Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty)

Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken blends cultural food influences deliciously. Now more than ever, I have become an armchair traveler. My world has narrowed down to our apartment and so I take every opportunity to bring the world safely to us. This fragrant dish conjures up spice markets in India and the Middle East. Perhaps a little history is called for in order to understand the origins of this curried coconut chicken dish.

While we Jews are small in number, we can be found in pockets all over the world. In part this is because we have been driven out of so many places over the millennia. But it is also because of the trades that we were limited to practice as merchants of goods ranging from spices and cloth to diamonds. And as we have traveled and changed our homes, we have adopted local cuisines.

This Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty) originates with a small community of Baghdadi Jews living in India. “The community, according to professor Shalva Weil of Hebrew University who has written on the Baghdadi community, traces its origins to 1730 when a man named Joseph Semah moved from Baghdad to Surat, a city north of modern day Mumbai. By the mid-19th century thousands of Jews from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria migrated to India, escaping persecution under the rule of Daud Pasha and seeking business opportunities.” Most of this community left when India gained independence from the British.

I came across this recipe for Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken on a Jewish heritage food website called Naama. It documents our varied and deep food traditions from Jewish communities all over the world. And there are always fascinating family stories to go along with the recipes.

Influences from whatever country Jews lived in were absorbed and adopted while making changes that allowed them to continue to observe the laws of kashrut. For example, this delicious curry is made with coconut milk rather than yogurt in order to honor the prohibition to not mix milk and meat. But you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this traditional Iraqi/Indian Shabbat meal.

Don’t be frightened off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do much South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, you should have most of the spices on hand. Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken isn’t difficult to make, but I do urge you to use fresh spices and whole spices that you grind yourself when cooking these cuisines. It is the spices that make the dish.

Since I was making this only for me and my husband, initially I did not also cook up a rice pilau to which I would have added English peas and carrots for additional color. I did serve this with a simple Moroccan beet salad and a Jerusalem salad along with a fresh mint chutney that I made. [See recipe below] Mint grows like weeds and I happen to have it in my terrace garden. You can also buy mint or coriander chutney. While normally I enjoy Indian food with naan or roti, Shabbat challah actually went beautifully with this dish and along with the potatoes served to sop up the delicious sauce. Served with some ripe cantaloupe and cherries – a perfect Friday night meal.

Since I had plenty of left-overs, the second time I served this with dal and a rice pilau. For some ideas of Indian side dishes to make, check out these suggestions.

While very well-seasoned, this dish is not at all spicy so is a perfect introduction for those who are heat averse. And the bonus in making this dish is that your house will smell absolutely amazing!

For another Iraqi chicken dish:

Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending on sides

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken breasts, cut in half if large
2 pounds of chicken saddles (thighs with legs attached)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used Canola)
5 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
5 generous teaspoons ground coriander
3 generous teaspoons ground cumin
About 2 pounds of small-medium potatoes, peeled [I used Yukon Gold and cut the potatoes in half so they would fit into my pan.]
1 large onion
1 piece of fresh ginger (2 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut cream
2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 8-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained and cut into thin slices lengthwise (Optional)
1 teaspoon garam masala 

Directions

1. Place the chicken pieces into a large bowl or plastic freezer bag and sprinkle and rub all sides with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt, ½ teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper and ½ teaspoon of turmeric. Set aside for about 30 minutes. [This can be done hours ahead and refrigerated.]

2. Place the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. Fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

3. Place all the chicken pieces into the pot with the skin side down. Sear the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken onto a plate. 

4. Place the potatoes into the pot with the oil and spices and fry the potatoes until golden brown on all sides, flipping them occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, place the onion, ginger, and garlic into a blender or food processor. Process the mixture until a paste is formed, about 2 minutes. [This can also be done ahead and refrigerated.] Add the paste to the pot with the fried potatoes. Add the paprika and remaining ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes. Place the chicken pieces back into the pot with the skin side up. Add the coconut cream, vinegar, water and bamboo shoots (if using) into the pot. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. The dish can be made several hours ahead and gently reheated. I didn’t add the garam masala until just before serving.

