Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Flexibility

I love when I come across a recipe with almost infinite possibilities – AND they are ALL EASY! A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Chicken with Garlic that I saw on the Valerie Bertinelli show. This week, I made a few changes but kept all of the cooking instructions and it was unctuous, comforting and best of all – simple.

If you want a great company dish that requires minimum effort and maximum flavor or if you just want to treat your family, then try this dish. And then make it your own. And while the fresh herbs are removed at the end of the cooking time, you could choose to use either dried crushed herbs or chopped fresh herbs mixed through when the vegetables are added. The herbaceousness of the final product will be more subtle if the herbs remain on the stems and are removed after cooking than if chopped or dried herbs are used. Both will be delicious.

Aren’t You Over Cooking This?

Some of you may be asking how could the chicken be good after such a relatively long cooking time. I can assure you that the thighs end up being succulent and tender with a crispy skin and the vegetables are just right. And while the cooking time may be over an hour, the prep time is minimal. So go read a good book, work out, sip some wine and enjoy time with your partner, children or friends while your oven does the work!

HOT TIP

Whenever you are frying or browning something, there is an easy and inexpensive way to protect yourself and your stove from nasty oil/butter splatters. Treat yourself to a splatter screen guard. They will make clean-up easier (which I am ALL about) and they also will protect you from burns. They come in different sizes to fit your needs and there are versions even cheaper than this one, although those usually don’t last very long….

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1 cup of halved grape tomatoes (I like the multi-colored variety but any will do)

4 ounces Cremini or other button-style mushroom, quartered

1 baby eggplant, ends trimmed and cut into large dice (about 1-inch)

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (Optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme and rosemary.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and veggies. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it. I simply served this with a packed tossed salad but if you want a carbohydrate, it would go well with almost any grain – rice, farro or polenta.

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Kung Pao Chicken at Home

Restaurant vs. Home

I don’t do a great deal of Asian cooking. And eating out is expensive and often disappointing. So when I get a craving for a good stir-fry, ramen, pad thai or a hearty soup, I have to make it.

Good Ingredients

Fortunately, we do live within easy distance of a well-stocked Asian market. Admittedly, I don’t know what three-quarters of the things are, especially since many of the labels are not in English. However, the ever-present “aunties” trolling the store aisles try to be helpful. I love to go shopping there whenever Frances’ mother is in town visiting. She makes all kinds of treats for us after each foray.

While I don’t like sending people to buy special ingredients for a single dish, I have learned that certain spices and condiments really define a culture. Sometimes there just are no good substitutes for the real thing. That’s another reason why I like to shop at the Asian market for these ingredients because the cost is about a fifth of what I would pay in my supermarket – assuming I could even find what I need.

Once you taste this, I have confidence that you will easily use up whatever you buy.

Cooking with Andrew

The blog is called Lisa and Frances Cook and Frances and I do share A LOT of recipes and cook together on holidays. But Frances is busy with a full-time job and a baby on the way. So her energies go into cooking not blogging. But now that my husband is retired, he has taken an interest in cooking. So in fairness, I need to give credit where it is due. Andrew chose the recipe, shopped with me for ingredients and did most of the prep and cooking. Which proves that anyone can make this with just a little effort.

The recipe comes from Christine Gallery of TheKitchn.com and appeared in the Chicago Tribune Food and Dining Section.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Chicken and Sauce

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black or rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or chile-garlic paste

Stir-fry

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 medium bell peppers, large dice
  • 2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced on a slight diagonal (optional)
  • 1 baby bok choy, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 4 medium scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Steamed rice for serving

Directions

  1. Marinate the chicken. Place the chicken in a medium bowl or a one-gallon freezer bag. Place the tamari or soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the mixture over the chicken and toss to combine; set the chicken aside. [You do not need to refrigerate it while preparing the remainder of the dish.]
  2. Make the sauce. Add the vinegar, sugar, and sambal to the remaining marinade and whisk until the sugar is dissolved; set this sauce aside.
  3. Stir-fry the chicken. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the wok or large frying pan. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Let cook undisturbed until golden-brown and seared on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Stir-fry the vegetables and aromatics. Heat the wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot (a flick of water should sizzle and evaporate right away), about 2 minutes. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the bell peppers, bok choy and celery, and season with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir-fry with a metal spatula until crisp-tender and browned in spots, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Return the chicken to the pan and stir-fry with the sauce. Add the reserved chicken and peanuts to the pan. Re-whisk the reserved sauce to dissolve the cornstarch. Pour into the pan and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, is glossy, and evenly coats everything in the pan, about 1 minute more. Sprinkle with the scallions if using and serve immediately with rice.

