Smokey Chickpea Chorizo Soup

Smokey Chickpea Chorizo Soup is a hearty one-pot meal perfect for damp, chilly fall or winter days. This will warm your hearts and your stomachs and needs nothing more than some good bread. Add a salad and you have a veritable feast.

The texture of the soup is creamy but it comes from pureeing the veggies with an immersion blender. So the rich flavor and texture is actually healthy. And while the soup can be a bit spicy, the level of heat is all within your control. And did I mention that there is also kale?

The most difficult part of this recipe is remembering to soak your chickpeas the night before. In the winter, my husband and I love to spend Sundays snuggled at home with our beautiful, sweet cat. It’s the perfect day for making a big pot of soup or stew that will last all week for lazy lunches or dinners. While the soup slowly simmers, we will work on a crossword puzzle or two or just listen to some good music while we read. Somehow it’s even better if we can have some snow or rain while we are toasty and comfy with each other inside. And, of course, a fire crackling completes the picture.

The Magic of Sundays

The Smokey Chickpea Chorizo Soup only requires a minimum of prep and then you are pretty free to spend those 2.5 hours while it gently bubbles away in any pursuit that you choose. If you are feeling particularly virtuous maybe a workout is in order. Then again, Sundays are great days for watching a game. Buy a crusty country bread or make Socca.

This recipe makes a large quantity. And while I am happy to have it for lunch all week, you can also freeze the soup if it is more than you want. Better yet, invite some friends over to share this. You can thank me later.

The original recipe stemmed from a Bon Appetit October 2019 post by Carla Lalli Music. After reading the reviews and the recipe, I decided to make a number of changes.

Recipe

Yield: About 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

1 pound dried chickpeas, soaked to cover for 8 hours or overnight

4 quarts of water

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon bouillon (I like Better than Bouillon chicken or vegetable)

2 very large carrots, coarsely sliced

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 head of garlic, with cloves separated and peeled

1 smoked turkey leg or wings or a smoked ham hock (I prefer turkey)

1/4 cup EVOO

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

Freshly cracked black pepper

A good chunk of Parmesan rind (Optional)

1 large bunch of curly kale, leaves torn from the stems

7 to 8 ounces of Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced (I prefer “original” style, but you can also buy “picante” which is spicier. I did not need to go any further than my local grocery store to find this.)

Directions

Drain your chickpeas after they have soaked. Place them in a large stockpot (9 quarts, if possible) with the 4 quarts of tap water. Season with 1 Tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, skimming any foam that rises to the surface for about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and bring to a simmer.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, prepare your veggies. Once the liquid has been skimmed of foam, add in all of the veggies EXCEPT for the kale. Add in the seasonings, bouillon, Parmesan rind, if using and smoked turkey. When the liquid has returned to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 2.5 hours.

Turn off the heat and using tongs, remove the turkey or ham hock to a cutting board. Fish out the Parmesan rind, if using. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out about two+ cups of the chickpeas and set aside. Don’t worry if a few veggies fall in. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture left in the pot until smooth. (If you don’t own an immersion blender, BUY ONE! Mine was a gift from my son and daughter-in-law and it is now a cherished and essential piece of kitchen equipment. I don’t know how I managed without one. Fortunately, they are easy to come by and inexpensive. They also don’t take up much room, which is good because I have a small kitchen.)

By now the turkey should be cool enough to handle. Using your clean hands, strip the meat from the bones, cartilage and skin. If you use a turkey leg, there will be a fair amount of meat, but there will only be a small amount with the wings or ham hock. Add the meat back to the pot along with the whole chickpeas that you had set aside. You can make the soup ahead up to this point.

When you are ready to serve the soup, add the chorizo (which is fully cooked and only requires heating) and the kale. Return the soup to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes more. Honestly, it’s difficult to over-cook this as long as it is on a low heat. The soup just gets better each day.

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Valentine’s Day Cake

Celebrate your love with this deceptively simple yet extravagant Valentine’s Day Cake. Once you have tasted this luscious cake made with dessert wine and olive oil, you will forget all about chocolate.

I’ve been married for over 35 years. And during that time, my husband a and I send each other love notes and texts daily. So I tend not to get too worked up about Valentine’s Day, if I’m being honest. We usually buy or make cards for each other and maybe I’ll make a special dinner or dessert. If I’m in the mood.

