Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

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

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

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

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

A word about EVOO

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

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

For other focaccia recipes:

Focaccia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Recipe

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1.24 cups room temperature water

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1.5 teaspoons active dried yeast (or instant yeast)

About 9 Tablespoons EVOO, divided

3 to 3.25 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves (optional, but recommended)

Maldon or flaked sea salt

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

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

Fast Fabulous Focaccia

Crunchy “Asian” Slaw

Crunchy “Asian” Slaw

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

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

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

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

For another great coleslaw, try my Holiday Coleslaw.

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

For the Coleslaw

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

3 scallions, sliced on an angle

About 1 cup chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

For the Dressing

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil

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

3 Tablespoons maple syrup, agave, or brown rice syrup

1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari

1 large garlic clove, crushed or grated

1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

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

Toppings

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Roasted peanuts or cashews

Directions

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

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

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

What is Sabji?

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

Fan Girl

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

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

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

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

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Chana Dal Kichadi

Nutritious Comforting Khichari

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Red Lentils with Ginger

Recipe

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

Ingredients

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

For the cauliflower

1 head cauliflower cut into small florets along with the stems

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

For the Sabji

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

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

2 roughly chopped small onions

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated

A 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated

2 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

Handful of chopped cilantro

Directions

For the Cauliflower

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

For the Sabji

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

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup

This Creamy Mushroom Soup is simple, satisfying and sophisticated. Delicious! I came across this recipe just in time. I made it when the temperatures were in the negative numbers (that’s below zero Fahrenheit, guys) we needed soup – hot, soothing, yummy soup.

However, now that we have had a bit of a warm-up and some hopeful signs of Spring, I still want this soup. And this Creamy Mushroom Soup will be delightful in the fall, winter and spring. I tend to move into cold soups in the summer, but this one is light enough that I might just give it a try.

Creamy Mushroom Soup came together quickly and luckily I had all of the ingredients on hand. It can be prepared ahead if you like, but is ready in less than an hour. I served it with a wonderful rustic bread that I had made, a lovely, bright salad and some ripe cheese. A glass of a delicious red wine was the perfect complement. After this, we only had room for some wonderful Clementines which seem to be at their best right now. Citrus fruits are winter’s sunshine. Juicy, bright with just the right amount of tang.

Mixed Salad

While not vegan, this recipe is vegetarian unless you choose to use chicken stock for the liquid. If you did want to make it vegan, I could see adding some cooked, pureed cauliflower, full-fat coconut milk or silken tofu to replace the cream. It wouldn’t be exactly the same but should be pretty close to the right mouthfeel, texture and taste. If you try it, let me know how it works out.

Onion Nigella Caraway Rustic Bread

Now my husband and I ate this as our main course, but it is simple enough to make and elegant enough to be served as a first course as well.

There are many different kinds of mushrooms – both fresh and dried – available these days. The dried porcini have a meaty texture when rehydrated and a robust flavor. And I used 1 pound of baby bella mushrooms, but cremini or even mixed mushrooms should all work. Each different kind will change the flavor somewhat, but they all should make for an interesting soup. The addition of a good glug of sherry at the end is a suggestion, but one that I strongly encourage. It just elevates the flavors.

I didn’t do this, but….. if you really want to tart things up, you could add a dollop of crème fraiche with a few chopped chives sprinkled on top just before serving. However you decide to serve this delicious soup, do make it soon. Any leftovers can be refrigerated and gently reheated.

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 cups boiling water

2 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves of garlic

4 Tablespoons of butter (or buttery vegan spread)

1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

3 Tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 cups low sodium or unsalted vegetable or chicken broth

2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)

1/2 cup heavy (double) cream

A good glug of dry sherry (Optional, but highly recommended)

