Onion Turbans

I am a true advocate for eating bread. There is nothing that beats the aroma or taste of bread that has just come from the oven. The entire house just smells delicious and warm and safe. As soon as the temperature outside begins to cool down, I turn my thoughts to cooking big pots of soup, stews and fragrant bean dishes. I love to make these things and to eat them. And best of all, they only improve with rewarming so that I always make enough for left-overs during the week ahead. This relatively simple but hearty fare really only needs some good bread to soak up the pot liquor and to fill my home with the most wonderful smells.

I own several books on artisan bread baking but a book that I often return to is a slim volume called Betty Crocker’s Breads. I have owned this cookbook for decades and it is completely unpretentious with zero snob appeal. It also is entirely accessible and when the simple instructions are followed, the result is always a perfect loaf of bread. This is a perfect book for the novice or anyone who wants to bake without intimidation. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print with only ridiculously priced copies available online. However, if you manage to come across a copy in a used bookstore – grab it!

Try this bread for a family Sunday supper or surprise your guests for Thanksgiving. No one has to know how easy it is to make.

Onion Turbans

Yield: Two 8-inch round loaves  Onion Turbans

Ingredients

4.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast (2 packets if using packets)

2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F. or simply water that feels quite warm but not hot to your fingertips)

1 envelope onion soup mix (about 1.5 ounces)

1/4 cup additional fried onions (the kind from a can) (Optional)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons unsulphured molasses

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 large egg

1/3 cup (5 Tablespoons) solid shortening

About 6 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

About 4-6 Tablespoons of melted butter

Directions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of a large standing mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add soup mix and stir to dissolve. Add the sugar, molasses, salt, egg, shortening, fried onions (if used) and 3 cups of the flour. Beat for about 1 minute on the lowest speed, scraping down where necessary in order to mix.
  2. Add 3 cups more of flour. Increase the speed to 2 (or the next lowest speed up) and continue beating with the dough hook, scraping down the dough as necessary, for about 7 to 8 minutes more. I did not require any additional flour, but if your dough seems too sticky, add up to another 1/2 cup, a Tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks. The dough should be gathering up on the dough hook and will be smooth and supple (elastic) to the touch. [You can, of course, make this by hand, in which case you will have to knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes.] Turn the dough into a greased bowl and roll it around to cover all of the surfaces. Cover the dough and allow it to rise until doubled in a warm, draft-free spot. (I use my oven, turned off, of course.) This takes just about an hour. The dough is ready if an indentation made with two fingers remains.
  3. Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a rectangles that is 24 x 5 inches. Tightly roll up each rectangle (I do them one at a time.) from the long side. You want to end up with a long, even log.
  4. Grease two 8-inch cake or pie pans. Beginning at the outside edge of the inside of the pan with the seam facing down, coil the rope of dough ending in the center of the pan. Brush each coil with melted butter. Allow to rise uncovered on a draft-free counter for 50 minutes or until doubled. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. while the dough rises to ensure a nicely heated oven.
  5. At the end of the rising, bake the turbans for about 40 minutes or until they are well-browned and sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the breads from the pans to a cooling rack and brush with additional melted butter if desired.
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Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale

Autumn is here and that means hearty and flavorful soups that are one-pot meals. I came across this soup on the New York Times website and decided to give it a try, with a few modifications. The most difficult step in this recipe is browning the meat, which means that pretty much anyone can make this soup. It takes some chopping and a bit of time to cook, but there are no special techniques or skills needed. However, it is not a pantry soup. It does require a fair amount of fresh ingredients, but is well worth the effort. And unlike traditional beef mushroom barley soups (which I love, by the way) this soup manages to be both hearty AND bright, with a lightness not usually associated with beef barley soup.

The original recipe called for one pound of meat cut into tiny pieces that would serve eight people. If I am going to the trouble and expense of serving meat in a soup that will serve as my dinner, then I both want to taste and see the meat. I also like to trim and cut my own meat into the size pieces I want that are almost totally devoid of any fat or gristle. I don’t happen to find it a bother to do this and I know exactly what I am serving. If you want to cut down on the work, then please go ahead and use prepared stew meat from the meat department. You won’t have the control over the cut or quality of the meat, but it will definitely simplify things for you. Otherwise, buy good quality chuck roast and cut it yourself. Make this soup on a day that you plan to be at home and you will be rewarded with quite a treat. It will take a 7 quart or larger stock pot or Dutch Oven.