However, when I came cross this recipe in the Wall Street Journal by Aleksandra Crapanzano a few weeks ago, I knew that it was going to be my Valentine’s Day Cake this year. It’s everything that I love in a cake. It uses top ingredients but there is nothing fancy or precious about it. There are no sprinkles or cloyingly sweet, artery-clogging frostings. This is a cake for adults. And best of all, it comes together quickly!

Dessert Wines

I became a fan of dessert wines when I was introduced to them on a cruise throughout the Mediterranean years ago. They still haven’t taken hold in the United States the way they have in Europe and that’s a shame. While some can be very pricey, there are lovely and affordable ice wines, Tokaji and Muscat wines. The worst are overly sweet and syrupy, but the best are as light as a kiss on a summer’s breeze.

For this cake, don’t choose a dessert wine that is too light in flavor. You want something that is lovely and fruity. So if you are unfamiliar with dessert wines, ask your local wine store for suggestions. While delicious immediately, the flavors of the wine and the citrus will develop even further if you make this a day ahead of serving.

Moments of Perfection

So go ahead and take a bite. Then just close your eyes for a moment and inhale the amazing flavors and wonderful moist texture. Remember, if your dessert is wonderful, it’s okay if the rest of the meal isn’t perfection.

If you simply cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without chocolate, however, try this Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze or this Chocolate Amaretti Torte.

Cupid Cutout Image #1

Recipe

Yield: About 6 Servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1¼ cups sugar

3 large eggs

¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (I actually used an orange EVOO to bump up the orange flavor)

½ cup Sauternes, ice wine, Tokaji or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (I used Beaumes de Venise)

¾ cup whole milk

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

Zest of 1 orange, preferably organic

For the syrup: SEE NOTE

½ cup sugar

½ cup Sauternes or alternative

For topping:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup crème fraîche OR 1 additional cup of heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of Sauternes

1 to 2 Tablespoons of Confectioner’s sugar (to taste)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for convection). Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat together sugar and eggs until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Add oil, wine, milk and zests, and beat to combine, 1-2 minutes. Then add sifted ingredients and beat until just combined, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a knife emerges clean, 35-45 minutes. After 12 minutes open the springform and remove the outer ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting onto a cake plate.

3. Make the syrup: In a small pot over low heat, dissolve sugar completely with a few spoonfuls water. Bring syrup to a simmer and cook until almost golden. Resist the urge to stir the syrup! You are trying to lightly caramelize the sugar and that simply won’t happen if you stir. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the wine.

NOTE: Okay, full disclosure. I had a terrible time with this syrup and I have caramelized LOTS of sugar. As soon as I added the wine, the sugar formed into the ball stage and I had to rewarm the mixture to dissolve the sugar crystals. It also spattered everywhere, burning me slightly in the process. SO BE CAREFUL! Honestly, I thought the cake was delicious on its own with just the whipped cream, but after eating it with the syrup, it puts things over the top.

4. Before serving, whip cream(s) until billowy with a heaping tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and a splash of Sauternes. Sprinkle cake with confectioner’s sugar, if using. Serve slices with a generous drizzle of syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

FURTHER NOTE: While this cake is wonderful as set forth, it would also be great with some sort of stewed or roasted fruit or with some fresh berries.

Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice

Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice is a savory, succulent, budget-friendly dinner worthy of company. Also known as Plau B’Jeej, this dish contains subtle layers of flavors and textures. I cooked chicken thighs with tomato paste and spices to make the broth which I then used later to cook the rice. Chicken thighs are more flavorful than breast meat and they retain their moisture. Onions (LOTS) were slowly sauteed until just short of caramelization. When I added an exotic blend of spices along with almonds and raisins I was immediately transported to the market places in Israel.

We ate the Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice for a satisfying, lovely Shabbat meal. A cup of Greek Red Lentil Soup, along with side salads of Moroccan Beets, Baba Ganoush and a watercress, Persian cucumber, tomato and olive filled out the menu. And, of course, my husband’s beautiful challah!

While I know that some people eat the same special meal every Shabbat, I have always tried to vary it. With a wonderful library of cookbooks, I’m never short of inspiration. As anyone who follows my blog knows, I especially love Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food as well as Indian. They both use lots of fresh herbs, pulses, vegetables and spices and it’s fun to mix and match cuisines. These palate pleasers also create a feast for the eyes with their colorful blends. This recipe comes from the Jewish Soul Food From Minsk to Marrakesh cookbook by Janna Gur.

