Mediterranean Turkey Burgers

I have been making these burgers for the last year and they are juicy and incredibly flavorful. Make these and say goodbye forever to boring turkey burgers. In fact, personally, I will take these over a beef burger any day. I’m serving these with Israeli couscous, roasted asparagus and a fresh fruit salad with Mandarin Napoleon Brandy .

I am giving measurements below to give you a starting place but normally I just eyeball everything except for the bread crumbs. Do not skip the breadcrumbs. They give the burger just the right mouth-feel, giving that lovely caramelized char that a good burger has.  Please note that NO EGG is needed as a binder for these burgers.

These burgers are also delicious with a simple tahini or yogurt sauce. While normally I like 1/3 pounds of ground meat per burger, I only need 1/4 pound here because of all of the wonderful other ingredients. I like to make enough for left-overs because even reheated in the microwave these burgers stay moist and delicious.

Lisa’s Mediterranean Turkey Burgers

Mediterranean turkey burgers8

Yield: 6 burgers

Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground turkey, preferably 93% lean

1/3 cup finely chopped onion, shallot or scallion

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup sweet, roasted red pepper, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

4 ounces coarsely crumbled goat or sheep’s milk cheese – a feta or even something a bit creamier like a chevre will work

1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs

1/2 Tablespoon Harissa – green or red (optional)

3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or fresh, cracked black, but buy yourself Aleppo pepper – you’ll thank me!)

1/4 teaspoon Baharat, hawayij or ground cumin

Hungarian paprika for dusting

EVOO or Grapeseed oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven and pan to 425 degrees F. (I like to use a grill pan, but you can use any heavy baking pan, covered with foil for easier cleanup if you wish. This time I roasted my asparagus first, then removed them to a serving platter and using the same pan, including the same foil, I cooked my burgers. I didn’t get the nice grill-marks this way, but they still were delicious and it was one less pan to clean!)
  2. In a glass or stainless steel bowl combine well all of the ingredients listed up until the Hungarian paprika. I find that using my hands works best. If you don’t enjoy touching raw meat then wear disposable gloves. (Whenever I work with raw meat or fish – especially ground meat or fish – I use glass or stainless steel because I know they will clean properly and there will not be any cross contamination with other foods.) 

  3. Using slightly damp hands (cold water) form the patties and place them on a piece of lightly oiled parchment or waxed paper. Dust with the paprika. Then turn the burgers over and repeat.Mediterranean turkey burgers5Mediterranean turkey burgers9When the pan is HOT, add the burgers. No other oil is needed. (If you cook them on a pan that already had oil like I did this time then simply don’t add any oil to the side that you flip over.) Cook for 9 minutes on the first side, then flip the burgers and cook for another 9 minutes on the second side. Turkey burgers are ONLY eaten fully cooked. No rare burgers here. Allow to sit out of the oven for about 3-5 minutes before serving to retain the juices. If you decide you REALLY want a bigger burger, you will have to adjust your cooking times. Mediterranean turkey burgers2
  4. Now eat.

Rice Pudding (Kheer)

Kheer2My husband LOVES rice pudding. In fact, when I first met him almost 35 years ago, one of the very few things that he knew how to cook was a CrockPot version of rice pudding. My father also loved rice pudding and my mother made a wonderful custard-style baked rice pudding. However, a number of years ago, I came across this Indian version of rice pudding that did not use any eggs and is cooked on a stove-top. I won’t lie to you – it’s definitely labor-intensive (although not difficult) because it needs to be stirred very frequently for almost 1.5 hours. But if you love rice pudding and cannot use eggs for health or ethical reasons, then this is the recipe for you. Indians would eat this somewhat more liquidy than I personally like, but I will let you know in the directions when to stop cooking for a traditional kheer and when to stop for a somewhat more custard-like consistency. My husband prefers to eat this warm, although I personally prefer it cold. This is one time when I can report that we are both right! It is often made for special occasions since rice is a symbol of both happiness and good fortune. And who couldn’t use a bit of both?

