Moussaka

Moussaka3 (2)

One of the highlights of our trip to Greece a few years ago was certainly the food. The smells from cooking Greek classics at home always conjures up memories of that fantastic trip, and so while a bit tedious, we enjoy making this meal for “events.” This time we were cooking for my parents in sunny LA. When I first took it out of the oven there were protestations of “oh my! So much food – it will be enough for leftovers for weeks!” But after seconds… and thirds… there really wasn’t much left. On the other hand, I like to think that when people get thirds, whatever the dish is is *really* good. We found this recipe after using a different one for moussaka, but when we saw this claim to be the “Best ever moussaka” we decided to put it to the test. And sure enough, this really was the best ever that we’ve had, especially when paired with the wine used to make it!

Ingredients

2 medium globe eggplants (or 3 small eggplants)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds ground lamb
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fines herbes
¼ cup minced parsley
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
¾ cup red wine
½ cup plain bread crumbs
¾ pound feta cheese

Sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Garnish: chopped parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut tops off eggplants and cut lengthwise in ¼-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and place on paper towels for 30 minutes to absorb the moisture. Rinse, wipe eggplant dry, and place in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes.
  2. In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, cook the lamb, onions, and garlic, crumbling the lamb with a fork and stirring frequently until browned.
  3. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly in a strainer. Place meat mixture on paper towels and pat dry to further remove fat.
  4. Return the meat to the cleaned pan and add remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, fines herbes, parsley, and tomato paste. Stir well. Add wine and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Grease the bottom of a 9 X 13 ovenproof baking dish and dust with all but 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Reserve remaining bread crumbs for sauce.Sauce
  6. To make sauce, in a medium sauté pan over low-medium heat, melt butter and whisk in flour. Stir in milk, nutmeg, and salt and stir until thickened. In a separate mixing bowl, spoon a little of the hot sauce into the egg yolk and add the 3 tablespoons of reserved bread crumbs. Then, blend the egg-bread crumb mixture into the sauce. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Layer dish first with eggplant, then meat, and then with a generous portion of feta cheese. Repeat layers and top with sauce.
  8. Lower oven heat to 350°F. Top the dish with Parmesan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until top of cheese is golden brown. Cut into square servings. Garnish with chopped parsley. The Wine Lover’s Cookbook by Sid Goldstein  

     

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Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Lamb shanks with chickpeas1

We love lamb and lamb shank is my favorite cut of meat. Its slow cooking works perfectly with all kinds of pulses and I especially enjoy it with a mixture of beans and some kind of dried fruit with lots of spices. I developed this dish using my experiences cooking both Moroccan and Indian foods and it turned out to be a huge success – perfect for a cold winter night. All it required was some plain Basmati rice, but feel free to add some salads or yogurt accompaniments. I made enough for two with extra chickpeas, but it easily could be increased to serve more. If I had made side dishes (I was lazy that night) my lamb shanks actually were large enough to have fed 4 people (well maybe not if one was my son!) if the meat was taken off the bone to serve. All of my spice measurements are approximate. I tend to be generous when I am actually measuring – never using a level measure when cooking as opposed to when I bake. Just go with it.

Lisa’s Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Yield: 2-4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

Ghee, Grapeseed or Canola oil (or a combination)

2 large lamb shanks (mine happened to have been “frenched”)

1/4 cup besan or gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 large onion sliced (or one medium)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

