Tarte Citron Mama

Tarte Citron Mama appeared in the June, 1979 Bon Appetit magazine. It was described as a 14th century French dessert and wasn’t quite like any other dessert I had ever seen or tasted – then or since. I have not been able to find anything like it online, although it does sound as if it may be similar to a recipe found in The Lutece Cookbook. Thankfully I wrote the recipe down years ago because I can no longer locate the magazine in my bookcase….

This is a lemon and almond tarte but without conventional pastry or custard. And while I am not normally a huge fan of meringue, when it is mixed with the ground almonds, I found it transformed. The resulting tarte is just a little bit sticky, a little bit chewy, incredibly moist, bright and light with the fresh taste and fragrance of citrus and almonds. Tarte Citron Mama is the perfect ending to a rich meal.

While it is easy to come by ground almonds these days, I like to grind my own for this recipe. The almonds won’t be quite as fine when I do it, but that is part of their charm. Making this dessert takes a bit of patience, but the steps are easy to follow. And unlike a lemon meringue pie, the meringue here is a relatively thin layer. On the day I made it, there is a little crispness to the meringue and each of the layers is easily discernible, whereas on the second day some magical alchemy takes place and all of the layers meld together. However you enjoy it, this luscious tarte won’t last long.

And while I made use of 21st century appliances, since this dates back to the 14th century it can be made entirely by hand – and with a LOT of elbow grease! So when you have a little time and you want to give your friends or family a delightful and totally surprising dessert, try this 14th century tarte.

I don’t know what lemons were like in the 14th century, but I find that most lemons these days – even organic ones – tend to have thick skins, a lot of pits and pith and not a great deal of fruit. Meyer lemons are sweeter, thinner skinned and less acidic, which is perfect for this recipe. It’s seeking them out if you plan to try this. And I encourage you to do so.

Recipe slightly tweaked by me

Yield: One 9-inch tarte (about 6 generous portions)

Ingredients

3 extra large eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar

grated zest of one lemon

1.75 cups raw almonds with skins, finely ground with 2 teaspoons of the sugar

1 Tablespoon of flour

Generous pinch of kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Approximately 6 lemons (Meyer lemons work best, in my opinion), with all of the skins and pits removed and cut into thin slices

2 extra large egg whites (Use the left-over yolks in your next omelette)

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

For garnish (Optional but really nice)

Strips of lemon peel with all of the white pith removed (I use a boning knife to achieve this) from 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

2 Tablespoons granulated or castor sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. VERY generously grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pay special attention to the inside rim.

Combine the 3 yolks and 3/4 cup of sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the yolks become very pale and will “ribbon” when you lift up the whisk. Add the lemon zest, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract and mix through.

Blend in 1 cup of the ground almonds and the Tablespoon of flour.

Beat the 3 egg whites until stiff. Stir 1/4 of the whites into the yolk and almond mixture to loosen things up. Then carefully fold in the remainder of the whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is lightly browned.

Remove the base of the tarte from the oven, but leave the oven on to maintain the temperature.

Cover the top of the tarte base with the lemon slices, overlapping them slightly.

Beat the remaining 2 egg whites until soft peaks form, Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the remaining ground almonds.

Using a spatula dipped in cold water, carefully spread meringue evenly over the top, covering the lemon slices completely.

Return the tarte to the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the meringue becomes golden.

Remove the tarte from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before trying to remove it from the tart ring. Don’t worry if the meringue cracks. When completely cooled you can add the garnish to the tarte.

For Garnish

Make a simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a small pot on a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the thin strips of lemon peel and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes. The peel should have softened.

Remove the peel from the syrup and roll the pieces in the granulated or castor sugar. Spread the sugared peel on a piece of waxed paper to dry. This same process can be used to candy orange peel. The remaining flavored simple syrup can be refrigerated to use later in a variety of mixed drinks or even added to homemade lemonade.

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Caramelized Corn and Tomato Tarte Tatin

After seeing four separate blog posts come up on my Google feed for Tomato Tarte Tatin, I figured I had to try one of them. The caramelized corn and tomato tarte tatin simply was too pretty not to try it. And as farmer’s markets and grocery stores are stocking a bounty of tomatoes and corn, this recipe seemed a natural to make.