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings, depending on sides. Any leftover rice can be used with other grilled, or roasted meat, chicken or fish.

Ingredients

2 to 2.5 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (or saddles , which includes the legs)

5 cups of water

7 ounces of tomato paste

1 slightly rounded teaspoon of ground cumin

1 slightly rounded teaspoon sweet paprika

Generous pinch of cayenne (optional, but I used)

Kosher salt

2 cups long-grain white rice (I used Basmati)

3 to 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil such as Canola

3 large yellow or white onions

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 slightly rounded teaspoon baharat spice mix (easily available online, but a recipe for making it at home will be included at the bottom)

1 cup of blanched slivered or halved almonds

1/2 cup of raisins (I used unsulphured Sultana Raisins)

Directions

Place the chicken in a medium saucepan. Mix the water with the tomato paste, cumin, paprika and cayenne. Pour the liquid mixture over the chicken. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for one hour. Toward the end of cooking, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside until it is cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes). There should be just about 3.5 cups of liquid remaining, which you will use in a bit to cook the rice.

While the chicken is cooking, rinse and then soak the rice in cold water, using a sieve or colander over a bowl. The rice should soak for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes. Then drain the rice.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the meat off of the bone. Set the chicken meat aside.

Peel and thinly slice the three onions. Don’t get scared off by the seemingly large amount. It cooks down and is all necessary. In a 12-inch pan (preferably cast iron) heat the vegetable oil. I ended up using about 3.5 Tablespoons of oil. Add the sliced onions and saute over medium heat, only stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes+. You want the onions to become softened and just beginning to turn golden and caramelized. Season with salt to taste and add the turmeric and baharat. Mix through. All of this can be done ahead if you wish.

Twenty minutes or so before you are ready to eat, bring the tomato liquid to a boil. Add the drained rice. Cover the pot tightly and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, but check it after 15 since different brands of rice cook different times. You want the liquid to be absorbed and the rice to be tender. Fluff the rice with a fork, re-cover the pot and allow the rice to stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat the onion mixture if you made it ahead. Add back the chicken and mix it through. Add the almonds and saute for about 5 to 6 minutes more, gently tossing the almonds through the mixture. Now add the raisins and cook for one more minute.

This can be presented on a platter with the rice on the bottom and the chicken, almond, onion, raisin mixture mounded on top. Be sure to leave some of the rice visible. You can also serve this in a similar presentation on individual plates. Top with a bit of fresh parsley or cilantro for color contrast.

Baharat Spice Mix

There is no one single recipe for Baharat. Every family and spice vendor has their own blend. The following recipe also comes from the Janna Gur cookbook and is one option for making Baharat at home. I used a commercial blend this time which I received as a gift.

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom

1 Tablespoon freshly ground balck pepper

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 Tablespoon ground ginger

1.5 teaspoons ground allspice

1.5 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Combine and keep stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is for anyone looking for some real lemon love. Whenever I come across a recipe with “Lemon” slap dab in the beginning of the name, I have to take a look. And this recipe really layers in the lemon – first in the batter, then in the sugar syrup and finally in the light glaze. For other truly memorable and very lemony cakes, also try:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Tarte Citron Mama

While I am admittedly not a mega-fan of most celebrity chefs, I decided to try this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, an Ina Garten recipe. The problem I have with so many of these celebrity chefs is that because they have to produce so much content in this digital age, many of their recipes are simply not that special. And worse, they are not accurate. My oven is calibrated and bakes as I expect. However, while Ina’s recipe said that the cake takes 40-50 minutes to bake, mine actually took almost 75 minutes. Small differences I expect but that is pretty major, especially for novice cooks.

Other than that glaring difference, this cake was not difficult to make. But I wouldn’t attempt it unless you have an electric mixer. And I wouldn’t eat it right before a mandatory drug test!

Except for the poppy seeds and the large number of lemons, most of the ingredients should already be in your pantry. And while I always have buttermilk in my fridge, there are acceptable alternatives. You could easily swap it out with a non-Greek style whole milk yogurt. Or take any milk (dairy or non) and “sour” it with a teaspoon of distilled vinegar or lemon juice.

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake should hold up for a week if covered or wrapped well. Just wait until the glaze has hardened before wrapping.