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I absolutely LOVE Middle Eastern food. I love it’s use of fresh, seasonal vegetables and bright spices. And I love it’s use of lemon. So for my dinner tonight I made lamb burgers with a tahini yogurt sauce, hummus with garlic naan and za’atar, freekeh, chickpea and herb salad and this luscious lemon semolina almond cake. It doesn’t get any more flavorful than this.

After successfully making Basbousa, I was looking for another Mediterranean dessert that used semolina flour. The problem wasn’t finding one, but rather deciding on which one to make. This recipe had the added advantage of using almond flour which I happened to have a lot of and wanted to use up.

As with many Middle Eastern desserts, this one has a lovely sugar syrup that gets poured over the still warm cake. The syrup permeates the cake with the result being an almost custard-like interior. Despite the syrup, the cake is not overly sweet. The original recipe called for adding rose water to the syrup. However, my husband finds that the rose water makes him feel as if he is eating fancy hotel soap. Not what I was going for. Since he is my primary audience, I left it out. And if I am honest, I didn’t want any distraction from the lemon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cointreau

This cake is not difficult to make but don’t skimp on the lemon and use a good quality and slightly fruity olive oil. The smell was intoxicating and we dove in while the cake was still warm! It cut like a dream after cooling for about 30 minutes. I’m sure that it will be equally delicious several days from now, although I have serious doubts that it will last that long.

Tip

For an extra special treat, macerate some fresh berries in confectioner’s sugar and Framboise, Cointreau or other fruity liqueur and serve alongside.

Recipe by Edouard Massih

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 large eggs

Simple Syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp rosewater (Optional)

Candied Lemon:

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced and any pits removed

Directions

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Grease parchment. Sift together the almond flour, semolina flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add salt to the mixture and whisk everything to combine.

Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk oil, sugar, and lemon zest from 2 lemons together, about 3 minutes on medium high. With motor running on low, gradually add eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate, about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and juice of 1 lemon and whisk everything to combine, about 1 minute. Do not over-mix.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan. Place the cake on the middle rack, and bake until golden brown, approximately for 60 minutes. Lightly press the top of the cake to test — it should feel lightly springy when done. Let cool for 20 minutes or so in pan before removing and transferring to a cooling rack.

Spoon all of the syrup (See below) over the cake. I like to put a pan covered in foil under the cooling rack to collect the inevitable dribbles and to make clean-up easier.

Simple Syrup & Candied Lemon:

  1. In one easy step, combine water, sugar, juice of 1 lemon, and rosewater, if used, in a pot. Cook it over medium-heat until the sugar is fully dissolved, for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add thinly-sliced lemon to the simple syrup, and cook it on medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes until the lemon is tender.
  3. Carefully transfer candied lemon to a wire rack.

Almond Flour Blondies

Gluten-Free? Really?

I’m not gluten-free. However, I did have left-over a lot of wonderful almond flour that I had bought for Passover. Not sure what I was thinking when I went shopping, but let’s just say that I got carried away and we’ll leave it at that.

And I’ve been in a brownie-making mood so I went in search of a recipe. Everything sounded pretty simple and I had all of the ingredients on hand, which was a plus since Frances has me cooking down my pantry. The only problem I had is that I really do not like white chocolate. So I made a couple of minor tweaks and came up with this version.

If you want an ooey, gooey blondie with crispy edges, I recommend that you try this version or the original. You don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy them. And because they are so gooey, I think that the brownies actually improved when they were a few days old. It didn’t stop me, my husband or our cat from eating them the second that they had cooled down!

Recipe from Meaningful Eats and tweaked by me

Yield: About 24 squares

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter [coconut oil will work for dairy-free]
  • 3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix to fully incorporate. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
  4. Pour the dough into the greased baking dish. Smooth into an even layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until until golden and the brownies appear to be set. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Slice into bars and enjoy!