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale by Melissa Clark and tweaked by me

Yield: About 8 dinner servings

Vegetable Beef Barley with Kale and Lemon1

INGREDIENTS

2.5 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed

4 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed, more as needed

3 small or 2 large leeks, thinly sliced

3 celery stalks, sliced

1 fennel bulb, diced

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 rounded teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Large pinch cayenne, optional

2 quarts beef stock, divided

3 sage sprigs 

2 rosemary sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

¾ cups pearled barley

1 large bunch of kale, torn into large, bite-size pieces

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, plus juice 

Thinly sliced jalapeños or other chilies, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Season beef generously with about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, hot pot over medium-high heat. Add meat and cook in batches, turning occasionally, until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. (Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam but won’t brown.) Drizzle in additional oil if the pan seems dry. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and cover lightly with fol to keep it warm. Don’t worry about brown bits that are stuck to the pan. All will be well – I promise!
  3. Add leek, celery, fennel and garlic to the pan; cook until soft, about 7 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Push the vegetables to one side, and, if the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Add tomato paste and spices to the cleared spot and cook until tomato paste is darkened and caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir together vegetables and tomato paste.
  4. Return meat to the pot. Pour in 1 quart of stock and 8 cups water. Using kitchen string, tie sage, rosemary and bay leaves into a bundle and drop into pot. (I like to wrap my herbs in cheesecloth and then I tie the bundle to the handle of the pot which makes fishing it out later easier. The cheesecloth also keeps the herbs from breaking off and floating in the soup.) Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, partly covered, for 1 hour.
  5. Stir in the carrots, parsnips, turnips, barley, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until barley is cooked through and meat is tender, about 1 hour more. Pull herb bunch from pot and discard.
  6. Stir kale and parsley into pot until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in lemon zest and juice. If soup is too thick, thin it with the additional quart of stock. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with chilies, if you like. We found the chilies completely unnecessary – perhaps because I chose to use a large lemon which provided all of the kick that I needed.

NOTE: You can make the soup ahead through Step 5. Then you can turn off the heat. Add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Cover the pot and allow it to just sit. I then gently heat the soup to serve. The alternative is to add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice to the pot after it has been reheated and just prior to serving. Barley does tend to soak up whatever liquid it gets near so the longer the soup sits, the more the barley will expand and soak up the liquid. You can always add additional water or stock to thin it down if you wish. The kale will lose its vibrant green the longer it sits, but left-overs are still delicious.

Spaghetti Pancake or Baked Pasta alla Norma

When my son was little he had a VERY limited palate that largely consisted of one form of pasta or another. In an effort to expand his horizons and to keep me from getting incredibly bored, I would make individual spaghetti pancakes for him out of left-over pasta. It didn’t really matter if I had made a pesto sauce or a red sauce – pretty much any left-over pasta would work, including just butter, garlic, pepper and cheese.

The other day I was looking at one of the food blogs I follow and I saw a recipe for “Baked Pasta alla Norma.” I thought, wow, this is a great name and is sure to be something that I would want to make. When I actually got down to reading the recipe, I realized that it was just a fancy version of my old friend, the spaghetti pancake! Give it a try and if you have picky eaters, leave out the eggplant, hot pepper flakes and capers and simply add some extra cheese. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with a dish like this. So if you want sausage in your version, add some cooked, crumbled sausage or try zucchini instead of eggplant or add some sliced cured black olives. Use left-over pasta instead of making pasta just for the dish and make individual portions in smaller oven-safe frying pans or do it on your stove-top, flipping the “pancake” over half-way through until you have a nice crust on top and bottom and the egg is cooked through. Just have fun with it and if you want to tell your significant other that it is Baked Pasta alla Norma, I won’t tell them that it really is just spaghetti pancake.

Baked Pasta alla Norma or Spaghetti Pancake by Claire Saffitz from Bon Appétit, October 2018 Baked Pasta alla Norma

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

1 medium globe eggplant, peeled, cut into ½” pieces

2 pints cherry tomatoes

8 garlic cloves, smashed

¼ cup EVOO, plus more for skillet and drizzling

½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for sprinkling

Kosher salt

2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. cream or milk

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

4 oz. finely grated Parmesan, divided (You could also use Asiago or Pecorino Romano or any combination.)

1 lb. spaghetti, linguine or other pasta

2 Tbsp. drained capers

½ cup torn basil, plus a few whole leaves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Combine eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, ¼ cup oil, and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron. Season generously with salt and toss to combine. Roast, shaking skillet once or twice, until eggplant is tender and tomatoes burst, 25–35 minutes. Let vegetables cool while you prepare the pasta (watch out for the hot handle when you take the skillet out of the oven). Reduce oven temperature to 400°. Baked Pasta alla Norma6

  2. Whisk eggs, cream or milk and tomato paste in a medium bowl until smooth, then whisk in about three-quarters of Parmesan. (Truthfully, I just eye-balled how much cheese I used and put more on top to form a nice crust.)

  3. Cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Immediately drain pasta in a colander and shake to remove excess water; transfer pasta back to pot.

  4. Add cooled vegetable mixture to pot with pasta. Wipe out skillet and drizzle in a little oil; roll around in skillet to coat. Add egg mixture to pasta and toss vigorously with tongs until pasta is evenly coated. Add capers and ½ cup basil and toss again to combine.

  5. Transfer pasta mixture to skillet and press gently into an even layer. Top with remaining Parmesan, a few whole basil leaves, and an extra sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired. Drizzle with EVOO.

  6. Bake pasta until surface is nicely browned, 30–35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into wedges for serving. Baked Pasta alla Norma5You can top with a few fresh basil leaves for a bit of color.

Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I LOVE Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. I could happily eat it every day and have for weeks at a time. So when I came across this recipe for chicken shawarma that you could make at home,  I simply had to try it. This recipe did not disappoint. Is it exactly like the shawarma you get off of the spit at a restaurant? No, but it is really, really close and truth to tell, I undoubtedly used a much better quality chicken then most shawarma stands would. It’s a fun weeknight dinner that can be prepped the night before. Serve it casually stuffed in a pita or alongside some dill rice or cauliflower tabbouleh, accompanied by salads and a tahini sauce. Left-overs can be easily re-warmed.

Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce by Tori Avey

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large breasts)

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4 large thighs)

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp allspice

3/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

For Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup good quality tahini like Soom brand

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Juice of 1 lemon

About 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

About 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cold water

Directions

Prepare Marinade

  1. Slice the chicken breasts into 5-6 pieces each and the thighs into 3-4 pieces each. Place them in a glass or stainless dish or large plastic zipper bag.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together 6 Tablespoons olive oil, the spices, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper (if you are salt sensitive or are using Kosher chicken, reduce the amount of salt). Pour the spice marinade over the chicken pieces. Stir with a spoon till all the chicken pieces are evenly coated in the marinade.
  3. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, or seal the zipper bag. Place chicken in the refrigerator and let it marinate at least 1 hour, up to overnight. [For maximum flavor, allow to marinate for 8 to 12 hours.]

Oven Cooking Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with a nonstick cooking oil. Place the chicken pieces on the sheet, evenly spaced.
  2. Place the chicken in the oven. Let it roast for about 15 minutes until cooked through, turning the chicken pieces once with tongs halfway through cooking.
  3. Take chicken out of the oven and let it cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to slice the meat into small, thin shawarma-like pieces. [You could do this first cooking ahead and then do the next step when you are ready to actually sit down and eat.] 
  4. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet on the stove-top over medium high heat. A cast iron pan is great for this step. Pour half of the chicken into the skillet and sauté for 3-4 minutes till the smallest pieces of chicken turn brown and crisp.
  5. Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet. Heat another 1 tbsp of oil and sauté the remaining chicken in the same way. Serve warm.

For Tahini Sauce

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together. Use 1/4 cup of water to start and mix it through. Here’s where it gets personal. I like a thick sauce so I may only use a little more water, but if you prefer a thinner sauce with the consistency of heavy cream – and also because different brands of tahini differ in density – use water, mixing until you get the consistency you want. The tahini will actually thicken when you first add the lemon juice and then you thin it with water. Extra sauce (should you have any) will keep for a day or two in the fridge and can be used to make salad dressing or with any other grilled meat or poultry.

Roasted Tomato Soup

While my family and I eat meat, we don’t eat it every night. And since it is generally just me and my husband now, we often like something a little bit lighter for dinner yet still full of flavor. This is a lovely, herbaceous, slightly smoky soup that really only requires some well-toasted, crusty bread topped with smushed avocado or hummus if you are keeping it vegan or adding some cheese if you just want it vegetarian. The original recipe claimed that it served four, but unless you are also serving a large salad or are very, very tiny people with very, very small appetites, we found that it was just right for two people with one of them having seconds. Of course, if this is just a first course, it will obviously serve more. Should you have any left-overs, they can be gently re-heated.

This recipe relies on having access to really flavorful tomatoes and I think that Roma/plum tomatoes are best here. And while I suppose you could use dried herbs, please, please use fresh. It’s just that kind of fresh, herbal flavor that makes this dish. There are no fancy techniques here and it is wonderful as is, but when I make it again, I very likely will also add a couple of roasted red peppers – just because I can.

Roasted Tomato Soup by  

Yield: 4 small or 2 generous servings

Ingredients

2 lb tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp Kosher salt or to taste

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper or to taste

2 cups vegetable broth, preferably low sodium

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion chopped – about 2 cups

3 cloves garlic minced

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped plus extra for garnish

2 tbsp all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika  

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half length-wise. Add the tomatoes to a 9 x 13 baking pan and drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes or until tomatoes start to char slightly.Roasted Tomato Soup 3Roasted Tomato Soup7

  3. Add the tomatoes (with skin on) to a blender along with 1 cup of vegetable broth. Blend until tomatoes are smooth. [I found that the tomatoes blended just fine without adding the broth at this point. Your choice.]

  4. In a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

  5. Add the chopped onion and garlic cloves and cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent.

  6. Add chopped fresh basil and thyme and stir. Roasted Tomato Soup8Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir. Add remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth and whisk, just to make sure there are no lumps from the flour.

  7. Pour the blended tomatoes into the pot and stir.

  8. Add brown sugar, Balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper if needed.

  9. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  10. Serve with some additional chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese and/or toasted bread or any combination. Roasted Tomato Soup1