Directions

  1. Place 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Soak until mostly softened, at least 15 minutes, but longer is fine. Meanwhile, finely dice the shallots or onion and mince 2 garlic cloves.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed 3 quart or larger pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms. Season with 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are softened and have released their juices, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Line a fine-mesh strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Pour the soaked mushrooms through the strainer into a measuring cup or bowl. Reserve the liquid and coarsely chop the mushrooms (leave behind any grit trapped in the cheesecloth).
  4. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour into the pot and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook until lightly browned, stirring regularly, about 2 minutes. Pour in 4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  5. Stir in the reserved soaking liquid from the mushrooms, the chopped porcini mushrooms, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered until the flavor is developed and the soup is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
  6. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Transfer about 2 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Stir the purée back into the pot. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad is sweet, smoky, savory and utterly addictive. Personally I have never understood someone who says they won’t eat eggplant (aubergine). There must be literally hundreds, if not thousands of ways to prepare it. And it comes in many shapes, colors and varieties. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and sensuous of vegetables. Although technically a fruit, in everyday usage we refer to it as a vegetable. I haven’t discovered a way yet that I don’t simply love it.

However, if you are one of those people – and you know who you are – this recipe just might make a convert out of even you. This salad is beloved in Israel and is a star at the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. Zahav (meaning “gold” in Hebrew) is the brainchild of award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov, who has a cookbook of the same name.

As I have mentioned many times in my blog, Mediterranean food in general and Middle Eastern food specifically, is my very favorite of cuisines. I could, and often do, eat it every day. This cuisine is very veg-forward and makes liberal use of fresh herbs and spices. Whenever possible, I try to grind my spices fresh for both this cuisine and when I make Indian food. The difference is incredible. And with an inexpensive spice or coffee grinder, you can have fresh spices in seconds.

Chef Solomonov is an exciting chef and a charming raconteur. His cookbook is a great read and has some wonderful and vivid food photos, but the recipes or at least the directions are inexact. They don’t always even correspond to the accompanying photos. So it was good when I was thinking of making this recipe that I happened to watch him on YouTube first.

Below is Michael Solomonov’s recipe with my clarifications. It’s a wonderful salad that would be just one of many at any Israeli meal. Salatim is a hallmark of Israeli cuisine and are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I make a meal simply of salatim and a good pita or laffa.

Salatim

The eggplant salad will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, although I think is most flavorful at room temperature. So take it out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.

You won’t need a lot of ingredients for this recipe. I would use either “Italian” Eggplant or a “Graffiti” Eggplant. Italian is the standard one that most grocery stores carry. You want to choose eggplants that are firm, weigh about 1 pound and have unblemished skins.

While the Zahav recipe calls for sherry vinegar, almost any vinegar can be used. And while I love sherry vinegar, it can be pricey. So feel free to swap it out for a white vinegar or decent red wine vinegar.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

For some other eggplant dishes (‘Cuz I know that I’m gonna make a fan out of you yet!):

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Recipe

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

2 Medium eggplants, peeled and cut into thick rounds

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

About 6 Tablespoons Canola Oil (You can use Olive Oil but it has a lower smoke-point and will burn more easily)

1 cup chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1/4 cup vinegar (Sherry is ideal but any decent vinegar will do)

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few cracks of black pepper

Directions

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds with the kosher salt. Place them on a rack over a tray or on top of paper towels to absorb the bitter liquid as it drains. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Add oil to film the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. I didn’t have non-stick, which is preferable, but you can use well-seasoned cast iron. Set over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the eggplant rounds. (Blot off any liquid first!) Avoid over-crowding the pan and work in batches if necessary. Cook until almost black on the first side, about 10 minutes. Turn and repeat on the second side, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the eggplant to a plate. As you can see, mine aren’t perfect, but you are going for the round in the bottom right foreground. Yep, that one!

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Either in the same pan or in a largish saucepan, add 2 Tablespoons of oil. You could use Canola here as well, but olive oil would be the better choice. You are no longer frying anything so the high smoke point isn’t essential and the olive oil lends a better flavor.

Add the bell pepper, onion and spices and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown – about 10 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Now add the eggplant back to the pan along with the vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, mash up the eggplant coarsely as it cooks until everything combines. Continue to cook until the vinegar has evaporated. This takes about 8 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice and parsley and mix through. You shouldn’t need any additional salt since we never rinsed the salt off of the eggplants in the beginning. But a few cracks of black pepper never went amiss.