6. Sprinkle garam masala over the curry and serve hot. 

Mint Chutney (Phodino) Recipe

1 generous cup of packed fresh mint leaVES

1/2 cup of roughly chopped scallions, including green stems

1 Tablespoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

2 fresh hot green chili peppers, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Juice of one lemon or up to 2 limes (I used limes)

Directions

Blend everything together. Unlike commercial chutney which almost certainly has food coloring added, the green of the mint will darken some if made ahead. The taste will be fine, however. If you wish to have that vibrant green, add a couple of drops of a vegetable food coloring. I store this in a glass container in my fridge and it will perk up any meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian meal.

I actually was unable to get any hot peppers in my most recent grocery order so I substituted some Gojuchang. You could use other hot sauces like Sriracha or harissa and while possibly not quite authentic, the taste will be great.

Strawberry Dutch Baby

I love breakfast – for dinner. In the mornings, I simply can’t eat that much unless I have a day of hiking ahead of me. But my husband Andrew has been treating me to this Strawberry Dutch Baby for the last several weeks and it is soooooooooo yummy. Sometimes it is accompanied by breakfast meat and other times we just eat it on its own. And the great thing about it is that I don’t crave dessert afterwards. So have this Strawberry Dutch Baby for breakfast, brunch or dinner.

I thought that Andrew couldn’t improve on his Caramelized Apple Dutch Baby, but I was wrong. Well, actually I wasn’t. While that was perfection, so is this. And while it’s true that we can now eat strawberries all year long, take advantage of the summer fruit while you can. It will never have more flavor than it does now. And as the strawberries roast in the skillet while the Dutch Baby cooks, the flavor intensifies.

So what is a Dutch Baby? Well, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a cross between a very large popover and a Yorkshire pudding. It’s also called a German pancake. It can be plain or with fruit. And I suppose there is no reason why you couldn’t make a savory Dutch Baby, although I have not had it this way. The name has absolutely nothing to do with the Netherlands and likely is a mangling of the word Deutsch, meaning “German.” However you say it, just enjoy this marvelous creation.

My husband, as guest blogger, will now continue the post.

Hi! It’s me again, Andrew, and today I’m writing about a Strawberry Dutch Baby. It was inspired by a recipe from thekitchn.com (for details about how it was changed, see the Q&A below). Here’s the far superior and delectable result! [Okay, this is actually Lisa giving her critique. Andrew is much more modest.]

Recipe

Yield: 2 for dinner

Ingredients

  For the strawberry filling

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

    Zest of 1 medium lemon

Juice of 1/2 of medium lemon

    1 lb. strawberries, plus a few more for garnish

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter

    1 cup all-purpose flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp granulated sugar

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    4 large eggs

    1 cup buttermilk

    1 tsp vanilla extract

  For serving (optional, but recommended):

  Powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F

Put a 9” cast iron skillet on the stove on medium heat

Strawberry filling

Place 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon onto the sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until fully combined and gritty. If no one is watching, then by all means, lick your fingers.

Hull and cut 1 lb. of strawberries in half and place them in a large bowl. Cut an additional 3 to 4 strawberries into quarters and set aside. Squeeze the juice of half of the zested lemon onto the strawberries and toss to combine.

Batter

1. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ tsp ground cardamom in a bowl and whisk to combine.

2. In a different bowl, add 4 large eggs and whisk until frothy. Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 tsp vanilla extract and whisk to combine. 

3. Gently add the dry ingredients, and then add the quartered strawberries, whisking the batter just enough to get everything moist. Do not over mix.

4. Cut 3 tbsp of unsalted butter into 3 pieces, then put them into the skillet. Once the butter is melted, add most of the lemon sugar mixture to the skillet and stir to combine, then arrange the 1 pound of cut strawberries on top and sprinkle with the remaining lemon sugar mixture. 

5. Working quickly, pour the batter all over the berries. Put the skillet in the oven, baking at 400°F until puffed and golden-brown, about 20 minutes.

6. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries, if desired. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

——————-

Q. and A.

Q. If I start heating up the skillet at the beginning, by the time I finish making the filling and batter I think it will be way too hot and the butter will heat up too fast!

A. You may be right. Here’s the deal: just after we finish the batter we want to pour it onto the strawberries in the skillet. We don’t want the mixed batter to hang around too long waiting for the strawberries, but we also don’t want to overheat the butter or overcook the strawberries (they’ll become too mushy).

So how about this: while you’re preparing the batter, just before you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, go back to the skillet and melt the butter, heat up the lemon sugar mixture, and add the strawberries, then finish the batter.