The most difficult part of the recipe for me was lifting the heavy cast iron pan to turn out the finished tarte. My husband had to perform that task. But everything else really only took minutes to prepare and none of the ingredients is hard to find. Of course, I had to tweak it to my tastes. This particular version called for Everything Bagel Spice and I preferred to use Za’atar. You can make your own or buy very good ready-made versions online and in many grocery stores. It is a Middle Eastern spice mix that can be used in so many ways that I really recommend keeping it on hand. Lately I have been having farmer’s cheese on brown rice cakes with halved grape tomatoes liberally sprinkled with za’atar for breakfast and I’m not tired of it yet.

Next time you have pita or naan, brush it with some EVOO and sprinkle on za’atar. Pop in the oven for a couple of minutes and enjoy. It’s also great on grilled meats, over eggs and on yogurt.

The tarte is best eaten warm from the oven. And if it sits too long, the pastry will get a bit soggy from the tomato juices. It makes a great appetizer or summer luncheon or dinner with a green salad. The flavor is both sweet from the corn and tomatoes and savory from the cheese and spices. The corn lends a nice bite to each mouthful. This simple preparation is loaded with umami.

My husband and I did get distracted and we left my tarte in the pan too long before inverting so the tomatoes continued to cook. If you turn it out after only 5 minutes the result will be brighter looking than my finished product. It was, however, still delicious.

If you are looking for another wonderful use of summer’s bounty, check out the tomato and plum galette. This recipe seemed like a surprising combination to me and yet it worked perfectly. After all, tomatoes are fruits.

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 portions

Ingredients

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon EVOOl
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved if large
  • 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or Pomegranate Molasses
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 ears yellow corn, kernels removed from cob
  • 1/2 cup shredded Havarti or provolone cheese
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons Za’atar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a 10-inch heavy duty oven-proof skillet set over medium heat, add olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the tomatoes, shallots, thyme, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and honey and continue cooking another 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. Remove from the heat and gently push the tomatoes into an even layer, covering the surface of the skillet. Sprinkle the corn over the tomatoes and then add the cheese. 

Place the pastry over the top of everything and press down gently to secure, tucking the sides of the pastry under the tomatoes as best you can. Brush the top of the pastry lightly with water and sprinkle with Za’atar spice. Using a sharp knife, make 3 small cuts in the center of the pastry.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan for 5 minutes and then place a serving plate over the skillet. Carefully invert the skillet and allow the tarte tatin to fall out onto the plate.  Garnish with thyme. Slice, and serve warm. Enjoy! 

Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Lumpy. Bumpy. Chewy. Deeply chocolaty with an undertone of spice. And easy – so easy.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am not a vegan. However, I always like to have some good vegan recipes – especially desserts – in my back pocket. Whether you keep kosher or eschew dairy products for ethical reasons or because of food allergies, vegan desserts can be a wonderful option.

However, I will not serve a vegan dessert unless it is just as good as a non-vegan one. I came across this recipe and after a few tweaks, the result is a delicious cookie that chocolate lovers will adore. The hint of exotic spices gives a Mediterranean flavor that marks it as unique.

This recipe comes together quickly and requires no special equipment or techniques – and I had everything on hand in my pantry. Do use a really good quality unsweetened Dutch Processed cocoa like Droste or Valrhona when making these. Chocolate and cocoa powders each have their own unique flavor profile so find one that you like and use it in all of your recipes.

I confess that I made my cookies with unsalted real butter, but they absolutely will not suffer if they are made with a buttery vegan solid such as Earth Balance.

My husband and I tried the cookies still slightly warm from the oven and after a day in an airtight tin. While both were good, we agreed that the flavors and texture were at their peak after sitting overnight. The cookies will easily keep for a week, if stored properly, and are luscious with a glass of milk (dairy or non), a cup of coffee or with a sweet dessert wine.

Because the cookies are such a deep, dark brown, it can be difficult to tell when they are fully baked. I made three batches and baked each one for a different amount of time – from 14 minutes to 20 minutes. All worked, but the one that baked for 14 minutes was the best. The dough does not spread during baking so however the cookies go onto the baking sheet is pretty much how they will come out at the end. Try one of these deeply satisfying and not overly sweet cookies soon.

Recipe

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup of unsalted, solid vegan buttery margarine or unsalted real butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch Processed Cocoa

2 cups light or dark brown sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup strong coffee (the liquid and NOT granules!)