Queen Esther Cookies

Queen Esther Cookies

Queen Esther Cookies are a buttery, light poppy seed cookie – perfect for Purim. This year, Purim begins at sundown on February 25. On the Hebrew calendar it is always the 13th of Adar.

Every year I look forward to making and eating these treats. And while I could easily make them anytime, I like that there are certain things I only make for certain holidays, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Purim or Pesach.

Purim, which is also called the Feast of Lots, commemorates saving the Jews of Shushan in ancient Persia, from extermination. While a tale of classic anti-Semitism, it is nevertheless a joyous festival. In non-pandemic years, both adults and children would dress up in costumes and party hard in celebration. A Purim Spiel, which is a humorous skit or play, would often be performed.

We Jews are commanded to eat, drink and be merry and to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther. Every time the evil Haman’s name is mentioned, we all boo and hiss and wave our noisemakers to show that we are not afraid.

The Book of Esther reminds us of the brave actions of Esther and Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow down to the evil Haman, advisor to King Ahashuerus. And Esther remained faithful to her religious traditions and the Jewish People while married to the King, who did not know that she was a Jew.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Queen Esther Cookies are named after the woman who spoke to the King on behalf of her People despite the real danger to herself. Esther revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews (and that she herself was a Jew). She was able to convince the King to reverse his decree, thereby saving the Jews of Shushan.

It is customary to give out baskets of food and treats to the poor, although over time, it has also become common to make them for friends and family. These cookies are always a welcome addition, along with the more well-known Hamentaschen. Both recipes come from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

Redolent with vanilla and almond extract, Queen Esther Cookies, also known as Mohn Kichelah, which simply means poppy seed cookie in Yiddish, keep well in an airtight tin or container. So enjoy them even when the holiday is over! And you don’t have to be Jewish to love these little beauties.

Recipe

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

Queen Esther Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute

1 Tablespoon water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Scant 1/3 cup poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Happy Purim!

Directions

These can be made by hand, but it is much easier to use either a standing mixer or a food processor.

Cream well the butter (margarine) and sugar until they are light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Mix in the water, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Then pulse in the poppy seeds and baking powder.

Add the flour and mix to form a very stiff dough. These cookies can be made into a dropped cookie or rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter, which is what I do. If you are planning to roll them out, then form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. It should be quite firm. If you are making drop cookies, then use the dough immediately.

Queen Esther Cookies

When you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment and coat with non-stick spray. You can also use a Silpat, which doesn’t require any spray.

Roll out the refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. You can cut out the cookies free-hand or use a cookie cutter in any shape that you like. Re-roll scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all of the dough is used up. If the dough begins to get too soft to handle, simply place it in the fridge until it firms up.

Place the cut-out dough onto the baking sheets about 1/2-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Ovens vary and it will also depend on how thinly you actually rolled out the dough etc. Mine ended up taking about 16 minutes this time…. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Queen Esther Cookies

I have never made these as a drop cookie, but the instructions say to drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Then flatten the mounds slightly with a fork, your fingertips or the bottom of a glass. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Queen Esther Cookies

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas – the name says it all. If you are looking for a fresh, bright, vegan dinner option, you can’t go wrong with this dish. All it needs to dress it up is some simply steamed rice or other grain of choice. Millet anyone?

I came across this recipe and gave it to my husband to prepare. For about 34 years of our 36-year (and counting) marriage, my husband never cooked. Since retirement, though, he has begun baking bread, making pizza from scratch, preparing the absolute best fruity Dutch Babies and making the occasional stir-fry or curry. Andrew has now added Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas to his repertoire.

While we are definitely omnivores – except for things we simply don’t like – our meals tend to be very veg-forward. And often we enjoy a purely vegan meal. I wish that I could say that I do it for some well-thought-out philosophical and moral stand. But I can’t.

Yes, I have been eating organic and recycling since long before they became fashionable. And, it’s true that I have never been a huge meat eater and gave up on veal about 40 years ago when I read about the inhumane conditions that calves endured. (I have twice eaten veal from farms where calves are humanely raised in the past 5 years.) But mostly I make and serve vegan meals frequently because we like them. And as someone who cooks all of the time, they challenge – and inspire – me to explore new flavors and seasoning.