Recipe

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk, shaken

1/3 cup poppy seeds (1.75 ounces) [I went by weight with the seeds]

Nonstick baking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy 

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

2.5 cups granulated sugar, divided 

4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

1/3 cup grated lemon zest, loosely packed (4 to 5 large lemons) 

2.75 cups all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup cornstarch 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided 

For the glaze:

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1.5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 

Directions

  1. Pour the buttermilk into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, stir in the poppy seeds, and set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly spray the inside of a large Bundt pan with the baking spray and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the buttermilk mixture. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in thirds, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. [My cake took almost 75 minutes, which is what I imagined a cake of this size and density to take.]

5. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup of lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a baking rack set over a large plate or baking pan. Spoon the warm lemon syrup slowly over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed into the cake. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to cool.

6. For the glaze, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl, adding a little more sugar or lemon juice to make a smooth, thick, but pourable glaze. Let your inner Jackson Pollock out! Drizzle over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. You can garnish with some additional lemon zest or poppy seeds, if desired.

Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Soup is the ultimate comfort food

Soup is comfort food. And Ribollita Soup may just be the ultimate winter comfort soup. This savory Tuscan bean porridge checks all of the right boxes. And it is easy to tailor it to your own tastes. In deciding which recipe to follow, I looked at no fewer than 8 versions before settling on this one that appeared in Food and Wine. I made a couple of tweaks. But this humble and cost-saving soup that makes use of simple ingredients and stale bread is one of the most satisfying wintery soups I have made. And I make a LOT of soup.

This version of Ribollita Soup does take some time to cook properly, but there is nothing difficult or fussy about it. And on these cold wintery days when you are snuggled up at home with a good book and some music in the background, put up a pot of Ribollita for ultimate comfort. You won’t be disappointed. Add a glass of wine, and you raise this peasant soup to fine dining.

I used canned beans here but if you like to cook your own (as I often do) the best can be found at Rancho Gordo. I was first introduced to Rancho Gordo beans at the Culinary Institute several years ago on a trip with our son and daughter-in-law. Their heirloom beans are well-worth exploring.

My ribollita was made using chicken stock and Parmesan rinds, but you can easily veganize the soup using a vegetable stock and leaving out the cheese. Do use a simple rustic bread for this soup. It doesn’t actually have to be stale. The origins of Ribollita were to make use of everything and to waste nothing.

Recipe

Yield: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

28 ounce can OR 24 ounce box crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 cups unoaked white wine

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (You could also use a mixture of water and the liquid from your cooked beans if you cooked your own)

3 stale Tuscan-style bread (rustic country loaf or boule) slices, crusts removed and bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 ounces)

2 large bunches of kale (preferable lacinato kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (This may seem like a lot of kale but it cooks down)

Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

About 4 cups of peeled, diced Yukon Gold potatoes

4 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other thin-skinned white beans from 2 15-ounce cans or homemade).

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low. When oil shimmers, add onion, carrot, and celery; stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt to help draw out liquid from onions and season the foundation of the soup. Cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pot with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, until mixture is very soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook, stirring often, until sofrito is caramelized, about 10 minutes.

Sofrito

Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper, if using; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes and wine, and stir, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pot, until mixture is well combined. Increase heat to maintain a vigorous simmer (be careful of splattering tomato). Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Add 8 cups water or stock, bread, kale, and Parmesan rind, if using; stir, scraping bottom of pan to fully incorporate sofrito into liquid. Simmer until kale is tender and bread is dissolved, about 20 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and simmer until partially tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup beans with 1 cup tap water or bean cooking liquid (if not using canned). Add bean puree and remaining 3 cups beans, and simmer until beans and potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon more salt, or to taste, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Let soup cool to room temperature if not eating immediately; cover and refrigerate. Reheat soup gently before serving, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve hot. (I found the soup did not need any additional olive oil)

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

When the Good Angel Visits

I’ve decided to take another look at some of my recipes and this week it is Lisa’s Challah Revisited. It isn’t always about blogging something new, but instead, it’s reminding people just how good a recipe is. Shabbat may come every week, but it still is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar after Yom Kippur. It is an island in time where we don’t answer the phones or watch TV. No matter how busy and hectic the week was, we always sit down as a family, to a table set with our best glasses and dishes and a lovely meal. We light the Sabbath candles, sing songs and b’rachot (blessings) and take the time to really be present for one another.