It really all depends on how quickly you do the different steps, how quickly your skillet heats up, etc. Play around with the steps and do what works best for you. 

Q. Hypothetically, what if I poured the batter over the strawberries, and only then realized I’d forgotten to stir in the reserved strawberries. What should I do?

A. Funny you should ask. When that happened to me I just sprinkled the strawberries on top of the poured batter and put the skillet into the oven. It turned out fine.

Q. Can I serve this with whipped cream, instead of powdered sugar?

A. Of course! 

Q. What about vanilla ice cream?

A. See previous answer.

Q. What did you mean about this recipe being “inspired by” another recipe?

A. Well, the first time I followed the recipe exactly as it was on thekitchn.com the batter didn’t puff up, the strawberries were mush, and no one liked the result. So Lisa said, why don’t you make it more like our Apple Pancake recipe? So I reduced the amount of butter, added more flour, replaced the milk with buttermilk, removed one egg, and cooked the strawberries in the skillet less. It turned out better, but there was room for improvement. Third time around I added ¾ tsp baking powder and a few quartered strawberries to the batter, and I just barely cooked the strawberries before putting the skillet in the oven. The result was pretty good! Finally I upped the baking powder to a full teaspoon, threw in a bit of baking soda, and arranged to get the strawberries into the oven as quickly as possible. The batter ended up light, puffy, and delicious. That’s what’s printed here.

Q. Do you have to be some sort of cookbook author expert to make those sort of changes to a published recipe?

A. Nah. You just have to be willing to listen to good advice (from Lisa) and also willing to try making it more than once.

Orange Semolina Cake

All over the Middle East you will find recipes for semolina cakes. This Orange Semolina Cake is exceptionally moist and the perfect end to a well-spiced meal. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s visit to Nicosia,Cyprus on his show City Bakes. As with most semolina cakes, this one is soaked with a delicious sugar syrup. But unlike other semolina cakes that I have eaten, the ingredients call for mastic.

My only familiarity with mastic is as chewing gum, so I was skeptical at first. But I have come to trust Paul Hollywood. He has the joie de vivre and puckishness of Julia Child and is fastidious in his baking. So if he said to use mastic…. Apparently, it is not uncommon in Greek and Cypriot cooking. Also known as the “Tears of Chios,” which sounds much more poetic than “gum,” it is a tree resin with a unique, refreshing flavor. While I am willing to adapt recipes to my own tastes and preferences, when I can, I try respecting the traditions and cultures that I am mimicking as long as they don’t conflict with mine. This Cypriot Shamali cake (known as Basbousa in other parts of the Middle East) is an example.

If you don’t wish to purchase mastic (mine came from Amazon) the cake should still be delicious without it, although you might want to increase the amount of orange zest. The flavor of the mastic was quite subtle and not like anything I could easily identify. It was definitely there, however, and quite nice. And since travel seems unlikely anytime in the near future, I was willing to spring for this (for me) unusual ingredient. As an armchair traveler, it seemed a relatively cheap investment.

Because semolina cakes are soaked in syrup, they hold up well and are even better the next day when everything has melded. You need to pour the syrup over the cake while the cake is hot from the oven. This will help the cake absorb all of the delicious orange-scented syrup. And you don’t want to miss a drop. It will seem like an enormous amount of syrup, but don’t get scared off. The cake will absorb all of it. And surprisingly, for all of the sugar, the cake is not extremely sweet.

The measurements are as I found them. I own a small, relatively inexpensive kitchen scale and have learned that conversions from weight to measures is not always accurate. No matter how you pack your measuring cup, however, 200 grams will always be 200 grams.

This cake is lovely and easy to make. Try it soon. You won’t be disappointed.

For other delicious semolina cake recipes:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Recipe

Yield: 8 very generous servings

Ingredients

For the cake

190g caster (granulated) sugar

400g semolina flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mastic, crushed to a powder

Zest of a large orange (I used a navel)

170g natural yoghurt

2 medium eggs (I used large eggs and it was fine)

120ml sunflower or Canola oil

For the syrup

250g caster (granulated) sugar

300ml water

Juice of an orange

Garnish

25g chopped raw pistachio nuts

Directions

1. Line the base of a 20 cm. spring form cake tin (I used an 8-inch spring form tin which is just slightly larger) with baking parchment. There is no need to grease the tin.