Quinoa with Peas and Herbs

Satisfying Side or Vegetarian Main course

I am not a huge fan of quinoa. There, I’ve said it. However, when I came across this recipe in 2011, it changed my mind. Don’t misunderstand, quinoa still is not my favorite grain. But when I prepare it this way, I happily gobble it down. I eat it with grilled meat or fish as a side or with a salad for a main course.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa has become pretty ubiquitous and is often seen in Buddha Bowls and in veggie-centric meals. This “Ancient” grain originated in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. It is high in protein, dietary fiber, Vitamin B and dietary minerals. And because it is also gluten-free, it is well-tolerated by almost everyone. Quinoa comes in different color varieties, but white quinoa is best with this recipe.

Vegetarian or Vegan

While I use plain yogurt or sour cream, you can veganize by simply using a non-dairy sour cream. The peas, Dijon mustard, herbs and tartness of the lemon juice make this grain into a zippy and bright dish. In order to maximize on the bright colors of spring, the quinoa is best eaten fresh.

Recipe by Naomi Pomeroy

Yield: 4 servings as a side or 2 as a main course

Ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed 
1/2 teaspoon and pinch salt 
2/3 cup water 
1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/3 cup yellow onion, diced**
3/4 cup snap or snow peas, ends trimmed and halved crosswise on the bias**
3/4 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen 
2 tablespoons sour cream 
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1/2 teaspoon sugar 
1/3 cup fresh mint, torn**
1/4 cup parsley, chopped**

Directions

1. Place quinoa in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff grains. Leave lid ajar, and let cool.

2. While quinoa cooks, set a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in snap peas and shelled peas. Sauté for 2 minutes, or until peas turn bright green. Remove from heat.

4. Mix sour cream, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt together. Whisk in ¼ cup olive oil.

5. Stir quinoa into the pea mixture and set pan back over medium heat. Cook until just warmed through and add dressing. Remove from heat.

6. Stir in mint and parsley. Adjust seasoning with lemon juice and salt, if needed.

NOTES: ** I have given the suggested amounts of onions, herbs and peas, but I generally am much more generous when I make this. I love fresh seasonings and lots of additional veggies. Remember balance when you are putting together a dish. You can always add more of something but once it is in there, it is difficult to impossible to remove.





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

My Addiction

I love to watch cooking shows. Not the contests – I hate those. Just good old-fashioned cooking shows with a pleasant host and accessible recipes. Sometimes I watch things on YouTube, especially if they are for Middle Eastern or Indian cooking. The two dishes that I made for dinner tonight came from Valerie Bertinelli. They are perfect for a summer evening and the prep time is minimal with no crazy techniques. If you are really not a fan of olives, you could substitute mushrooms. While you could serve this chicken dish with an accompanying grain, I served it with some crusty bread. Dessert was fresh cantaloupe melon and ripe strawberries. Okay, there were also some dark chocolate caramels.

The Perfect Pan

A few months ago, Frances and Matthew gave me a gift certificate and I used it to buy this Staub multi-use braising pan that I had my eye on. It’s just the right size for so many dishes when you are cooking for 4-6 people. Staub makes very high quality cookware that will last forever if you take care of it and I definitely recommend making the investment. However, a heavy-duty, deep cast-iron pan will also work for this recipe and the Lodge cookware is very budget friendly.

Fads

I mentioned in a previous post that I am not into food fads. So while kale is no longer the “IT” vegetable, I still love it. This kale salad is easy to make especially because it actually is better if made a couple of hours ahead. It’s a great foil for the chicken but would be good with any grilled or roasted meat or fish. While I pretty much stuck to the recipe, my version is ever so slightly less fussy to make. And because I didn’t make any grain with the chicken, my husband and I polished off what easily could have been a salad for 4 to six people! And if you think that you are not an anchovy fan, you MUST give this a try. You won’t see the anchovy as it melts into the garlic but it gives a wonderful briny flavor that you don’t get from anything else.

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved 

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the olives, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and olives. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it.

For the Kale salad – best made 1 to 2 hours ahead

Ingredients

2 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts that have been lightly toasted in a dry frying pan

1 bunch purple or red kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

1/3 cup grated Parmesan 

Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

  1. Fill a large bowl or pot with very hot tap water. Add the kale and stir for a few seconds just to slightly soften the leaves. Drain and squeeze well to dry. [If you have a salad spinner, this will make this part a snap.] If you want to get fancy, gather and stack the kale leaves on top of each other on a cutting board, roll them up and thinly slice. [This is what is known as chiffonade.]
  2. Mash the anchovy and garlic to a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife. Transfer to a small bowl and add the lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and about 25 grinds of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil.
  3. Toss the kale with the Parmesan and pine nuts in a salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette to coat, tossing well to combine. Top with the basil. Taste and add more Parmesan if desired.