When my son was little he would help me clean up and prepare the table. Like all children, he would sometimes balk. So I told him the story about how two angels would come to our house each week – a good angel and a bad angel. If the bad angel saw us fighting and the house not ready to welcome Shabbat, he would tell the good angel that he had won control and that our family would have a bad Shabbat and following week. But if our house was in order, the table set and we were into the spirit of Shabbat, including giving tzedekah for those less fortunate then she would turn to the bad angel and say that she had won control. Our house and family would be blessed with a peaceful Shabbat and a good week. Not surprisingly, the good angel won more times than not. These are precious memories and traditions that we built and ones that our son now continues with his family.

So why am I revisiting my challah recipe if I had made it for decades? Well for a long time now I was only making my Vegan Challah. We would celebrate Shabbat with my niece’s family and since her son is deathly allergic to eggs I developed a challah recipe that everyone could enjoy. I never wanted my great-nephew and godson to miss out on anything because of his allergies. If you are vegan or have a food allergy, this is a great recipe. However, as good as that recipe is, it simply is not the same as traditional egg challah. Now that my niece has moved away and we have our first grandchild, I wanted to ensure that she would grow up with the absolute best traditional challah. Lisa’s Challah Revisited delivers. It is everything an eggy, tender, sweet challah should be.

So Why the Need for a New Recipe?

I returned to my original challah recipe that I had developed over two decades. The only problem was that it no longer worked for me. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but after several less than stellar attempts, I decided to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Thus Lisa’s Challah Revisited. My husband and I now make this every week. We recently returned from visiting our beautiful granddaughter in San Francisco and we passed on this improved version to our son, who is the challah maker in his family.

Making Challah When You Work

Clearly it is easier to bake bread when you are at home all day. But there still are ways to enjoy homemade challah even if you work outside the home. You can start it the night before and then refrigerate the dough to slow down the rising process, completing the last rising and baking after you return home. I used to prepare my dough before I left for work and then brought a sealed plastic bucket of dough with me to the office where I could punch it down as needed until I was able to leave for the day. Bread can be pretty forgiving and an extra rising will just make for a finer crumb. Of course the first time I did this my supervisor came into my office and asked if I had been drinking beer! The yeasty smell had permeated the office. After that, though, my co-workers used to like to come into my office to check out the dough and even to punch it down on occasion. So if you don’t work from home, you can still bake your own challah. Nothing gets me in the mood for Shabbat quite like the smell and taste of fresh baked challah. If you can’t do it every week (and the bread can be frozen as well so you can make a big batch) at least make it for a special Shabbat or holiday.

I believe that welcoming and observing Shabbat is the most beautiful tradition we Jews have. And in this crazy world we live in it is actually a necessity for keeping our sanity and bringing families and loved ones together. But the truth is, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this bread.

Tradition

A word about tradition. When it comes to food, I am all about tradition. I understand that with the plethora of food blogs and bloggers out there, everyone is looking for the new “it” recipe to fill space and gain new followers. Over time, I have even tried many of these recipes and rarely do I find that they are an improvement. New is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to food. So you can take your stuffed challah and challah using all kinds of different grains and strange ingredients. For my money and my family, Lisa’s Challah is the one that will stand the test of time. The only tweaks that I will allow are whether to use raisins or not (my husband loves them; my son – not so much) and to add sesame or poppy seeds to the glaze or to leave it plain. Okay, I did once make my vegan challah using chocolate chips instead of raisins as a special treat for the children.

The Pupil Surpasses the Teacher

And while this recipe and method is mine, I will happily admit that the student has surpassed the teacher. My husband retired a few years ago and has taken an interest in doing some cooking. And after 35 years of preparing three meals a day, I’m very happy for him to occasionally cook a meal for us. He started helping me to bake bread when the arthritis in my hands got bad and now he has become the challah maker every week. Our son also is making his family’s challah and I couldn’t be prouder. And while I am always on hand to give advice and check the dough, I have to give credit where it is due. My husband is way better at braiding than I ever was and he creates a beautiful and consistent challah week after week.