2. Heat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. (375 degrees F.) Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth thick mixture. You could use a mixer if you like. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top to level. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake is risen and when a skewer is inserted it comes out clean.

3. To make the syrup heat the sugar, water and orange juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

4. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack on top of a pan with sides (to catch the drips.) Score the cake into 8 serving pieces. Pour over the hot syrup. It will look as if the cake is drowning but almost all of the syrup will be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once most of the syrup has been absorbed, scatter the chopped pistachio nuts over the top. Leave to cool completely before serving.

Red Miso Ginger Salmon

Red Miso Ginger Salmon is flavorful and delicious grilled or broiled. I admit that I have gotten away from eating fish. First, it’s very expensive in the Midwest unless you are buying lake fish. And secondly I don’t own a grill and making fish in the apartment usually means that I am stuck with that smell for a couple of days.

Atlantic salmon was actually a favorite food growing up. My mother would always get salmon steaks and we kids would fight over the crispy skin that surrounded the flesh. And then somehow I grew away from it. But I was watching Tiffani Thiessen the other night and she made a Red Miso salmon on the grill that looked so beautiful, I decided to give it one more try. And I’m really glad that I did. Mine was cooked under the broiler and had the addition of fresh ginger. Unfortunately cedar planks were unavailable at my store, but we never missed it. So don’t fret if you don’t have it either

This Red Miso Ginger Salmon couldn’t have been easier to prepare and the final product was delicious and a treat for the eyes as well. I served it with an Israeli Couscous salad with roasted vegetables and feta cheese along with Moroccan Beet Salad and homemade hummus and a riff on a Jerusalem salad. This was a perfect summer Shabbat dinner.

For other delicious salmon recipes try:

Salmon in Chermoula with Couscous

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce

Roasted Salmon with Kimchi

Light Salmon Salad

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup honey or Agave syrup

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 

2 tablespoons red miso 

2 tablespoons soy sauce 

5 large cloves garlic, grated 

About 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 pounds skinless salmon fillet, rinsed and patted dry (Mine actually had the skin on.)

Directions

Heat the oven to broil with a heavy-duty pan inside. (For less mess, line the pan with foil. If you do not have a broiler, heat the oven to 425 degrees F. For grilling instructions, check out the original recipe.)

Combine the honey, lime juice, miso, soy sauce, ginger and garlic in a small bowl or measuring cup. Mix well.

Lightly oil the pan or foil and place the salmon on top. Spoon enough sauce over the top to cover well. Reserve some sauce to spoon on just before serving.

Cook according to your oven instructions (door open partially or door closed). How long you cook the fish will depend on how thick it is and how rare you like it. I do not like rare fish but I like it to just flake easily. Mine took 15 minutes and was about 1-inch thick. Just keep an eye on it.

Moravian Coffee Cake

If you are looking for the ultimate coffee cake look no further. This Moravian Coffee Cake is moist, fragrant, sweet and utterly scrumptious.

Today I have a guest blogger – my husband and partner of 36+ years. For most of those years Andrew never did ANY cooking or baking. Now that we are retired, he has taken up the measuring spoon and rolling pin! And I am the proud and happy beneficiary of his efforts. This Moravian Coffee Cake is one such very, very delicious example. So while this blog is called Lisa and Frances Cook, I’m thinking of changing the name to Lisa and Andrew Cook!

Hi! I’m Andrew, Lisa’s spouse, and I’m writing today about how I baked a Moravian Coffee Cake. Gosh, that’s such an unlikely sentence! Let’s put aside for now how it was that I finally started to learn how to bake after all these years, and start our story on page 124 of James Beard’s Beard on Bread, where he presents a recipe for Moravian Coffee Cake. It sounds really good, and it yields two loaves, baked in 9 x 5 x 3-inch bread pans. The addition of mashed potatoes makes a uniquely moist cake that holds up beautifully.

But…

Lisa and I have been enjoying the Great British Baking Show: Masterclass. One night we were watching how Paul Hollywood made an apricot couronne and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to make a coffee cake that looked like that? So I tried it and got a large ring, a bit flattened, but it tasted great!

But…

Wouldn’t it be even better if we added some nuts? And if it was baked in a tube pan?

Here’s the result!