While this time I did not make this a vegan version – using milk, butter and honey – I have successfully made it using non-dairy milk, sugar or agave syrup and either a non-dairy buttery spread or coconut oil. (My preference is for vanilla soy milk but any creamy non-dairy milk will work.) This version uses Indian flavorings, which we happen to love, but you can easily swap out the cardamom and saffron with 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract, zest of one lemon or orange and a few drops of a vegetable-based food coloring. Pistachios can be used in place of the almonds or the nuts can be left out entirely. In that case I would double the amount of raisins or whatever dried fruit you preferred.

Rice Pudding (Kheer) from Flavors of India by Shantra Nimbark Sacharoff and tweaked by me

Yield: 8-10 portions

Ingredients

1 cup of uncooked long-grain, white rice (I like Basmati)

8-10 cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads

2 quarts milk

1 cup of sugar or honey (I like to use a nice Greek honey, but any lighter floral honey will do.)

3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, ghee or coconut oil

1/2 cup of golden raisins (also known as Sultanas)

1/2 cup of slivered blanched almonds (plus about an 1/8 cup additional that have been lightly toasted for decoration (optional))

Directions

  1. Cook rice according to directions in a heavy pot that will be large enough to take the 1/2 gallon of milk that you will be adding to the cooked rice. I like to just under-cook my rice slightly, but mostly you just don’t want it to stick to the pot.
  2. In the meantime, remove the cardamom seeds from their pods and using a rolling pin or bottle turned on its side, crush the seeds. Set them aside with the crushed saffron threads. In a small skillet, melt the butter and saute the almonds and raisins in the butter just until the nuts begin to gain a bit of color. 

  3. As soon as the rice is finished cooking, add the 2 quarts of milk. Turn the heat to medium high, continue cooking with the pot now uncovered and using a non-metallic spoon, stir the milk and rice from the bottom of the pan to prevent the rice from clumping and sticking and the milk from forming a skin. This needs to cook for 1 hour, stirring every 2-3 minutes. (I know it can be a bit tedious, but the end result is worth it. Read a book while you cook!) At the end of the hour, the volume will be reduced by about one third and the milk will have thickened. Kheer10
  4. Now add in your cardamom and saffron and stir well to distribute the seasoning and to color the milk and rice evenly. Then add in your sugar or honey and the nuts and raisins along with any butter to the pan. 

    Continue to cook, stirring frequently for 10-15 more minutes. The rice pudding is done at this point. However, since I like mine to be a bit thicker, I continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes (total of 30 minutes after adding in the raisins and nuts). Kheer3Immediately pour the pudding into your serving dish (glass is best I find) and decorate the top with the optional lightly toasted almonds. Even if you want to eat this warm, it is best if it sits for at least 2 hours before serving. It will continue to thicken some as it sits. Refrigerated it can last up to a week. Kheer

 

Cracked Wheat Onion Bread

Cracked wheat onion bread

The weather wasn’t that great this past weekend so the idea of spending some time reading Ron Chernow’s book on Ulysses S. Grant and baking bread while my husband put up some shelving seemed like a good idea. I wanted to make sandwich bread and none of the recipes I looked at got me excited so I decided to experiment. I wanted a bread that was flavorful, had some bite to it and would make wonderful toast; I came up with this cracked wheat bread with fried onions. While you could make fried onions, I bought mine from nuts.com. They also are available at most grocery stores.

This is a heavy dough and since I have arthritis in my hands, I find that I no longer can do all of the mixing and kneading by hand that I once did so I use my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook attachment. Feel free to go at it by hand if you want a good workout. I am not vegan and do not keep Kosher, so I used butter and dairy milk in the recipe. However, if you wish to keep this vegan, I see no reason why you couldn’t use unsweetened non-dairy milk (my personal preference is for soy but any other creamy non-dairy milk should work) and a non-dairy buttery spread.

The cracked wheat bread made incredible toast slathered with fresh butter, but it would be equally great with smushed avocado on top. However you decide to eat this bread, you can’t go wrong. It is the perfect slice – crunchy, moist, great crumb and full of flavor.