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

I am including this recipe exactly as my husband has written it down. Since he was a complete novice at bread baking, he needed to have the recipe make sense for him. If he could learn to make THE best challah, you can too. We enjoy this bread every shabbat and all week long. Left-overs make great toast with butter and cinnamon or honey or french toast. You can also make next week’s dessert using left-over challah for the best bread pudding. This recipe makes one large loaf. It can be doubled or divided into two small loaves. If you do the latter, you will have to reduce your baking time by about 12 to 15 minutes,

Recipe

Yield: 1 large loaf

Ingredients

2.25 teaspoons active dried yeast

1/3 cup warm water (It should feel warm to your finger, but not burning)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

½ cup warm water

2 X-tra large eggs, at room temperature

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup canola oil

1/8 cup honey

3+ cups flour – either all-purpose, unbleached flour or bread flour (I prefer to use bread flour, but all-purpose will work too)

1/3 cup raisins, tossed with ¼ tsp. all-purpose unbleached flour (Optional)

1/3 cup of granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten for the glaze

Directions

  1. Place yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/3 cup warm (to the touch) water in a large bowl and mix well. Allow the yeast to proof for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Once the yeast is bubbly, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water, eggs, salt, oil, honey and 1 cup of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 100 strokes.
  3. Add 1 more cup of flour and the raisins and stir through.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and one more cup of flour and mix using a wooden spoon or a dough scraper until there are no more visible shreds of dough. If the dough still looks wet, add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour and stir or knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 12 minutes. (This allows the gluten to begin to form and prevents you from adding more flour than is needed, which would make for a heavier bread.)
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, adding flour by the tablespoonful only as needed to keep the dough from sticking (usually about 1/4 cup). You want to use as little as possible to produce a supple, unsticky dough. You know you have kneaded enough when you poke two holes in the dough with your fingers and it springs back quickly.
  6. Form the dough into a tight ball and place back in the bowl which has been coated with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Roll the dough in the oil to coat and then cover the bowl. I use a towel, but plastic wrap also works.
  7. Place the dough in a draft-free spot like the microwave and allow it to rise for about 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough will have doubled and you know it is ready when you poke two fingers into the dough and the holes remain.
  8. Punch down the dough, removing any air bubbles. Turn out onto a clean surface and pat the dough into a rectangle. Using your dough scraper or a knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise in half again until you have 4 mostly equal strands. Try not to stretch the strands too much.
  9. Lay the strands lengthwise next to, but not touching one another. Place the top ends of the strands together.

Braiding the Challah

There are many videos and instructions out there on how to braid challah using 3, 4, 5 and 6 strands. Find one that works for you and go with it. My husband followed this video and so far it has consistently produced a beautiful 4-strand braid.

We now have four strands of dough. The left-most is in position 1, the next one is in position 2, the next is in position 3, and the right-most is in position 4. When we say “pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3” we mean that you should pick up the left-most strand (at position 1), move it to the right –  jumping over two strands – and then put it down.  The strands you jumped over are now in positions 1 and 2, your strand is now in position 3, and the right-most strand is in position 4.

  1. Without pulling (just lift) pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3. Then pick up strand 4 and move it to position 2. Finally, pick up strand 3 and move it to position 2. Keep repeating this pattern until you come to the bottom.
  2. If it starts to narrow too much, simply fold the dough underneath.
  3. Press the bottom strands together. Press the top strands together. Carefully move the braid (using the dough scraper to help) onto a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicon mat. Spray lightly with cooking spray, cover with a tented piece of waxed paper and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. While the bread is rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg.
  5. When the dough has risen, paint it several times with the egg mixture. If you are adding sesame or poppy seeds, sprinkle them across the painted dough. Then carefully paint them one more time to be sure they adhere as much as possible. Discard any remaining egg. Place the dough in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway if your oven is uneven like mine. Bake until the bread is a beautiful brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the bread to a cooling rack.

One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs

Umami in a pan

One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs makes a savory and satisfying dinner. It takes no time or special skills to prep, is budget-friendly and can easily be tailored to your personal tastes.

I’m always looking for meals that are full of flavor, reasonably healthy and which don’t break the bank. Chicken thighs are the perfect solution. They are versatile, almost impossible to over-cook and are always available. And best of all, they lend themselves to one-pan meals. They are inexpensive enough to serve on a weeknight but can also be dressed up for company. Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can’t go wrong. And unlike chicken breasts these days which are bred to be huge, chicken thighs are proportioned for healthy eating.

We have been growing fresh herbs on our terrace, but now that winter temperatures have hit, the pots have moved indoors. So I used my ready supply of fresh herbs for this dish. If you don’t grow your own, choose whatever looks good at the market. You could use dried herbs here as well, by halving the amount. But do buy fresh for this One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs if it is an option.