For other lovely coffee cake recipes:

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Apricot Almond Cake

Lisa’s Vegan “Honey” Cake

Gateau Breton – French Shortbread Cake

Recipe

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

    4 to 4½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

    2 packages active dry yeast (or 4½ tsp)

    ½ cup lukewarm tap water

    ½ cup granulated sugar

    1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter

    ½ teaspoon kosher salt

    2 large eggs

    ½ cup mashed potatoes (I used a Yukon Gold potato cooked in the microwave)

    1 cup somewhat finely chopped walnuts

    ½ cup dark brown sugar (Light brown sugar is fine too.)

    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

    ½ cup melted butter

   Confectioner’s sugar icing (Optional – but highly recommended! – see below)

Directions

Put ½ cup warm water in a mixing bowl, then add 2 tsp of the granulated sugar, whoosh it around, then add the yeast. Let the yeast proof for 8 to 10 minutes.

Then stir in 2 cups of the flour, the rest of the granulated sugar, the butter and the salt. Beat until smooth, either 300 strokes by hand OR use a dough hook and stand mixer on low for a few minutes.

Blend in the eggs and mashed potatoes, then add 1 cup flour and beat 150 strokes by hand OR a minute on low in the mixer with a dough hook. Stir in more flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Either turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand, or run it on low in the stand mixer until the dough is smooth and satiny, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shape it into a ball and place in a lightly buttered bowl, turning to butter all sides. Cover and let rise in a room temperature, draft-free place until doubled, about 1½ hours.

Punch the dough down, divide in half, and let rest 10 minutes. Mix together the nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Roll out each portion of dough into a roughly 13 x 10 in. rectangle. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle each rectangle with about one third of the nut mixture.

With the long edge facing you, roll the dough up tightly into a log.

Repeat for the other portion. Butter the inside of a 10 to 12 cup tube pan with straight sides and a removable bottom. Scatter some of the remaining nut mixture on the bottom. Place one of the rolls into the pan, starting at the center and spiraling outwards. Brush with some melted butter and sprinkle on some nut mixture. Place the second roll in the pan on top of the first roll, starting at the center and spiraling outward in the opposite direction. Brush with some melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining nut mixture.

Let rise, covered with a cloth at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes. If the top seems to be browning too quickly, lightly cover it with some foil and continue baking until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake sounds a bit hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon. Cool in pan five minutes. Remove from pan. When the cake is completely cooled, you can ice it.

Confectioner’s Sugar Icing

2 tbsp milk or water

a pinch salt

1 cup (and a bit) confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

Put milk and vanilla in bowl. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar. Whisk until smooth. The icing should be thick enough to not completely run off the cake, but thin enough to drizzle and cascade down the sides a bit. Add a bit more sugar if too thin or a bit more liquid if too thick. Drizzle over the top and let it run down the sides. It’s best to do this over parchment or waxed paper so that you don’t make a mess. Let your inner Jackson Pollack out! Allow the icing to set before cutting. To store, wrap the cake up well or place under a cake dome. This can also be frozen.

——————-

Q. and A.

Q. Why roll out the dough into two tubes? Can’t I just roll it out into one?

A. Sure. I did the dough in two portions because they’d be easier for me to handle.

Q. Do I have to put the dough into the tube pan in alternating spirals?

A. Nope. You can put it in any way you want. Mine turned out to look like a fossil nautilus shell, but I didn’t know that when I started.

Q. Andrew, would it be OK to not use the tube pan? I want to use this dough to make a couronne like Paul Hollywood did.

A. Absolutely, go for it.

Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup

This earth-toned Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup tastes rich and decadent without the guilt! The flavor is earthy and full of umami. The texture is silky smooth and dissolves on your tongue.

I was coming to the end of my two weeks worth of produce and was trying to come up with something for dinner. I still had a cauliflower and 3 largish Portobello mushrooms to use up. Not yet sure what I was going to make, I decided to roast them and thought I would figure it out later.

The roasted veggies smelled soooooo good that I thought why not combine them into a creamy soup. The result was even better than I had imagined and it would be irresponsible not to share it with you. While I did use chicken stock and a little butter, this could easily be made vegan. Just swap them out for a quality vegetable stock and either buttery vegan sticks or a bit more EVOO.

This Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup makes a wonderful first course or a dinner when accompanied by a salad and some good bread. This is good enough for a special dinner, but easy enough to make on a weeknight, especially if you roast the veggies the day before.

The speckled earth-tones of this Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup is my idea of beauty. However, if it isn’t yours, just close your eyes, take a spoonful and be prepared to be moved. It’s THAT good.