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Food Fads

I’m not into food fads. When I like something, I like it whether it is in fashion or not. I still used olive oil and ate salmon when we were told they weren’t good for us. (Can you believe that nutritionists ever thought that?) And I still eat kale even though its fad has passed. But I am sometimes intrigued by seeing ingredients where I didn’t expect to find them.

You Added What?

Over the years I have watched The Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond. And while I rarely would make the foods she prepares, on occasion I have tried some of her recipes. They are generally easy to follow and work out as she says they will. This recipe was called the “Hidden Secret Brownies” because of the addition of beets to the batter. When I thought about it the recipe just made sense. After all, sugar can be made from beets and they have a lovely texture and color.

I happened to have some cooked beets on hand and this seemed the perfect place to use them up. Of course, I made a couple of minor tweaks. To me, if you cook with chocolate you have to add some espresso powder to it. The espresso just brings out the depth of the chocolate without actually adding any coffee flavor. Not that I mind a good mocha when I can get it!

Ready in No Time

These brownies took no time to prepare, especially, if like me, you use prepared beets. Almost all decent grocery stores carry vacuum-sealed, roasted, peeled beets in the produce section these days. I imagine that you could also use a good canned beet that had been drained and rinsed. If you can’t find ready-to-eat beets, there will be instructions on roasting that follow the main recipe.

Recipe

Yield: 9 large brownies

Ingredients

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (I use Baker’s brand for brownies rather than a more expensive brand. Let’s face it, brownies are unsnooty comfort food so don’t waste your Valrhona on this. It just doesn’t taste the same. I’ve tried it.)

2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter, softened

1.5 cups of granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces finely chopped, cooked beets

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted in a dry skillet

1.25 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/4 cup unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa powder (Here I DO use Valrhona!)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon finely ground instant espresso powder

Confectioners’ sugar to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square pan with a nonstick baking spray. Line the pan with parchment that hangs over two of the sides by a couple of inches. Spray the parchment

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. If using a microwave, first heat the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 45 seconds on high. Then give it a stir and return it to the microwave for 30 seconds on high. Any bits that haven’t completely melted will melt with a brief stir. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Add the vanilla, beets, walnuts and slightly warm chocolate to the mixture and mix on low speed until combined, scraping down the bowl.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt in a small bowl to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the batter and mix on low speed just until combined. Scrape down the bowl and repeat with the remaining flour. DO NOT OVER MIX!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly across the surface. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Mine took 50 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan. (I know, the smell will drive you crazy but you have to wait – REALLY.)

Just Add Milk

Using the ends of the parchment paper, lift the brownies from the pan. Place the brownies on a cutting board and peel back the paper. Cut into nine squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar that you put through a sieve when ready to serve.

Cat Approved

Cooking Beets

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the unpeeled beets in foil and roast until soft. This takes about 40 minutes, When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off and cut them into chunks. You can chop these by hand or in a food processor. The recipe said to very finely mince them. Mine still had some texture, but that is personal taste.

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Semolina cakes soaked in a flavored sugar syrup are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Depending on the country and even the family, the proportions and flavorings will vary. Some were made with almond meal and flavored with a combination of rose water and orange blossom water. Several cakes were made without any eggs. There is no one single proper semolina cake.

The version below is a particularly rich and moist cake, with the addition of coconut and pistachio nuts. One thing that all of the Basbousa cakes have in common is that they are quite sweet – the perfect ending to a well-spiced meal.

The other night my husband and I watched about five different YouTube videos of people making their version of this delicious cake. Each one looked wonderful. I also checked out Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. However, my recipe comes from The Jewish Soul Food Cookbook From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur with a few tweaks from me.

Measuring

Normally I do not weigh my ingredients when I bake even though I know that it is a more accurate measure than using cups and teaspoons. I figure that as long as I always “mismeasure” the same way, I’ll be fine. However, since this recipe was almost certainly made by weighing things in grams and I had never made it before, I decided to weigh things out. It’s a good thing that I did, because the weight in grams seemed very off from the measurements given in cups.