All you need to complete the meal is a grain or some crusty bread. And while we enjoy drinking and cooking with wine, you could use chicken broth in its place here.

For other one-pan/one-pot chicken recipes check these out:

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings, depending on sides

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons neutral oil such as Canola or grapeseed (You could use all oil if you prefer to not mix dairy and meat)

2.5 pounds of bone-in, skin on chicken thighs

14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes in their own juices

15 ounce can of cannellini beans or Great Northern, drained and rinsed

Generous 1/4 chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary and thyme, but you could use oregano, parsley or any combination)

2 small bay leaves

1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

1 head of garlic, with cloves peeled and lightly smashed

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a 12-inch deep skillet with a lid, heat the oil and butter (or all oil if using). Season your chicken thighs with salt and pepper to taste. If you are using kosher chickens, use less salt.

Place the thighs skin-side down in the pan and cook for 8 minutes without stirring. (I like to use a screen over the pan to cut down on splatter and mess.) This will turn the skin to a lovely brown. Turn off the heat and turn the chicken thighs so that the browned skin is now facing up.

Evenly scatter the remaining ingredients around the chicken and place the pan, uncovered in the heated oven. (Could this GET any easier?)

Cook for 1.25 hours. Now eat! If you want, you can garnish with a little additional fresh herbs, but it’s just for show.

Garlicky Beet Spread

This Garlicky Beet Spread has attitude! The small amount of horseradish lends a delightful piquancy without punching you in the face. Great as a dip and perfect with vegetable fritters or latkes (a crispy oniony potato pancake eaten on Hanukkah). And it’s sooooo pretty! You can whip this up in minutes, especially if you use prepared beets. And let’s face it, why make more work for yourself when there are perfectly good time-savers available?

I LOVE beets in just about any form. In fact, when I was pregnant the only craving I had in nine months was for pickled beets. So when I saw this recipe by Melissa Clark, I knew that I was going to try it. Since I happened to be cooking salmon for my Shabbat dinner, I was able to use this dip as an accompaniment. It did not disappoint. I made a few minor tweaks, both to clarify and suit it to our tastes. With Hanukkah almost here, I just might use this as an alternative to sour cream and applesauce with my latkes. Then again, why mess with tradition!

For other great beet recipes, check these out:

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

And for a dessert option with beets

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Recipe

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

About 8 to 9 ounces of prepared beets (roasted and peeled)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1/2 cup of lightly toasted walnuts (See note on toasting)

1 very large clove of garlic or its equivalent

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup of Greek-style yogurt (Use one that is at least 2% fat)

2 Tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 of a juicy lemon)

1 Tablespoon of fresh dill plus more for garnish

1.5 teaspoons of prepared fresh horseradish (I happened to use beet horseradish which only enhanced the color of the dip)

Directions

Using a food processor, grind the walnuts, garlic and salt until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mostly smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon or salt, if needed.

Note on toasting nuts

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 12 minutes or until you just begin to smell the nuts. You can shake the pan once during the cooking. Alternatively, you can toast nuts in a dry pan on your stove. Watch them carefully, jiggling every few minutes. Nothing will happen until it does. The second you smell the nuts, remove them from the heat. These methods work with just about any nut. I always toast more than I need and use up extras in salads or for munching.

Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake

Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake is everything that makes the fall and winter cold worthwhile. When I baked this cake my house smelled of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and molasses. And did I mention chocolate? Every time I lift the cover on my cake plate the scents of mulled spices waft up and fill me with the smells of cozy snuggles in front of the fireplace.

This incredibly moist, dark, rich – and yet simple – cake is the perfect dessert for those long, chilly evenings that will be with us for the next several months. Eat Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake as is or warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. And if you can’t find chocolate stout, any dark stout will work here. While this gingerbread certainly is not complicated, you can also try the James Beard Gingerbread which is so easy and quick that I used to make it for my son to enjoy after I returned home from a long day of work.

The recipe for this cake comes from Claudia Fleming via David Lebovitz and tweaked by me.

Recipe

Yield: One 10-cup bundt cake

Ingredients

1 cup stout, preferably chocolate

1 cup light molasses

1/2 Tablespoon light molasses

1/2 Tablespoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 large or extra large eggs at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (I used Canola)

1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a cooking spray with flour such as Baker’s Joy, generously coat a 10-cup bundt pan. Be sure to use one that does not have a lot of grooves or the moist cake will be more likely to stick.