2.5 cups whole wheat flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly pan-toasted blanched almonds or walnuts

1 cup of raisins tossed with 1 teaspoon of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets or pans with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone mat like Silpat.
  2. Combine first five ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Allow the mixture to melt until it resembles chocolate syrup. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  3. Combine the flour with the baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine until no flour is visible. Add the almonds and raisins and work through the batter so that everything is evenly distributed.
  5. Lightly spray a 1 Tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon with a non-stick spray. Scoop out slightly rounded Tablespoonfuls and place on the prepared baking pan. The cookies do not spread during baking so they can be fairly close together.
  6. Bake for 14 minutes, turning once if your oven bakes unevenly like mine!
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing.

Blueberry Galette

So what’s a galette, you say? Very simply, it is a free-form tart. It can have a sweet or savory filling and is usually referred to as “rustic.” The galette is unfussy. But my favorite aspect of a galette is the lovely filling that gets hidden under the part of the crust that is folded over. So when I take that bite, I get all of the luscious, fruity filling nestled into the buttery, sugary crust. It’s kind of like a pop-tart – if it were made by the goddess Hestia.

Now nothing says summer like fresh, gorgeous, purpley blueberries. I have been using them in my yogurt, on cereal or right out of the box. So, of course, it followed that the next dessert I made would include them. And since I recently discovered this wonderful and easy to work with pastry dough, a galette was the perfect response. It’s the same dough that I used for my apricot frangipane tart. This dough was a revelation.

I have been making pie dough for decades. Now don’t get me wrong. My Crisco vegan crust still makes a wonderful pie crust – but it is a bit temperamental. A LOT of patching is frequently involved and occasionally a few tears.

But this all-butter crust is tender and crispy with sugar crystals on top and just plain yummy. And BEST of all – it is fool-proof. I have made it several times this summer and it works out perfectly each time. The dough comes together easily and rolls out beautifully – no patching involved! Valerie Bertinelli deserves all of the credit and I am happy to give it to her.

Throw the dough together in the morning or the night before and bake up this luscious galette for dinner.

Note: Yes, that is an apricot in the middle of the galette. I discovered it in my fruit drawer as a left-over from my Apricot Frangipane Galette. It was past the point of eating fresh so I decided to throw it on top so it wouldn’t go to waste. It is NOT essential to the tart although the color contrast was nice and the apricot was delicious when baked. That dark brown on top is simply caramelized butter and sugar.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

For dough

1.5 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 stick (8 oz.) cold unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon distilled or apple cider vinegar

4-5 Tablespoons ice water (I used 5 T every time)

For filling

18 ounces blueberries, washed and dried

1 apricot cut into quarters (Optional)

Zest of one lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon (About 2 Tablespoons)

pinch of kosher salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons

1 rounded Tablespoon berry jam

2 slightly rounded Tablespoons cornstarch

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup crushed amarettini cookies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking pan or sheet with parchment.

For the dough

  1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter cubes and give 10 quick pulses. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs with some lumps of butter.
  2. Drizzle in the vinegar and 4 Tablespoons of the water. Pulse just until the dough comes together and begins to ball up. If necessary, add up to 1 more tablespoon of the water but use as little as possible. [I used 5 T every time.] Gather the dough into a ball on a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Flatten into a thick disk and refrigerate for at least one hour but up to 3 days.
  3. When you are ready to bake, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12″ round. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet or pan lined with parchment.

For the filling

  1. Gently toss the blueberries with the zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, jam and 1/3 cup of sugar just before you are ready to fill the pastry.
  2. Scatter the crushed amarettini cookies over the dough leaving about a 2-inch border. Carefully pour the blueberries over the crushed cookies. If you are using an apricot, place the quarters in the middle of the blueberries. Dot with 2 Tablespoons of the butter.
  3. Fold up the edges of the dough, gently pleating them where necessary to close the “circle.” Melt the remaining Tablespoon of butter and brush it all over the pastry edges. Sprinkle liberally with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. If you have a coarser-grained sugar, you can use that.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting. This gives the juices time to be absorbed. It’s wonderful on its own or with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Watercress, Spinach & Chickpea Soup