Cracked wheat onion bread3

Cracked Wheat Onion Bread

Yield: Two 9 x 5-inch loaves

Ingredients

1 cup coarse cracked or bulghur wheat

2 cups of water

1/3 to 1/2 cup of fried onions

1 cup of milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1/4 cup unsulphured dark molasses

1.5 Tablespoons Kosher salt

2.5 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/3 cup warm water

2 cups of whole wheat flour, preferably stone-ground

3+ cups of bread flour

1 Tablespoon neutral oil, butter or ghee for the bowl plus more for the bread pans

Cracked wheat onion bread1

Directions

  1. In a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the bulghur wheat and 2 cups of water. Bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot tightly and cook for 12-14 minutes. The time might vary according to the cracked wheat you use. It is done when the water is absorbed and the wheat is fluffy.
  2. Turn off the heat and add the butter, salt, milk and molasses and stir through well. Allow to cool until the mixture is just warm.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, add the yeast, 1/3 cup of warm water and one teaspoon of sugar. Mix lightly and allow to stand for about 10 minutes until the yeast has eaten the sugar and the mixture is foamy.
  4. Add the bulghur wheat mixture and stir through with a heavy wooden spoon. Add the whole wheat flour one cup at a time, stirring after each addition. Now add 2 cups of the bread flour one cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. The mixture will likely still be quite wet. Start adding more bread flour 1/2 cup at a time until the mixture starts to resemble dough. As the dough gets heavier, you can mix in the flour on the lowest speed of the standing mixer, scraping down the sides as necessary.
  5. Start kneading the dough once it is no longer too sticky and begins to come away from the sides of the bowl as an intact dough. I use the second lowest speed on my mixer for this. Add flour as needed about 1/4 cup at a time so that the dough will pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. I cannot give you an exact amount of flour to use since humidity and different brands of flour will lead to different amounts. The dough will be soft, but should not be sticky. I kneaded it for 11 minutes with the standing mixer set on Speed 2. I added flour in small amounts so that as the dough kneaded it came away cleanly from the bowl. After 11 minutes, I turned the dough onto a lightly floured counter and kneaded by hand for about 2 minutes. The dough should feel warm, supple and “alive.” Roll into a large ball or disk.
  6. Coat a large bowl (I use the one from the mixer to cut down on dishes!) with about 1.5 Tablespoons of ghee, butter or oil. Place the dough in the bowl and roll it around to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a tea towel that was rinsed in warm water and rung out or use plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place and allow to rise until doubled – about 1 to 1.5 hours. This dough proved to be very fast-rising in my apartment which I usually keep on the cool side.
  7. Coat 2 bread pans generously with oil, ghee or butter. Punch dough down and divide in half. Form each half into a shape to fit the pan. Some people like to roll the dough into a rectangle and then tightly roll the piece up from the short end, pinching the dough along the seam at the bottom. (I don’t personally find that makes my crumb any better than when I simply shape it with my hands into a fat oblong. I then pull the two ends under and pinch the bottom seam.) Place the dough into the prepared pans seam-side down and cover lightly. Allow to rise until the dough reaches the top of the pans. This only took about 40 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Allow the oven to continue heating unopened while the dough has its second rise. When the dough has risen, place both pans in the oven side by side with a couple of inches between the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the breads are nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon or your knuckles. Turn the breads out onto a rack. While the breads are still hot, brush them with some butter, ghee or oil. Allow to cool completely. The bread will last for a week or it can be wrapped well and frozen. This bread is a real winner.

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Chocolate Babka1

One of the many joys of attending a Shabbat morning service is the Oneg Shabbat that follows (literally “Sabbath delight”). This can be as small as a few cookies or slices of poppy seed cake or can encompass an entire luncheon. There are usually songs and blessings and sometimes a lecture or discussion as well. It’s a nice time to catch up with people and it’s especially nice if you attended an entire service, which in the Conservative and Orthodox traditions will have lasted for several hours. My personal favorite of all the possible Oneg offerings, though, is a really good chocolate babka or krantz cake. This is a yeast cake with swirls and swirls of chocolate running through it. There is nothing like eating it still warm from the oven when the chocolate is a bit oozy, but since observant Jews do not do any cooking on the Sabbath, it is usually eaten at room temperature.