4-5 large garlic cloves

2 teaspoons ginger paste or grated ginger

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

12 -14 whole pitted prunes

About 1.5 cups chicken stock

Directions

  1. Drain the chickpeas. Place in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add 4 cups of water or stock and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil uncovered. When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and allow to cook for 45 minutes. Any remaining liquid will be used in the final dish. I cooked the chickpeas in the Dutch oven I intended to use for the entire dish so I had one less pot to clean. I love to cook but I’m less excited about cleaning. The chickpeas can be prepared ahead or they can be used immediately.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. This could also be made on top of the stove, but I used the oven.
  3. While the chickpeas are cooking, take your lamb shanks and using a sharp knife, make several deep slits in the meaty parts. Take slivers of garlic and push them into the slits.
  4. Place the besan flour in a shallow dish large enough to hold the lamb shanks or place in a heavy duty plastic bag. Add salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste. Mix through. Add the lamb shanks one at a time and lightly dredge them in the mixture. There will be left-over flour but do not discard it. Nothing is wasted. In a heavy-duty skillet (I like cast iron), brown the lamb shanks on all sides in your choice of oil(s). I used a mixture of ghee and grapeseed oil because they have a high burn factor.  I used about a quarter of a cup of oils; it will all get used.
  5. When the lamb shanks are nicely browned, place them in a Dutch oven along with the chickpeas and their liquid, tamarind paste, cinnamon sticks and prunes.
  6. In the pan used to brown the lamb shanks, add the onions and any unused garlic (chopped) to the remaining oil. If necessary, add some additional oil so that everything is lightly coated and won’t stick to the pan. Cook the mixture until the onion just begins to brown. Then add all of the spices and the left-over flour mixture. Stir for about 3 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Be careful not to burn the mixture.

    Add everything to the lamb and chickpeas and gently stir through. Now add the chicken stock. Cover the casserole and place in the oven. Cook for one hour. Then carefully uncover the pot (watch out for steam!) and turn the lamb shanks. I did not need to add any further liquid, but if your mixture looks dry, add a little more stock. Re-cover the pan and cook for one hour more. Lamb shanks with chickpeas2This can be made ahead and gently reheated. Serve over plain Basmati rice or serve with naan. Lamb shanks with chickpeas

Mandelbread

Mandelbread2

Mandelbread or “almond bread” is the Jewish version of Italian biscotti. Like biscotti, mandelbrot is twice-baked, but unlike biscotti, mandelbrot is more cakey. When well-made, I enjoy both. When my sister and I were in our teens, our mother would buy mandelbrot from a bakery in a traditionally Jewish suburb of Chicago. Since we lived in the city, this wasn’t a trip that she often made so when she would buy mandelbrot, it would be boxed up, tied with string and stocked in our freezer. My sister and I thought we were very clever and had figured out a way to somehow wiggle our fingers into the box without removing the string, while we grabbed a yummy slice. We got so good at this trick that we kept going back for more and more. Unfortunately, when my mother went to actually serve the mandelbrot, the box was magically empty! Try these with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk or sweet wine. Get creative and use pistachios and dried cherries instead of almonds and chocolate. Just be sure to make enough! These keep for a very long time in a cookie tin.

Mandelbread from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and tweaked by me

Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients

3 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup Canola oil

Grated zest of one large navel orange (or lemon if you prefer)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

3.75 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

Generous 1/2 cup whole raw almonds, toasted for about 12 minutes in a 350 degree F oven and allowed to cool

Generous 1/2 cup mini bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1 large egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons of cream or non-dairy milk (I like vanilla soy but any creamy non-dairy milk will do)

Granulated or course-grained sugar for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a standing mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened. Add  the oil, zest and vanilla and beat until well mixed.

     

  3. Using a whisk or fork, mix together the flour, baking powder, espresso powder (if used) and salt. Slowly beat the mixture into the eggs, scraping the bowl as necessary. Then add in the cooled almonds and chocolate morsels and mix through by hand. With lightly oiled hands, shape the dough into 2 long slim logs with slightly flattened tops and place the on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. They should be several inches apart since they will spread some. Brush each log well with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with the additional sugar. I have also used a mixture of cinnamon and sugar at times.

     

  4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow the cakes to cool for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, raise the temperature of the oven  to 400 degrees F. Once the logs have cooled enough to easily handle them, slice each log on an angle into 1-inch pieces. I used a long, serrated bread knife for this. Lay the pieces down flat back onto the parchment or Silpat. They will no longer spread so they can be pretty close together.Mandelbread5
  5. Return the baking sheet to the 400 degree F. oven and bake for about 10 minutes more or until lightly browned. There is no need to turn the slices over. Cool completely and enjoy them right away or store them in a tin if you have will-power.Mandelbread4       Mandelbread

 

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Au Gratin Potatoes

Chicago has been experiencing bitter cold for the last couple of weeks. But that hasn’t stopped my husband and me from taking long walks. If you know how to dress properly, it can be rather invigorating and I’ll take it over the heavy snow that hit the East coast of the United States last week. The extreme cold, however, does make things very dry despite the use of humidifiers and lotions, so during this weather I allow my cooking to be a bit heavier on fats. This recipe (really more of a guideline than a hard and fast recipe) is pure comfort food. It’s fairly pliable, adapting well to personal tastes and ingredients on hand. Next time I might add some chopped chives and skip the prosciutto. Here is my version.