Easy Does It

We recently hosted our nephew and his girlfriend for Shabbat dinner. Since I hadn’t been cooking for anyone but the two of us for awhile, I decided to go all out on a Mediterranean feast. I baked challah and made hummus, baba ghanoush, several salads, lamb with apricots and basmati rice and an apricot frangipane tart. With so many different pieces to the meal, I wanted something that was flavorful and bright for the soup but which wasn’t overly complicated. Surprisingly, I found it in my Jerusalem Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

While I like the foods that appear in this cookbook, I generally find that the recipes are overly complicated with unnecessary steps. This one was pretty simple and since I already happened to have the Ras El Hanout spice mix and rose water in my pantry, I didn’t even have to buy any special ingredients. You can, of course, make your own spice mix, but it is also perfectly acceptable to buy it. Any good spice shop such as Kalustyan’s should have it or it can be ordered online.

Herbaceous, Bright and Vegan

This creamy, bright green soup is perfect as part of a meat, vegetarian or vegan meal. And while I mentioned in an earlier post that my husband thinks foods with rose water taste like fancy hotel soaps, the amount used here is small. He was unaware that it was even in there. The rose water does lend the soup some indefinable, slightly exotic flavor, but the soup would still be delicious if you left it out.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2-3 medium carrots, cut into 3/4-inch dice

3 Tablespoons of EVOO, divided

2.5 teaspoons Ras El Hanout

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

15 ounce can cooked chickpeas, well-drained

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2.5 Tablespoons, peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (I used the stuff in a jar)

2.5 cups of vegetable stock

7 ounces of fresh watercress

3.5 – 4 ounces fresh spinach leaves

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon rose water (optional)

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Mix the carrots with 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO, the Ras El Hanout. cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Spread in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes and then add 1/2 of the drained chickpeas. Mix well and continue roasting for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. This can be made ahead and refrigerated over-night.

Place the remaining 2 Tablespoons of EVOO in a large saucepan and add the ginger and onions. Saute for about 10 minutes over medium heat, until the onion is softened and becomes golden at the edges.

Add the remaining chickpeas, stock, watercress, spinach, sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cook for only about 2 minutes or just until the leaves wilt. You want the greens to remain bright.

When the soup has cooled somewhat, blend it until smooth in a food processor or blender. Add the rose water and check to see if you want more salt and pepper. This can also be made ahead and gently reheated.

To serve, divide the soup among four bowls and top with the carrot, chickpea mixture.

Apricot Frangipane Tart

Summer Fruits

I enjoy fruits in whatever season, but there is just something about summer fruits that sets my baking heart singing. These gorgeous apricots were in the market and immediately I knew what I was going to make for Shabbat dessert.

Apricots pair beautifully with almonds – as do many fruits. And having always been a sucker for marzipan and frangipane, I knew what I had to do. So I looked up a few different recipes and then came up with this lovely tart.

Putting a Recipe Together

The pastry comes from Valerie Bertinelli and is an all-butter crust. It is very easy to prepare and even easier to work with. While you could use this dough any time you are making a pie, sweet tart or galette, feel free to use any favorite pastry crust you prefer, including a vegan crust. There is no need to be afraid of making your own pastry, but if you must, you can use a good store-bought pie dough.

Almond paste (which is different from marzipan) can be purchased and used instead of the frangipane here. However, the frangipane will give you more of a custardy filling. I have several frangipane recipes, and lots of almond flour in my freezer. In the lead-up to Passover, I always go a bit overboard in stocking up and then search for ways to use up the extra nut flours for months! After checking out David Lebovitz for a summer galette, I tweaked his frangipane recipe, which didn’t have enough oomph for me after trying it out with a blueberry galette.

Don’t get scared off by the length of the recipe. The different pieces can be made ahead or at different times. No single piece of the recipe is difficult. And the actual assemblage is fairly quick. The frangipane prevents even juicy fruits from reducing your crust to a soggy mess.

Changing it up

This Apricot Frangipane Tart is perfect. But use it as a jumping off point to experiment. Switch out the apricots for cherries or blueberries or apples or pears in the fall and winter. Make a free-form galette instead of the slightly more fussy tart. The point is that you too can learn to look at recipes to create your own signature desserts.