For other delicious creamy vegan soups try:

Watercress, Spinach & Chickpea Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings, as a dinner

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds) cut into small florets

3 large Portobello mushroom caps, whole or cut into thick strips

1 medium red onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, preferably unsalted

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or vegan buttery substitute

Kosher or sea salt and flavored pepper like Mrs. Dash

EVOO plus more for drizzling (use garlic, basil or lemon flavored if you have it)

Optional Garnish Ideas

Toasted walnuts

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives or oregano

Croutons

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. and raise the rack to the second from the top. You want the vegetables to be 6 to 8 inches from the top of the oven.

Liberally drizzle a baking sheet with EVOO (Just regular good quality EVOO). Toss the cauliflower and mushrooms in the oil. Liberally sprinkle with salt and the flavored pepper. Make sure that the veggies are in a single layer on the pan. Roast for about 30 minutes and then turn the veggies over and continue roasting for 10 more minutes. These can be made a day ahead and refrigerated if you like.

In a 5 quart pot, warm 1 Tablespoon of EVOO over medium high heat. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more.

Once the veggies are roasted, add them to the onions in the pot along with the stock and butter. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Allow the mixture to cool down to simply warm. While you can use an immersion blender (And I do love them!) you will get a smoother texture if you use a standing blender. Place the mixture in the blender and blend on low until smooth. Do not try to do this with very hot soup or you will have a mess on your hands!

Garnish and serve. Prepare to be delighted!

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies are rich, moist and citrusy bright. These perfect cookies are easy to make and even better to eat. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I LOVE lemons. And for me, there is no better finale to a delicious (or even not so wonderful) meal than a good dessert. Of course, these cookies would also be a wonderful accompaniment to afternoon tea. These lovely morsels are really mini-cakes and oh, so satisfying.

One bite and you get the sweet, moistness of the cake with a burst of fresh lemon. If you look back on recent posts of mine, you might detect a trend. That’s right – ricotta! It’s a lovely, creamy cheese along the lines of a farmer’s cheese. While it comes in low-fat versions, I only like to use whole milk ricotta in desserts. If you are lucky enough to live where hand-packed ricotta is available, that only needs a little vanilla extract, honey and cinnamon to make a delicious and quick dessert. Add some fresh berries and/or drizzle with some melted chocolate to make it a bit more decadent and a perfect no-bake dessert.

This cookie comes together quickly and there is no chilling of dough. You simply make the batter and bake it up. The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis. I am not generally a fan of hers but after a couple of tweaks, I have made a few things that have turned out well. And this is one recipe that you definitely should give a try.

For more delicious lemony desserts, try these:

Tarte Citron Mama

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Perfect Lemon Chess Pie

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the Cookies

2.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

15 oz. whole milk ricotta

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze

1.5 cups of powdered or icing (Confectioner’s) sugar

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

Directions

For the Cookie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Using a large bowl, combine the butter and granulated sugar. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand as well.) Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Now add the ricotta, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and beat well to combine.

Stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over beat. Mix until everything is incorporated.

Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of batter for each cookie. The cookies will spread some so leave about 2 inches of space between. Bake until the cookies are just becoming golden at the edges. The original recipe said 15 minutes, but mine were a bit bigger than Giada’s and all ovens are different. My cookies ultimately took about 23 minutes. So keep an eye on them after about 18 minutes. They are so moist that it is difficult to over bake them. You do want the bottom to be golden and just barely dry.

Allow the cookies to cool on wire racks. After they are cool, you can glaze the cookies.

For the Glaze

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon or spatula to gently spread.

While the cookies can be eaten almost immediately after glazing, I would not pack them away until the glaze is truly dry which takes about 2 hours. It’s best to pack them with waxed or parchment paper between layers. The cookie cakes will continue to get moister and you don’t want them to stick to one another.

Spaghetti Squash with Asparagus and Ricotta

Today is “Blursday.” Somehow I thought that being retired, the stay-at-home orders would be a minor adjustment for us. But even though we didn’t have jobs to got to anymore, the days still used to have more definition. After almost 4 months at home, the main “event” that now divides the day for us is dinner. Who cooks and what do we eat? I’m trying for variety in our meals even if there is very little variety in anything else in our lives right now. So when I came across this recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus it sounded like the perfect summer, meatless meal. Paired with a crisp Provencal rosé, this proved to be a lovely, light yet satisfying dinner for two.