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

5-7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

3-4 ounces prosciutto, cut into large dice and crisped in a frying pan (You can use bacon, if you prefer. This is what I had on hand and it’s also less fatty than bacon.)

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese

About 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1.75 cups of skim milk (You can use whole if you prefer or part skim and part half & half)

2 large eggs

2-3 Tablespoons butter (I used garlic butter because I had Amish garlic butter that we received as a gift from Frances’ parents.)

2 Tablespoons Panko bread crumbs

Hungarian Paprika

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter an oval or rectangular pan with 2-inch sides. I like my heavy Le Creuset oval gratin pan, but a glass pan will work as well. The pan should be big enough to fit the all of the ingredients. If you are making this for a crowd, you will need a bigger pan.
  2. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with 2-3 inches of water. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Remove the potatoes after 8 minutes and run under cold water to stop the cooking. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them about 1/4 inch thick. (I leave on the skins unless the skin starts to come off. In that case, just peel that extra skin away.) 
  3. Line the buttered pan with the potato slices, over-lapping them slightly. After you have one layer of potatoes, take half of the crisped prosciutto and scatter it across the top of the potatoes. Do the same with half of the cheese mixture. Repeat this entire process with one more layer.
  4. Mix the eggs with the milk and add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk to mix well. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with the Panko bread crumbs and the paprika. Dot the top with more butter. Au Gratin Potatoes3
  5. Place the pan, uncovered in the oven and bake for about an hour. This can be made ahead and loosely covered. When you are ready to serve, uncover the pan and place it in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-15 minutes. Ovens vary but you want the top looking browned and crispy and the potatoes to be tender. Au Gratin Potatoes2

 

 

 

Tahini Cookies

Tahini cookie1

I saw this recipe on the Bon Appetit website and thought they looked like just my kind of cookie – not too complicated and not filled with all kinds of junk. The result is a lovely,  cookie that is rich without being cloying and sweet without making your teeth ache. The tahini lends a subtle nutty flavor. The texture goes from a fragile morsel that melts in your mouth when just barely warm to slightly chewy when fully cooled. The real danger in these cookies is that they take no time to prep and bake, so as long as you have the shelf-stable ingredients on hand, you can have these cookies baked and cool enough to eat in about 40 minutes. Can you say instant gratification? Until the cookies are completely cool and have sat out for an hour or so, they remain very fragile. But oh, so delicious! If you plan on transporting them somewhere, you must wait for them to firm up. On the other hand, if you plan on serving them at home, try them when they are still slightly warm. These cookies will hold up well for several days if stored in an airtight container.

Please DO NOT use a butter substitute for this recipe. Sorry vegans, but it just won’t be the same.

Tahini Cookies from Mamaleh’s, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons honey or agave syrup

3/4 cup tahini (I like Soom brand)

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (I used a combination of black and white sesame seeds)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack on the middle shelf. Line two large cookie sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, sugar and honey until fluffy. Beat in the tahini and then add in the dry ingredients, beating slowly so the flour doesn’t fly all over the place. The resulting dough will be quite soft and very slightly sticky.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and roll the dough into a ball. Don’t worry about perfection! Carefully roll the top of the dough ball in the sesame seeds and gently lift the dough onto the parchment with the seeds facing up. The dough is very soft so it may smush a bit. Don’t fret. All will be well! The cookies should be about 2-inches apart.
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Remove the pan to a rack to cool and repeat with the second pan. Some people like to do two pans at once, rotating them half-way. That never seems to work well for me since I have a crummy oven, but if you want to go for it be my guest. Allow the cookies to cool. They will firm up if allowed to cool completely but are delicious when still slightly warm and pretty soft. But these cookies are not made for keeping – they are made for eating – RIGHT NOW!IMG_4407IMG_4409IMG_4406