Recipe

Yield: One 9 or 10-inch tart or galette

Ingredients

For the pastry

1.5 cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 teaspoon distilled or apple cider vinegar

4-5 Tablespoons of chilled water (I always have used 5 Tablespoons)

For the frangipane

3/4 almond flour

4 ounces room temperature almond paste (Left-overs can be wrapped well and stored for another use)

1/4 (4 Tablespoons) cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour

Generous pinch of kosher salt

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 large or extra large egg

For the topping

About 1.5 pounds of apricots, halved and pitted

3 Tablespoons apricot jam, melted

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon almond slices (optional)

Directions

For the pastry

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter cubes and give 10 quick pulses. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs with some lumps of butter. Drizzle in the vinegar and 4 Tablespoons of the water. Pulse just until the dough comes together and begins to ball up. If necessary, add up to 1 more tablespoon of the water but use as little as possible. Gather the dough into a ball on a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Flatten into a thick disk and refrigerate for at least one hour but up to 3 days.

For the frangipane

In a small bowl, using the back of a spoon, smush the almond paste until it is softened. Add the almond flour, 3 Tablespoons of the sugar, softened butter and the flour. Mix it as much as possible and then add the egg and almond extract. Mix through until you have a fluffy, creamy product. If you wish to make this ahead you can refrigerate it. Bring it to room temperature when you are ready to assemble the tart.

Assemblage

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment to catch any drips and to make clean-up easier.

If you are using a tart pan with a removable bottom, roll out the dough to about 1 to 2-inches larger than the pan. Roll the dough back onto the rolling pin and unroll it into the pan. Fold over about 3/4-inch of the excess dough and either smooth the top or slightly flute it. There are many places online where you can see how to prepare pie/tart dough if you have never done it before.

Using a spatula, spread the room temperature frangipane across the bottom of the tart shell. Then depending on the size of your apricots, either place halves, cut-side down nestled on top of the frangipane, or cut the halves into quarters or thickish slices. You want the fruit to pretty much completely cover the top of the frangipane. You can also add cherry halves in the spaces in between if you like.

Dot the apricots with the butter and sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the fruit. 

Bake for about 50 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the fruit is cooked. Allow the tart to cool for about 10 minutes. Then using a pastry brush, carefully brush the fruit with the warmed apricot jam. Scatter the almond slices over the top, if using.

Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Indian Cuisine

To say that I have been doing some Indian cooking lately is like saying that I picked up a granule of sand on the beach. Indian cuisine dates back over 5000 years and each region has its own traditions, religions and culture that influence its food. Hindus tend to be vegetarian and Muslims tend to have meat dishes, although pork is forbidden. Indian food has been influenced by Mongolian, Persian and Chinese cuisine, among others. It is rich and varied and I love it.

While I have done some Indian cooking before, I had only made Kheer as a dessert. I was intrigued by what I had read about Halwa – not to be confused with the Middle Eastern halva.

Like semolina cakes in the Middle East, there is no one single recipe for making Halwa. They all share the same basic ingredients of carrots, ghee, sugar, cardamom and a dairy milk, but the quantities, cooking times and additions make each one unique. And probably each Indian family believes that their version is the best. One thing that they all have in common is patience.

This is not a difficult recipe but like Indian rice pudding (Kheer), it takes time and almost constant stirring to end up with an amazingly velvety, fragrant and utterly satisfying treat. Make this when someone is around that you want to share a nice long chat with while you stir. It is so worth it.

While I think this is a perfect dessert anytime of the year, in India, it is especially relished during Diwali and the colder, wetter months. It is the perfect comfort food.

In order to come up with this version, I read at least 4 different recipes from Indian and vegetarian cookbooks and watched over 6 YouTube videos. Some versions were made with sweetened condensed milk and others were cooked down to form almost a cake-like consistency that was cut into little diamond shapes. I’m sure that they are all wonderful and I’d be happy to eat any of them. However, this version is my amalgam of what I believe to be the best halwa and one that made my husband incredibly happy. Okay, it made ME incredibly happy too! It won’t disappoint.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

6 cups peeled and finely shredded slim carrots (DO NOT use large, thick woody carrots. They are fine for soup and feeding horses, but will not have the sweetness and tenderness needed here.)

3-4 Tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

3/4 cup raw or granulated sugar

About 1.25 cups of whole milk (Exact amounts are not essential. Pour in enough to almost but not quite cover the carrots. You can always cook this longer if you added a bit more than you had intended.)