If you don’t own a kitchen scale, you should. They are not terribly expensive (the one I use costs less than $10) and these days you can purchase one that takes up almost no space at all. I increasingly find having one to be useful.

When it came to liquid measure, I was less concerned about using cups so I give both measures below.

Pan Size and Serving

Pan sizes vary and what is standard in the United States may not be standard in Europe or the Middle East. The recipe called for a 40 x 25 cm. pan which is about 15 x 10-inches. A standard pan in the U.S. is 13 x 9-inches which is a bit smaller. As long as your pan is at least 3-inches deep it shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to adjust your baking time slightly.

Because the cake is soaked in a sugar syrup, you may want to serve it with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche or thick yogurt. You could also serve it with a slightly tart fruit preserve to act as a counter balance to the sweetness. However, if you decide to just eat it straight, I certainly won’t tell you no!

Recipe

Yield: About 12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake

3/4 cup bland vegetable oil (180 ml.)

1.5 cups half & half (single) cream (350 ml.) [You can substitute coconut milk for a non-dairy version.]

100 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut

160 gr. unbleached, all-purpose flour

250 gr. semolina flour (or cream of wheat)

55 gr. ground pistachio nuts [I like to grind my nuts with a little of the sugar. It keeps the nuts from turning to paste.]

4 teaspoons baking powder

6 large eggs

300 gr. granulated sugar

A generous pinch of Kosher salt

For the sugar syrup

1.5 cups of water

300 gr. granulated sugar

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C)

Combine the vegetable oil and half & half in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, flour, semolina, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder until well combined.

Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 8 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

Gently fold the egg and sugar mixture into the semolina batter. Pour the batter into a greased rectangular pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted un the center comes out clean. If a few crumbs adhere to the toothpick that’s perfect. [Mine took close to 50 minutes. Ovens vary and my pan was smaller and deeper.]

While the cake is baking, make the sugar syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

As soon as the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour all of the syrup evenly over the warm cake.

Allow the cake to cool completely before serving. This is even better if made a day ahead. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week. Who are we kidding? It will be eaten long before.

Mina de Carne (Meat-Potato Matzah “Pie”)

The In-Between

So we are now in the in-between days of the Passover holiday, which lasts eight days in the Diaspora and seven days in Israel. I could simply broil or roast some meat or fish, make a salad and potatoes and call it a day. However, I like to make the holiday special and there are certain dishes that I only make during Passover even if I could serve them at other times.


Flexibility

This Sephardic dish is wonderful because it is so flexible. The simplest version of it is ground beef or lamb, mashed potatoes, matzah and eggs with a bit of seasoning. But with a little bit of imagination and time this dish can become something really special. And a little bit of meat will feed a family. I guess you could say that it is a Sephardic Shepard’s Pie.

If you are not feeling ambitious at all, then just use the basic technique that is given and season it to suit your tastes.

Recipe

Yield: 4-6 dinner servings or more if used as part of a multi-course meal

Ingredients

1 roasted eggplant* (optional)

1 pound lean ground beef or lamb

1.5 pounds Yukon Gold or “new” potatoes (They are the smallish red ones)

3 sheets of square plain matzah (NOT EGG Matzah)

Non-dairy “buttery” sticks (margarine)

2-3 Tablespoons olive or other oil, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

2-3 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro or dill

2 rounded teaspoons hawayij or ras el hanout or other spice mix (Make your own or they can be purchased online and through spice shops). You could even use Garam Masala for an Indian twist.

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

3 large eggs

Paprika for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

If using the roasted eggplant, make this first and set aside to cool. Chop it coarsely.

I don’t bother to peel my potatoes. The skins not only have nutrients, but they are relatively thin and add extra flavor, in my opinion. Simply cut each potato into quarters and then each quarter into half so you en up with eight pieces. Place them in a 3 quart saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook them uncovered for 20 minutes or until quite tender. Drain the potatoes well and then mash them with a potato masher or a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the potatoes aside to cool.

Place some warm tap water into a deep 9-inch square baking dish and then add the whole squares of matzah. Allow them to soak for about 1+ minutes. You want them flexible but not falling apart.