This is a cake that takes some time to make and involves a number of steps. If I were living in Israel – or in a community with a really good Kosher bakery – I probably would simply go out and buy my babka. But since I live in downtown Chicago and my current synagogue doesn’t go in for this treat, I have to make it myself if I am going to indulge in all of its chocolaty, yeasty goodness. I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem. I thought this time I might try a different recipe that I found online for a Nutella Babka. It killed me to do it, but the dough got thrown out. I just knew that it was simply NEVER going to rise. It was like lead. So I went back to Ottolenghi. I made just a couple of adjustments, including adding a chocolate hazelnut spread which caught my eye in the other recipe. If you don’t mind a bit of a project, this is really worth making. Otherwise, get yourself to synagogue and hope for a great Oneg!

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Yield: Two 9 x 5 inch loaves

Ingredients

 Dough
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup tap water
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Canola or other neutral oil, for greasing the pan

Filling
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
About 19 ounces of a good quality chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella

Syrup
2/3 cup water
1.25 cups granulated sugar

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on low speed until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a bit at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you might need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I added a Tablespoon or 2 of flour to the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the dough came together and pulled away from the sides.

Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Since it is the middle of winter and rather cold here, I simply left my dough on the windowsill next to the cold glass. Leave in fridge (or by the windowsill) for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half. It should, however, be puffy.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper, which is also then oiled. Take half of the dough, leaving the other half chilled. Roll out on a lightly floured counter to about a 10 by 15 inches. The long side should be facing you. Trim the dough to be an even rectangle.

Spread half of the hazelnut chocolate spread evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter half of the chocolate chips over the spread. Brush the end farthest away from you with tap water. Roll the dough up tightly with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Trim the last 1/2-inch off each end of log so that they are even.

Using a serrated knife, gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the strips next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan folding extra underneath to fit. Repeat process with second loaf.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1.5 hours at warm room temperature. Since I tend to keep my house on the cool side, I heated my oven to the lowest setting (in my case, 170 degrees F.) and when the oven came to temperature I turned it off, while I finished forming the second loaf. I then placed the loaves in the warm oven to rise for 1 hour. After an hour, I removed the loaves to the counter to preheat the oven for baking.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. Because of all of the chocolate, this is not a perfect process so also use your nose and eyes to tell if the babka is fully baked. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil. Chocolate Babka22

Preparing the syrup: While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a boil and mix until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush ALL of the syrup over each loaf.

It will seem like too much, but it will all absorb into the warm loaf and will leave the babka glossy and moist. Let the loaves cool in their pans until just warm and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (this is a suggestion from Ottolenghi but I defy you to not eat it when it is still warm!) Cut with a serrated bread knife and prepare to be amazed.

Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They also freeze well.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I was going through some old recipes and came across this one on a sheet of yellowing newsprint. It was from a December 1991 New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “True Confections.” The one that caught my eye and which seems perfect for Valentine’s Day is by Dorie Greenspan from her cookbook Sweet Times. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate, and this one is ready to eat in about an hour. Of course you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to serve this little slice of chocolate heaven.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Yield: One 8-inch cake

Ingredients  Chocolate Amaretti Cake8

1 ounce of high quality unsweetened chocolate

3 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (about 64% cacao)

6 large, crisp double amaretti cookies

3/4 cup sliced or julienned blanched almonds

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

Pinch of either Kosher or fine sea salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with waxed paper. Butter that and dust the inside of the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Alternatively use one of the baking sprays with flour.
  3. Melt the chocolates over a double boiler set over hot water or in the microwave and set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake5
  4. Place the amaretti cookies and almonds in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is evenly ground. Set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake6
  5. Place the butter, sugar, salt and eggs in the food processor bowl and process until the mixture is satiny smooth – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.Chocolate Amaretti Cake4Chocolate Amaretti Cake3
  6. Now add the amaretti/almond powder and the melted chocolate. Pulse to combine well. Chocolate Amaretti Cake2
  7. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven on the center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The top will look baked and perhaps a little cracked and the center will still be moist. Chocolate Amaretti Cake1Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then run a thin metal spatula or blunt knife around the edge of the pan and carefully turn out the torte. I place a cutting board over the pan and turn it out onto that. The cake is too soft and moist to turn out onto a cooling rack. The indentations will eat right into the cake. You could also use a large plate but I find that the flat cutting board works best. Then peel off the waxed paper and invert the torte onto a serving dish. I do this by placing the serving dish over the torte and then carefully flipping the serving dish over while holding onto the cutting board. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa. Serve at room temperature with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.Chocolate Amaretti Cake9.