1/4 cup half and half (or additional whole milk) mixed with about 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped blanched almonds

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cashews

3 Tablespoons raisins (preferably golden/Sultanas)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

Directions

In a large, preferably non-stick skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of the ghee. Add all of the carrots and mix through. Add up to an additional Tablespoon of ghee, if needed to coat the carrots.

Cook over a low heat, stirring FREQUENTLY for 40-45 minutes. This is tedious but necessary to prevent burning and to get the carrots to a velvety texture.

Now add the milk and half & half mixture and stir through. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and mix through. Cover the pan and on low heat, cook the carrots for 20-25 minutes more. Stir OCCASIONALLY. You want to cook until the milk is just absorbed but the carrots are not dried out

While the carrots cook, melt the remaining ghee in a small skillet and lightly cook the nuts, raisins and remaining cardamom. You just want the raisins to swell and the nuts to release their oils. Set aside.

Uncover and add the sugar and mix through. Now add the nuts and raisin mixture and stir through. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes more. The resulting mixture is incredibly moist, velvety and unctuous. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature. This is quite rich and satisfying and 3-5 ounces per person is more than enough. While the halwa does not need any garnish, you can add a little lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving.

Indian Side Dishes with Something to Please Everyone

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. My two favorite cuisines are Mediterranean (in all of its forms) and Indian. Both share a wonderfully brilliant use of spices and are vegetarian-friendly.

I have also found that the two can often complement one another and I use the bread from one or the salad from the other when I am putting together a meal. And if you just go easy on the cayenne and other hot peppers, I have also discovered that they can be very kid-friendly.

Vegetarian vs. Vegetarian-Friendly

In my house we are all omnivores. Of course, we each have our pet peeves, but basically we eat everything and think that all food is sacred. Over the years, I have hosted many people for holidays and other dinners. I have had to deal with food allergies, kashrut, vegetarians, vegans and just plain-old picky eaters. But at least one of the side dishes presented here likely will appeal to someone on that list. And while I enjoy putting together an entire Indian meal, these sides are equally good with just about any roast meat, chicken or fish or as part of a vegetarian or vegan meal.

Recipe for Chana Dal Khichadi (Rice with Yellow Split Peas) from Flavors of India by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup yellow split peas

3/4 cup short grain brown rice

1 Tablespoon Canola oil or butter

5 whole cloves

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 fresh green chili, seeded and chopped (If you don’t want the heat but just the color, use a sweet green or red pepper)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 cups of water

Directions

Look through the chana dal (Yellow Split Pea) and remove any pebbles or grains. Mix the dal with the rice and rinse well and then drain.

In a medium pot with a cover, heat the oil or butter over a low temperature. Add the whole cloves, chopped garlic and pepper. After 2 minutes the cloves will begin to swell and release a wonderful fragrance. Immediately add the washed dal and rice and stir for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and turmeric and stir through for another 3 minutes. Now add the water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45-50 minutes until both grains are soft and the water is almost entirely absorbed. If there is still water after 50 minutes, uncover the pot, turn the heat up a bit and continue cooking. (The time may be more than this depending on the actual dal used and the kind of brown rice.)

Cucumber Salad, North Indian Style from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3 cups Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (Aleppo Pepper is not as hot as cayenne but lends zing.)

1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

10 fresh mint leaves, chopped or chiffonade

Directions

Thinly slice the cucumbers. If they are a bit thick, then cut the cucumber in half lengthwise first so that you end up with half moons.

Toss the cucumbers with the remaining ingredients. Adjust the seasonings. This salad can be made immediately before serving. The longer it sits, the more it “pickles.”

Spinach Raita (Yogurt and Spinach Dip)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons Canola or EVOO plus more for drizzling

1/4 teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds

1 small clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

5-6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 cup plain yogurt (I used a Bulgarian yogurt but almost any plain yogurt will do)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

Directions

Pour the oil into a medium to large frying pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (it only takes about 30 seconds), add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds and then add all of the spinach. I like to use tongs for this next part. Stir the spinach around and cook for 5 minutes. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix it through. Turn off the heat and remove the spinach to a strainer set over a bowl.

When the spinach has fully drained, coarsely chop it up and set aside.

Put the yogurt in a serving bowl and whisk it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the cayenne or Aleppo pepper. Just before you are ready to sit down, mix through the drained and chopped spinach mixture. Drizzle with a little EVOO.

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.

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.