Heat the molasses and stout in a deep, medium saucepan until it comes to a boil. (You need a lot of headroom in the pot!) Turn off the heat and stir in the baking soda. The contents will whoosh up so be prepared. Allow the foam to subside and the mixture to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and all of the dry spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the granulated and brown sugars until there are no lumps. Then whisk in the oil until smooth.

Now whisk in the molasses/stout mixture and then gradually whisk in the dry ingredients just until mixed through. Stir in the fresh ginger. The batter will be rather liquidy but don’t worry – it’s the way it should be.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. This can take anywhere from one hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow the cake to cool most of the way in the pan – until you can easily handle the pan with your bare hands. Gently run a thin spatula around the edges of the cake. Then turn the cake out. I had to give it a few good bangs onto my cake plate but it came out cleanly. Now enjoy! My husband especially loves eating the cake warmed up in the microwave for about 10 seconds with vanilla ice cream and old-fashioned fruit compote on the side.

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu

Meatless Monday

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu is a delicious meatless meal ready in 30 minutes. It’s ingredients are flexible. And with a few cheats anyone can make this in under 30 minutes. If you are looking for a meatless Monday meal or just something fresh and healthy, look no further.

The One Joy of Getting Older

My husband and I just returned from two glorious weeks with our first grandchild. I know that everyone says this, but our granddaughter REALLY is the most beautiful, wonderful baby ever – until the next one! While it was great visiting our kids and spending so much time together, I returned home tired and with a bad throat. After one expensive and awful order-in meal, I decided that I simply needed to cook something healthy for us that wouldn’t take a lot of time or energy. The Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu was the perfect solution.

Making Use of Cooking Cheats

I placed an online delivery order and had everything I needed for a week of food within a couple of hours. I normally really enjoy grocery shopping and am VERY picky about my produce, so I was a bit anxious how the order would turn out. In general, it was pretty good and a nice option when you are under-the-weather or the weather is awful.

The prep for this meal took no time which left plenty of time for watching videos of our granddaughter. While I enjoy doing things myself in the kitchen and understand that it can be more cost-effective, sometimes using some cheats is worth it. Time is an all-too-precious commodity that most of us don’t have. So if you want to make your own cauliflower “rice” and grate your own ginger, please do. But many of us are lucky enough to live within easy access to quality prepared ingredients. And, I for one, am not ashamed to admit using them from time to time.

Don’t get too bogged down in actual quantities. You can be flexible. If you want more carrot, go for it. If you don’t like or can’t get sugar snap peas, use frozen English peas etc.

Recipe

Yield: 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetite (My husband and I ate the whole thing)

Ingredients

16 oz. cauliflower “rice”

7 oz. baked tofu (Like Wildwood brand Teriyaki Baked Tofu) cut into 1-inch dice

3 Large or Xtra Large eggs, lightly beaten wit the Mirin, if using

About 2 teaspoons of Mirin or dry sherry (optional)

3 to 4 scallions, white and light green part only – thinly sliced

1 carrot, peeled and cut into smallish dice

About 1 cup of sugar snap or snow peas, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal OR 1 cup of frozen peas

About one cup of fresh mung bean sprouts, rinsed in cold water

1 Tablespoon grated fresh peeled ginger (I used prepared fresh ginger from a jar)

1 rounded teaspoon crushed or finely minced fresh garlic

About 3 Tablespoons neutral oil like Canola

About 2 Tablespoons low sodium soy or tamari sauce or to taste

Generous pinch of kosher salt

Toasted Sesame oil for drizzling

Directions

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the scallions and toss for about 1 minute. Then add the beaten eggs and cook as you would an omelette. When the omelette is cooked through, remove it from the pan and slice it into strips.

In the same wok or pan, add the last tablespoon of oil. Add the grated ginger and garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the cauliflower “rice” and carrot and toss well to coat with the oil, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or just until the cauliflower begins to soften. Now add soy sauce and toss through.

Add the tofu, peas and egg/scallion strips and toss through. Add the bean sprouts and quickly toss. Taste and adjust salt/ soy sauce. Serve drizzled with sesame oil. If you want to get fancier you can top with a little extra sliced scallion.