Unlike TV chefs and most food writers, I’m not going to make orgasmic “Wow, amazing!” faces and noises or say that this is the most incredible thing that I have ever eaten. It isn’t. But I will say that if you are looking for a new, somewhat flexible and relatively easy-to-prepare vegan meal, this is a good place to start. You can swap out the sugar snap peas for asparagus or green beans, if you prefer, or based on what looks best at the market. Next time we make this, mushrooms will be added.

So whether you make this dish in order to feel virtuous (or make your doctor happy) or out of conviction, or simply because you want to try something new and delicious, you can’t go wrong with Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas.

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

1 (14 -ounce) block of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained

3 Tablespoons neutral oil (we used Canola) plus more if needed

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

About 12 ounces of fresh sugar snap peas (if you want more, go for it)

About 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated (I prefer grating my own, but sometimes, you go with what you have even if it means out of a jar.)

2 large garlic cloves, grated or crushed

1 can (13 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tablespoon soy sauce (I always use low-sodium)

1 Tablespoon full-bodied molasses or dark brown sugar

1/2 cup toasted cashews

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

4 to 6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large

Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Directions

Slice the tofu in half horizontally and leave on paper or tea towels to dry well. (If you prefer, you can also press the tofu for 30 minutes under a weighted plate.) The tofu needs to be dry to get a good browning.

Once dry, cut the tofu into cubes about 1 to 1.5 inches in size. Season the tofu with salt and black pepper.

In a large skillet (cast iron is great here) or wok, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer. Place the tofu cubes in the pan and sear the pieces on each side. Don’t move them around a lot or you won’t get good color. This can take about 12 minutes and is the fussiest part of the recipe. Once browned, remove the tofu to a plate.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Add another Tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the snap peas (or asparagus or green beans). Cook, stirring occasionally until the snap peas are blistered and tender – 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and set aside.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Toss the peas with the rice vinegar, scallions, mint and red pepper flakes, if using.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Heat the remaining Tablespoon of oil and add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Do not burn! Pour in the coconut milk, soy sauce and molasses. Simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce reduces some, and its color deepens. This takes between 6 to 8 minutes. The sauce should begin to coat a spoon. Now stir in the cashews, add back the tofu and toss until everything is well coated with the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary. Serve over rice or other grain alongside the sugar snap peas.

NOTE: Raw cashews can be toasted in a 350 degree F. oven on an ungreased sheet pan. Toast until you just begin to smell them. This takes about 12 to 15 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes. You can also toast them in a dry skillet on top of the stove, moving them around frequently. Once nuts burn, they are pretty useless, so go by look and smell. And know that nothing happens, nothing happens – and then boom! they are brown.

Chickpea Quinoa Burgers

Chickpea Quinoa Burger

Chickpea Quinoa Burgers are a delicious, satisfying and healthy riff on falafel. No frying necessary. For those of you who are meat-eaters, this will not replace a beef burger. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to. It’s wonderful in its own right.

This is an amazingly delicious veggie burger that is easy to prepare and jam-packed with flavor. And while I made it with more or less falafel seasonings, you can endlessly riff on that. The quinoa not only acts as a binder, making an egg unnecessary, but it makes for a complete protein with the chickpeas.

I like to buy organic dried chickpeas in bulk and cook them as needed. Along with grinding many of my own spices, I’ve been cooking up my own beans over the past year or so. The flavors and textures are so within my control and they are just so much more intense. However, do feel free to use canned chickpeas here if you want. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, where legumes are such an essential part of your diet, make sure that the beans you buy are organic.

Okay, thus ends my preaching for the day!

So with all of the veggie burgers out there, why should you make this Chickpea Quinoa Burger? Well let me count the ways: 1) it’s really delicious; 2) it’s easy to make; 3) the mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for as much as a couple of days before cooking; 4) it’s healthy; 5) it’s inexpensive; 6) there are almost endless riffs on the spices that you could do to tailor it to your tastes and 7) did I say that it’s REALLY delicious?