Carefully lift each sheet of matzah out of the water and place it flat on paper or a tea towel to drain. Then dry the baking dish and grease it well with the margarine and then 1-2 Tablespoons of the oil. If you only use the oil the matzah won’t crisp up and it will stick. Set the pan aside.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add one Tablespoon of the oil and brown the ground meat, chopped, roasted eggplant, if using, the onions and the garlic. Break up the meat as you brown it. I used a very lean meat so I did not have any extra fat or liquid to pour off. Add your spices, about 1 teaspoon of salt and some cracked black pepper. Add the chopped fresh herbs and mix everything through.

Lightly beat 2 of the eggs and add it to the mashed potatoes. Stir about 1/2 cup of the potato mixture into the ground beef mixture to bind it together.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat the remaining egg and pour it into a platter with a slightly raised edge. Coat both sides of one softened matzah sheet lightly with the egg. Lift it out carefully and allow any excess egg to drip back into the platter. Place the matzah in the bottom of the prepared pan. Use part of a second slice of matzah, if necessary, to cover any gaps so that the bottom is completely covered. Repeat with a second layer of matzah. Reserve any left-over egg. (I didn’t have any.)

Spread the meat mixture on top of the matzah in the dish. Spoon the potato mixture over the to and spread it evenly. Pour any left-over egg onto the potato mixture. Sprinkle with some paprika.

Bake the Mina for about 40 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is firm. Remove the Mina from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Cut it into large squares. I serve mine with a large tossed salad.

Gefilte Fish Loaf

It is traditional in Ashkenazi Jewish homes to eat gefilte fish as a first course for Shabbat and most other holidays, including Passover. While it may be heresy, I never was a huge fan of this dish, even when I had it homemade rather than from a jar.

Gefilte literally means “stuffed.” The fish mixture was stuffed back into the skin of the whole fish. It was a great way for thrifty – and often poor – families to enjoy this delicacy. Because the fish was mixed with other inexpensive ingredients like onions and eggs, a little bit of fish could feed an entire family.

It later became popular to make the equivalent of individual fish quenelles. So although the fish was no longer stuffed, the name stuck.

For several years now, I have made Egyptian Fish Balls in a savory tomato sauce. This year, however, I am making both! The Sephardic fish balls for the first Seder and the gefilte fish loaf for the second Seder. My recipe comes from two wonderful cookbooks: The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern and The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

As long as you start out with good quality, fresh fish, you can’t go wrong with either of these recipes. If you didn’t see this in time for the Seder, remember that there will always be Shabbat!

Recipe

Yield: One 8 x 4-inch loaf (About 8 slices)

Ingredients

1 smallish onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium carrot

1 pound (net) whitefish fillet, skin and large bones removed [Any light-colored fish such as cod, pike, carp or haddock can be used.]

1 Tablespoon vegetable or grapeseed oil

1 large egg

About 3 Tablespoons, coarsely chopped fresh watercress or baby spinach

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 Tablespoons water

1/4 cup matza meal

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper or fresh cracked black pepper

1 Tablespoon granulated cane sugar

For Garnish

1/2 red, orange, yellow or green pepper (or a mix)

1 small carrot, peeled and cut crosswise into thin circles

Directions

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Oil an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a rectangle of waxed paper, cut to fit. Then oil the paper.

Using the pepper strips and the carrot circles, create a simple and attractive design on top of the waxed paper in the prepared pan. The design will be inverted when the loaf is turned out of the pan.

Use a food grinder or a food processor fitted with the steel blade to to chop the fish, onion and carrot until they are finely minced. Add the egg, oil, water, matza meal, watercress or baby spinach, dill, salt and pepper. Process until everything is very well combined.

Gently spoon some of the fish mixture around and over the decorative vegetables in the pan, being careful not to disturb the design. Using the back of a spoon or your hands, press the mixture into place, leaving no air spaces. Then add the remaining fish mixture to the pan, spreading it evenly.

Cover the fish mixture with another rectangle of waxed paper that has been oiled on the side that will touch the fish.

Bake the loaf for about 50 minutes or until firm. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Carefully peel off the waxed paper from the top of the loaf. Then run a knife around the sides of the loaf to loosen it. Invert the loaf onto a serving dish and lift off the pan. If the second piece of waxed paper is still attached to the loaf, carefully peel it off and throw it away.

The loaf can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. Cut into 1-inch thick slices. Serve with prepared horseradish or wasabi sauce.