir through. Recover the pan and continue simmering for 10 more minutes.

Take 1 tablespoon of fenugreek leaves and crumble them into the curry by rubbing the leaves between your hands. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring until they are fulIy incorporated. If you do not have fenugreek leaves, do not try to substitute them. Do NOT use fenugreek seeds, which would be very bitter. Fenugreek has a unique and wonderful flavor and I think they are worth having on hand. If you are leaving them out, you can sprinkle some fresh cilantro on top before serving. The flavor is completely different but is also delicious.

Serve the curry over basmati rice (white or brown) or eat it with flat bread.

For other delicious curry recipes:

Chicken Curry with Spices

Tofu Coconut Curry

Vegan Red Curry Coconut Soup

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro

Thai Style Yellow Curry with Sweet Potato

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji with basmati rice or flatbread makes a satisfying vegan meal – full of umami. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. However, we don’t eat a lot of meat and I cannot remember the last time I sat down and ate a steak. This doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t want visually interesting meals with a great mouthfeel and full of flavor. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to both Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. Their use of fresh herbs, vegetables and spices make any meal a feast for the senses.

What is Sabji?

A sabji is simply a vegetable cooked in some sort of gravy with herbs. Sabji literally means green vegetable. In Persian cooking it is referred to as sabzi and can include meat as in Ghormeh Sabzi or chicken in this version. There is no surprise that there are similarities between Persian and Indian culture, which is especially evident in food and architecture. Persia invaded India twice – first in 535 BCE under Cyrus the Great and second under Emperor Nader Shah, the Shah of Persia (1736–47). In fact, many dishes that are thought of as quintessentially Indian actually were adapted from British, Portuguese, Mughal and Persia. Each conqueror brought new flavors and techniques to India. And while each nation ultimately lost India, there influences remain and enrich.

Fan Girl

Recently I have become a fan of Chetna Makan on YouTube and the author of several cookbooks, including Chai, Chaat & Chutney: a street food journey through India, where this Roasted Cauliflower Sabji appears. She is charming and enthusiastic about her dishes and just a delight to watch. It’s not difficult to follow and because I do enjoy Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, I have all of the seasonings on hand. This dish doesn’t require any chilis so it wasn’t necessary for me to tone down the heat. My husband was responsible for making the quick, and flavorful flatbread. I made up some urad dal and we enjoyed a healthy and delicious meatless Monday.

As with many Indian dishes, do not get put off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do this kind of cooking, you likely will have most of not all of the spices on hand. And the actual cooking technique is very straightforward.

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji would also make a wonderful side dish or as part of a larger Indian meal. However you decide to use it, I encourage you to make it soon.

There are so many different kinds of dal (legumes, pulses or beans) available. And even more recipes for them. Here are just a few and I will be adding more over time.

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Chana Dal Kichadi

Nutritious Comforting Khichari

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Red Lentils with Ginger

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings as a main course and more as a side

Ingredients

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

For the cauliflower

1 head cauliflower cut into small florets along with the stems

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

For the Sabji

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (I only had brown mustard seeds, so that is what I used)

2 roughly chopped small onions

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated

A 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated

2 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

Handful of chopped cilantro

Directions

For the Cauliflower

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and have the rack on an upper shelf.
  2. Mix the seasonings together and spread over the cauliflower. Mix it around to coat. Spread on a baking pan and roast for 15 minutes. Turn over the cauliflower pieces and continue roasting for an additional 15 minutes (total 30 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the Sabji

  1. In a pan large enough to hold all of the cauliflower and the other ingredients, heat oil. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop. Add in the chopped onion and stir through. Cook until lightly golden.
  2. Add the grated garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, stirring through.
  3. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes and cook on medium heat until the tomatoes soften and give off their juices. Add the chili powder, garam masala, salt and turmeric. Mix well.
  4. Add the roasted cauliflower and stir through, mixing well but try not to break up the florets. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and stir through.