My husband and I are not vegetarian, but I have never been a huge meat eater. Now while Andrew was, he has learned to love and appreciate a more veg-forward diet. Growing up, we were more limited on fresh vegetable options and only those which were in season. While there is something to be said for eating fruits and veg in season, in this global economy and with modern farming methods, we are able to have an incredibly varied diet all year.

One of the many things I love about this recipe is that no special equipment or techniques are necessary for making successful Chickpea Quinoa Burgers. It is helpful to have a food processor which makes putting the mixture together a snap. But you could mash the chickpeas by hand and finely chop everything else if you didn’t have one. More tedious and time-consuming for sure, but doable.

These burgers can be pan-fried or baked in the oven. Unlike some veggie burgers I have tried, these hold together well when cooking. How you garnish your burgers is entirely up to you and your imagination. If you want to keep things vegan, I would suggest a simple tahini sauce to go on your buns or directly on the burger if you are foregoing the bread. If you are willing to use dairy, I would suggest a yogurt sauce with fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint, some ground cumin, garlic and lemon or lime juice. A sriracha mayo would also be delicious.

Crown the burgers with slices of onion, pickles and lettuce. Sides could be as simple as chips or for more variety, try some oven-roasted sweet potato tossed with a little maple syrup, salt, hot pepper flakes and a little cinnamon, nutmeg, hawaij or baharat. I served mine with oven-roasted kabocha squash tonight. You can keep things really simple and basic or get your crazy on. But whatever you do, makes these burgers soon.

Recipe

Yield: 4 large burgers or 6 medium burgers

Ingredients

Chickpeas and Quinoa

1.5 cups of cooked chickpeas (If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse them)

1/2 cup of dried quinoa, rinsed and cooked in 1 cup of water

1/2 cup of sundried-tomatoes

Sun-dried Tomatoes

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon black or white sesame seeds

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

Scant 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or cracked black pepper

1.25 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried mint or 1 teaspoon fresh mint

1 teaspoon paprika (sweet, hot or smoked)

1 clove crushed garlic

Juice of one lemon or lime

2 to 3 Tablespoons finely chopped red or yellow onion (if using a food processor, let it do the work!)

2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander) or parsley

Garnishes

Quickly pickled onion or slices of onion

Lettuce of choice

Tahini sauce, Sriracha mayonnaise or Herbed Yogurt

Sliced tomato (I didn’t have any large tomatoes)

Fresh Coriander and Spices

Directions

Place the quinoa and water in a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until all of the water is just absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until just combined. You do not want a paste.

Chickpea Quinoa Burger Mix

The mixture can be refrigerated at this point until you are ready to cook the burgers. I like to refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld and for everything to firm up a bit, but these can also be made right away.

When you are ready to cook, use moistened hands (with cold water or a tiny bit of a neutral oil like Canola) to form the patties.

If you are pan-frying the patties, heat a skillet with about 2 Tablespoons of oil. Place the patties in the skillet and cook for 6 to 7 minutes per side. Do not press down on the patties while cooking. Cook until they are evenly brown and crisp on both sides. Depending on the size of your patty, you may need to adjust your time. Since these are vegan, there is no health risk if they are under-cooked. You do want to develop a bit of a crust. Remove from the pan and serve.

If you are making these in the oven, line a baking pan with parchment or foil and lightly grease the pan. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 15 to 20 minutes per side, depending on the size of your patty. You want the burgers to develop a crust on the outside and to turn a darkish brown. Because my oven is really awful, I ended up turning on the broil for a few minutes just to develop a nice crust.

Pumpkin Praline Pie

Pumpkin Praline Pie

Thanksgiving is long over, but it doesn’t mean that celebrations are too. I was hesitant to try making a Pumpkin Praline Pie. I don’t normally brag, but I make a killer Bourbon Pecan Pie and a really deeply spicy, amazing pumpkin pie. And I wasn’t sure that I wanted to mess with either where more might actually become less.