Dulce de Leche Tart

Dulce de Leche tart (2)

There are some desserts where after step 1 (in this case making the crust) you think, “I’m never going to make this again – what a hassle” but then by the time you’re eating it you think “oh my goodness I will never find another dessert as good as this and cannot stop eating it” — this qualifies as exactly that. While I had cooked other wonderful recipes from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, I had yet to tackle a dessert.

This ended up being served at a dinner party where a conversation about “what really is ‘dulce de leche'” came up, followed by a passing around of the near empty jar of the caramel like filling that party guests had no compunction about just dipping their fingers into and wiping it off clean. I used the Stonewall kitchen Dulce de Leche as it was the only one in my local grocery store, but I’ve also heard you can make it with condensed milk if you’re feeling adventurous.

Ingredients
Chocolate Crust
6 tablespoons (3 oz./85g) salted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (35g) powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (35g) Dutch-process or natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt

Filling
8 oz. (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (310ml) whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon dark rum
1 cup (240g) dulce de leche
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling over the tart
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Instructions
1. To make the crust, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and powdered sugar on low speed just until smooth.

2. Add the yolk, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until it’s fully incorporated.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and coca powder.  Add them to the butter mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together.  It will feel very crumbly, so just keep mixing until it holds together better.

4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

5. Once it’s rested, take the dough and using the heel of your hand to press the dough into a 9-inch (23cm) tart ring with a removable bottom, getting the bottom as flat as possible and pressing the dough up the sides of the pan until it reaches the rim.  If it’s still crumbly, just try to spread it around as best you can and be sure to try to remove any gaps (as this is where the dulce de leche will ooze out of after you bake if you’re not careful).

6. Sprinkle the salt over the bottom of the dough and press it into the pastry.  Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).  Line the chilled tart crust with aluminum foil and cover with a layer of pie weights or dried beans.  Bake the tart shell for 15 minutes, remove the foil and pie weights, and then bake for 5 minutes more, until the tart shell feels set.  Remove from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).

8. While the tart is baking, make the chocolate filling.  Melt the chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat and set a fine-mesh strainer over the top.

9. Whisk the eggs in a bowl.  Heat the milk in a saucepan, then gradually whisk the warm milk into the eggs.  Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until it’s steamy and thickens slightly, about 3 minutes.  (If it separates a bit, remove it from the heat, and whisk it vigorously to bring it back together.)  Pour the custard through the strainer into the chocolate.  Add the vanilla and stir until smooth.

10. Spread the dulce de leche over the hot tart shell in an even layer, being careful as you spread to make sure you don’t break the flaky bottom of the tart.  (If the dulce de leche is very thick, let it sit in the tart shell for a minute or so to let the heat soften it, which will make it easier to spread.)  Set the filled tart shell on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, then pour the chocolate custard over the dulce de leche, smooth the top, and add a generous sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

11. Place the tart on top of a baking sheet (just in case the dulce de leche leaks) and bake the tart for 20 minutes, and then turn off the heat and leave the tart in the oven with the door closed to glide to a finish, 25 minutes more.

12. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.  Serve the tart with softly whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just as is.

Moussaka

Moussaka3 (2)

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

Ingredients

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

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

Garnish: chopped parsley

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

     

Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Lamb shanks with chickpeas1

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

Lisa’s Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Yield: 2-4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

Ghee, Grapeseed or Canola oil (or a combination)

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

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

1/2 large onion sliced (or one medium)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon ground coriander

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

4-5 large garlic cloves

2 teaspoons ginger paste or grated ginger

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

12 -14 whole pitted prunes

About 1.5 cups chicken stock

Directions

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

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

Mandelbread

Mandelbread2

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

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

Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients

3 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup Canola oil

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

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

3.75 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

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

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

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

Granulated or course-grained sugar for garnish

Directions

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

     

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

     

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

 

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Au Gratin Potatoes

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

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

5-7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

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

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese

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

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

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

2 large eggs

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

2 Tablespoons Panko bread crumbs

Hungarian Paprika

Directions

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