We were lazy and decided that we didn’t want to make anything else to accompany the squash, but if you are more ambitious (or have tiny appetites), this could be stretched to feed 4 as a dinner. My husband ate his portion with a couple of crispy sesame bread sticks, but I didn’t feel the need for anything but the wine.

Now spaghetti squash is used by a lot of people to mimic pasta when they are looking to lose weight. And frankly, when eaten that way, I am NOT a fan. Because while the strands that develop when the squash is cooked, may resemble spaghetti, they most definitely do not taste like spaghetti. If you are someone who has fooled yourself into thinking that it tastes like pasta, more power to you. However, when it is treated on its own merits, it is quite delicious, and easy to prepare. This Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus is a delicious example of the latter. And during those hot summer nights, this meal would be satisfying without being heavy. Creamy yet with a bite. Delicious! And it was simple enough that with a little help from me, my husband was able to prepare the dinner.

Recipe

Yield: Dinner for 2-4 (More as a side)

Ingredients

1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 cup ricotta cheese

Freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (from 4 to 5 sprigs)

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet (Watch this carefully, flipping frequently. It just takes a few minutes.)

Directions

Arrange the rack in the upper middle of your oven and heat to 375 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise (Be CAREFUL) and scrape out the seeds and the pulp that is attached. Discard the mess. (Yes, you can wash and toast the seeds if you want. I did not.)

Brush the cut sides with 1/2 Tablespoon of EVOO. Place the squash, cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet with the garlic cloves underneath. Roast for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the woody ends off of the asparagus and cut the stalks on a diagonal into 2-inch pieces.

Remove the baking sheet with the squash from the oven and add the asparagus around or to one side of the squash. Drizzle with the remaining EVOO and sprinkle with salt. Return the baking sheet to the hot oven and continue roasting until the garlic is fragrant, the asparagus is tender and the squash is easily pierced with a fork. This took about an additional 20 minutes for me.

Meanwhile, place the ricotta, lemon juice, zest, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. When the squash and asparagus are done, remove the pan from the oven. Using tongs, place the squash halves in a bowl or on a cutting board. Try not to take any of the excess liquid. Using a fork, scrape the inside flesh of the squash to form strands. Squish the now soft garlic into the ricotta mixture. Add the asparagus pieces, trying not to include any extra moisture that may have formed on the pan. Add the squash strands and mix through. I found using tongs worked best for this. Place on a platter and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve. Yummmmm!

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

There are many foods that I can live without, but bread isn’t one of them. I enjoy it in all of the many forms and flavors that it takes. I love flat breads and fry bread. Herbed breads and sweet breads. And breads with crusts that make me thankful I have great teeth. Olive Rosemary Foccacia raises the volume on soups, salads and pastas. The pillowy chewiness of the center with the slightly salty crust and zing of fresh herbs makes this bread almost a meal in itself.

This easy-to-make recipe comes via Valerie Bertinelli and like just about every recipe of hers that I have tried, the directions are simple and it works out on the first try. As much as I like bread, even I can’t eat a whole pan of this delectable Olive Rosemary Focaccia in one sitting. Although it’s perfect for a family. So I ended up freezing half and saving some for another dinner. I definitely encourage you to eat this bread warm from the oven. Since mine was made a few hours earlier than we ended up eating dinner, I simply warmed it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven when I was ready to serve. The same goes for bread that you froze and defrosted.

So the next time you want to turn turn up the volume on a bowl of soup, salad or pasta, try this Olive and Rosemary Foccacia.

For another take on focaccia try this recipe.

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon sugar 

2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast 

3 1/2 cups bread flour 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for sprinkling (I have made this with just rosemary and with a mix of fresh herbs – rosemary, oregano and thyme. Works well either way.)

1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced (Red onion works too)

One 5.3-ounce jar pitted green olives, drained (A mix of black and green or one or the other works. Use what you have. I used Kalamatos and Cerignola this time.)

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (Optional but really nice)

Directions

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and grease with a thin layer of olive oil. (You can also make this directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment.)
  2. Place sugar and 1 1/2 cups slightly warm tap water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt and one tablespoon rosemary in a large bowl. Add to the mixer along with the oil. Knead the dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth, supple ball that is not sticky to the touch, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with more olive oil and cover with a bowl or clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Using well-oiled fingertips, gently press the dough out onto the sheet tray, making dimpled indentations all over the dough. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for another 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the dough with the onions, olives and rosemary and drizzle generously with oil. Bake the focaccia until it is puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving. Don’t be stingy with the EVOO. The focaccia drinks it up and it’s just delicious!

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

I hesitated posting this week. Somehow it seemed so frivolous. The world watched in horror while an unarmed Black man, begging for his life, was murdered by a white police officer – on camera – with others standing by. The aftermath of anger and despair provided an excuse for looting and destruction as well as a catalyst for worldwide peaceful protests demanding change. And I watched with continuing shame our country’s president as he made matters worse, instead of helping a nation already battered by the pandemic.

But summer has started here and much of the country is beginning to open up after three months of a punishing lockdown. And we still have to eat. This Summer Ricotta Cheesecake won’t cure Covid 19 or any of the other societal problems. It will give, however, an opportunity to smile and remember that there are still small pleasures out there – even if they are transitory.

I read a LOT of recipes and many get filed away to try “some day.” This particular recipe was on hold until eggs were no longer being rationed at the grocery store. We appear to be past that stage now so I wasn’t afraid to make a dessert that called for 6 eggs. And let’s face it, dessert makes everything just a bit better.

Nothing could be simpler than this Summer Ricotta Cheesecake. There are very few ingredients, the flavorings are adaptable and there is no pastry or crust to deal with. The filling cooks in such a way that it forms a very thin crust. If you can whip eggs whites and fold them into a batter then you can make this dessert.

The result will be a light, flavorful cheesecake that is the perfect end for a summer dinner. But because there are so few ingredients, make sure that you only use a good quality whole milk ricotta and fresh eggs. If you don’t have these ingredients, then wait until you do. You can play with the flavorings but not the basics of this recipe.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated which is perfect when your time in the kitchen is limited and is best parceled out. A homey recipe that isn’t at all fussy and an end product that is a summer delight. It’s speckled with zest and needs nothing more than a few fresh berries to smarten it up. Don’t worry about cracks. Just say that it’s rustic!

For a ricotta cheesecake to make when you have more time and want to fuss a bit (but oh, so worth it!) try the Crostata di Ricotta that I recently posted.

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings (One 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) plus about 2 Tablespoons for the pan

1.5 pounds (750g) whole milk ricotta at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

Zest of two large oranges and one lemon (See below for other flavoring suggestions)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 Tablespoon Rum (dark or light) or Marsala

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Generously butter (or spray) a 9-inch springform pan and dust with the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mix the ricotta and zest in a large bowl. You can beat it for a minute for a smoother texture, but frankly I didn’t bother to do that.

Add the flour and about 1/2 of the sugar to the ricotta. Mix it well (That means half of the 3/4 cup. Eyeballing is fine.)

Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in with the ricotta mixture and put the whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a clean, dry bowl. Either use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to whip the whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the remaining half of sugar (a Tablespoon at a time) to the whipped whites and beat until you just have stiff peaks. Do not over beat or the whites will collapse.

Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with the ricotta mixture.

Use a spatula and mix about 1/4 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to make sure that it is nice and loose. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites in about 3 additions. Do not over mix. You want the lift that the egg whites give.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan using the spatula to help. (Don’t pour from a great height or it will deflate. I learned this from Mary Berry!) Gently smooth out the top. Place the springform pan on top of foil or a baking pan to catch any oozing from the butter.

Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or until it is golden on top but the center of the cheesecake still wiggles. It will continue baking after it is removed from the oven and the center will set. (I promise.) The cake will sink some and crack as it cools. This is fine.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and then carefully run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to make sure that it does not stick anywhere. Do NOT open the springform, tempting though it may be! Allow the cake to cool completely. Then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Remove the ring of the springform and voila!

Now my husband and I have been watching a LOT of British Baking Master Class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Next time I make this, I may try to turn off the oven at 45 minutes and allow the cake to cool down in the oven as I have seen Mary do with other cheesecake. Supposedly it prevents cracking. We’ll see. Honestly, though, I don’t think the cracks really detracted from the final product. So just a thought.

Baking Note

For other possible flavorings, you could try a mix of citrus zests. Or ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Instead of rum or Marsala, you could use extracts: pure vanilla, coffee, almond or aniseed.