However, with so few of us this past thanksgiving, I would only be making one pie instead of my usual three and I simply couldn’t choose. (The third pie is usually an apple.) I am happy to report that this pie is delicious and does combine many elements of a pumpkin and a pecan pie. So for a delicious pie that stands on its own merit, you should try this Pumpkin Praline Pie. The crunchiness of the praline is the perfect counterpoint to the rich, creamy pumpkin pie.

After looking online and YouTube for a couple of weeks, I finally bit the bullet and decided to try a recipe I found on Allrecipes. A few changes were made based on some of the comments and my own preference for a well-spiced pumpkin pie. The result is a delicious, creamy, rich pumpkin pie with a praline-like topping. So if you want a gorgeous dessert that is unique on its own merit, but leaning towards a souped up pumpkin pie, try this. If you are looking to satisfy the Pecan Pie crowd, this won’t quite be the answer – in my opinion.

My version of this Pumpkin Praline Pie has plenty of pecans, but this topping, really delicious though it is, does not give you the ooey gooeyness of a true pecan pie. And I missed the Bourbon that cuts through some of the sweetness to keep it from becoming cloying. Don’t misunderstand. This is a really delicious pie and one that I enjoyed more each time I ate it. Just don’t buy into the hype on the web that it serves as the perfect combo of a pumpkin and pecan pie – it doesn’t. It is it’s own thing.

Now if you don’t enjoy as much spiciness in your pumpkin pie as I do, use a pre-mixed, store-bought pumpkin pie spice and cut back on the quantity. And if you want to make this pie but keep it vegan, use my Vegan Pumpkin Pie for the body and follow the directions for adding the topping. And instead of using butter with the pecans, use a vegan buttery spread or a solid coconut oil. Just remember to use either a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch regular pie plate!

Recipe

Pumpkin Praline Pie

Yield: One 10-inch OR deep-dish 9-inch pie

Ingredients

1 unbaked pie crust for a deep dish pie (store bought or homemade)

For Pumpkin Portion

2 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

A couple of grinds of freshly cracked black pepper

15 ounce can (2 cups) pure solid-pack pumpkin puree

For Pecan Topping

4 Tablespoons of softened unsalted butter

Zest of one large navel orange

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1.5 cups of pecans broken into large pieces

Garnish (Optional)

Homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Directions

Heat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch pie plate with the pastry and refrigerate while you make the filling. There is no need to blind-bake the pastry in this recipe.

Combine the eggs, sugars, flour, spices and salt in a large bowl. Blend in the pumpkin puree using a wire whisk. Gradually add the condensed milk and mix well.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a baking sheet in the lower third of your oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F. Then without opening the oven, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. The total baking time will depend on your oven but usually takes about 50 minutes more. After the pie has baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. carefully remove it from the oven. The center should still be fairly wet but the outside should be somewhat set.

At this point take the topping and sprinkle it all over the top. I also used a pie shield on my crust as it was beginning to get more brown than I liked. If you don’t have a pie shield you can use aluminum foil but honestly, that’s kind of a pain. If you intend to continue baking pies, treat yourself to a pie shield. They are inexpensive and really make a difference.

Return the pie to the oven for about 20 minutes more. Then turn off the oven and crack open the door. Leave the pie in the oven to cool down. It will continue to bake some and will prevent cracking.

Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Like many people, I can be seduced by fried foods. And I love nothing more than a slice of eggplant, well seasoned, lightly breaded and fried to perfection. But the truth is that I hate actually frying anything. Aside from the oil spatter (which I have to clean up – yuck!) the house always smells for days and then I am stuck with oil to discard safely. And the extra calories. Don’t even get me started on greasy fried foods cooked in oil that wasn’t quite hot enough or was burned because the oil was too hot. But this Oven “Fried” Eggplant is everything that I love and nothing that I hate about fried food.

What is really great about this Oven “Fried Eggplant” – aside from the results – is that it teaches you a method which you can almost endlessly riff on to please your palate. The seasonings I used are Italian-leaning, but you could just as easily sub in Indian or even Asian spices. And my husband and I ate this as a light supper with a delicious salad and a simple tomato sauce to dab on top. However, let your imagination be your guide rather than your limit. Layer the slices in a stack with slices of fresh mozzarella and thick slices of tomato and serve with arugula tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

These wonderful Oven “Fried” Eggplant slices would make a great layer stuffed into a pita with slices of hard-boiled egg, hummus and Israeli salad or pickle for a delicious take on a Sabich sandwich.

Are you a fan of chutney or raita or tzatziki? Think how amazing this Oven “Fried” Eggplant would be with these instead of a tomato sauce? You could even make this as an appetizer with a variety of sauces and allow your guests (remember them?) to choose their favorite.

Eggplant
Oven “Fried” Eggplant

The key to making this work is two-fold – well maybe three-fold: 1) You have to slice your eggplant just the right thickness. Too thin and the eggplant will burn. Too thick and it won’t cook through before the breading burns. 2) You need to have a broiler and a shallow, heavy aluminum pan. 3) You have to watch it. If you have a convection oven, which I don’t, there is no need to turn the pan – only the eggplant needs to be turned over once. But without a convection oven, I rotated my pan halfway through each side. This really wasn’t difficult or even a big deal and the total cooking time is only about 16 minutes. But it’s not a great time to get busy with something else.

So enough chatter. Let’s cook up some Oven “Fried” Eggplant! This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene. Frances and I have made many recipes from here, and they are always accurate. ANd it’s an interesting read.

Well, okay, a word first on choosing your eggplant. The eggplant should weigh about 1 to 1.5 pounds and be firm. If you want to double the recipe, that’s fine, but don’t choose a larger eggplant. Choose two instead. The larger the eggplant, the more the more likely you are to have bitter seeds. And you do NOT want that.

With an eggplant weighing one to 1.5 pounds, you should not need to salt your eggplant first to draw out the bitterness. This would work with almost any type of eggplant that comes in at around this weight. I just wouldn’t use really small ones. And while I did not make mine vegan, you can make this using an egg substitute. To make life easy for yourself, use a good store-bought brand of tomato sauce. You can doctor it with seasonings you like or buy it pre-seasoned. It doesn’t have to be hard to be good!

For other wonderful eggplant recipes:

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Moussaka

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Recipe

Yield: About 6 servings as a appetizer or 3 to 4 as a dinner with salad or pasta

Ingredients

Seasoned Breadcrumb Mixture (You can skip this and used purchased Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs if you are feeling lazy. The herbs and measurements are a suggestion.)

2.5 cups dried bread crumbs (Panko or regular)

1.5 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1.5 teaspoons dried onion powder

1.5 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

Eggplant

1 medium eggplant, about 1 to 1.5 pounds

2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute

2 Tablespoons Canola oil

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

About 4 ounces of tomato sauce

Directions

Mix all of the ingredients together for the seasoned bread crumbs and place in a dish that will be large enough to hold the largest slice of eggplant.

Lightly oil or coat with non-stick spray (I used EVOO) one large, heavy metal baking sheet. (You could use two but why clean up more than necessary). Set a cooling rack over a second baking sheet or over paper towels or parchment. Set aside.

Cut off and discard the ends of the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into circles that are 3/8-inches thick. Size matters here. Use a ruler for the first one.

Preheat your oven to broil and place your baking rack 5 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Beat the eggs (or egg substitute) with the Canola oil in a dish that is deep enough and large enough around to fit the largest slice of eggplant. (I used a pie plate.)

Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg mixture and allow the excess to drip back into the dish. Immediately coat both sides of the eggplant with the breadcrumb mixture by laying it in flat, applying a small amount of pressure and then turning it over to repeat. Lay out the coated eggplant slices onto the prepared pan.

Broil the eggplant slices for a total of about 12 to 16 minutes. Turn the pan halfway for each side unless you have a convection oven so that you get even browning. Flip the slices halfway through. As soon as the slices are done, place them on the cooling rack to keep them crispy while you continue cooking any remaining slices. I did 2 batches.

When you are finished with all of the slices, arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle chopped parsley, basil or cilantro over the top. I grated a bit of parmesan as well, but honestly, it isn’t necessary.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant