Saturday, January 25, 2014


Last Wednesday we had dinner at Architect’s house and she made ravioli stuffed with chicken and mushrooms topped with a creamy Alfredo sauce.  It seems like, in winter, soup and pasta are favorite go-to dishes for our little crew. Quick, easy and just the right sort of comfort food for the cold evenings like those in the northeast recently. 

Brrrrrrr….it’s downright frosty!

Anyway, when we have dinner at Architect’s house, it is always my turn to bring dessert.  You may recall that I told you about a cake recipe from the Jerusalem Cookbook that I wanted to try, Helbeh.  It uses a spice that the chefs frequently use called fenugreek, one of the key ingredients in curry.  I have to admit, and the authors acknowledge that some people are quite skeptical about making a cake using such an aromatic, robust, exotic spice.  They go on to say you will either really love or really dislike this cake.  After having made this little loaf of lusciousness I can see why they say that.  The flavors are quite distinctive and may be off-putting if not soothed by the wonderful rosy, orangey, sugary syrup you spoon on the warm cake, fresh out of the oven! 

Despite my uncertainty, I’m glad I beaconed some boldness and made it…we loved this dense but oh-so-moist cake and I will look for an excuse to make it again....soon.  Afterall, I have the ingredients now! I don't see my 80-something year old Irish mom liking this cake, but I will insist she at least try it.

You will need to set aside a few hours when making Helbeh since there are several steps involved and the dough has to rise for about an hour.  The baked cake also needs a day to rest, so plan ahead.  It would be a perfect finale for any dinner party, especially one featuring Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. 

I looked for fenugreek at a local vitamin store and the clerk suggested the powered fenugreek – apparently it aids in milk production of breastfeeding moms (haven’t had to worry about that lately).  The powdered version did not sound very appealing to me so I continued my fenugreek-finding quest with younger daughter.  We (and by we I mean her) finally found the elusive seeds at our local Coop. I found the rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods.

From:  Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
Page 290

3 cups fine semolina
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pine nuts, blitzed into large crumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sunflower oil
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons fast-rising, active yeast
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons whole almonds, blanched and peeled (I did not blanch or peel)

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (I used confectioners sugar)
6 1/2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons rose water
1 1/2 tablespoons orange blossom water

Mix the semolina, flour, and pine nuts in a large bowl. Stir in the oils and butter until well combined and then set aside.

Bring the fenugreek seeds and the water to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the seeds are plump and tender. Strain out the fenugreek, reserving the cooking water. Add the fenugreek to the semolina mixture. Add the yeast, baking powder, and salt.

Measure out 3/4 cup of the hot fenugreek water (add more water to equal 3/4 cup if necessary). Slowly stir the liquid into the semolina mixture. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until completely smooth.  Don’t be alarmed…the dough will be a bit crumbly but persevere and form into a smooth, silky ball.

Grease a 9 1/2 inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Place the dough in the pan and press it down until it covers the bottom and is level and smooth. Using a knife, score the surface of the cake with series of lines at 45-degree angles, forming diamonds. Place one almond at the center of each diamond. Cover with a clean, moist towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for one hour. Preheat the oven to 425F about 45 minutes into the dough-rising process.  BTW…the dough rising is very subtle; don’t expect the dough to double.

After the dough-rising hour, bake the cake on a lower oven rack for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 400F and bake for another 20 minutes or it is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Mix the sugar and water together in a small saucepan with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add the lemon juice. Gently simmer for 4 minutes and then remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cool a bit then add the rose and orange blossom waters.

When the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup all over, letting it drip down the sides of the cake while still in the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then cover well with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Serve the next day. 
Along with the ravioli, we had a wonderful bottle of wine and a delicious salad. It's All Good.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Spicy Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

So we woke up on a few Wednesdays ago and it was in the single digits. 

I mean the temperature.

I don't remember it being this cold since the year younger daughter was born. I almost went stir-crazy with an infant and a gazillion feet of snow and ice outside for an entire month along with temperatures like those of the ice age.  I didn’t dare take her outside.  The only person I had to talk to during the day was older daughter…thank goodness her eight-year-old self was able to carry on a decent conversation. 

And we played with her Pink Barbie Ferrari and Dream House and read Nancy Drew books.

That’s what it felt like that week, not the Barbie or Nancy stuff but the temperature.  So, imagine our glee when we arrived at Foodie’s house and she served Spicy Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup.  Both the heat of the soup and the zip of the sausage and spices immediately warmed our innards.
And you know our little crew loves soup.

I was paging through a magazine and the author of an article commented “so when did kale get a publicist?” You know, I was wondering the same thing!  It seems like this reticent little wallflower of the green, leafy vegetable family has emerged into the sweetheart of the pack, perhaps because if its powerhouse nutritional benefits and the fact that it’s just plain good.   Every magazine I pick up includes a kale-related recipe, like the Kale Juice and Kale Turkey Rice Bowl recipes in the current edition of Food Network Magazine. 

I seem to recall that several years ago arugula enjoyed the same spotlight… arugula must have hired the same publicist.

This particular recipe is from    Instead of using pork sausage, Foodie used a combo of chicken-wine sausage, sweet Italian and hot Italian. 

Spicy Sausage, Potato and  Kale Soup

1 pound spicy Italian sausage
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
2 large bunches of kale, stemmed and chopped, about 4 overflowing handfuls
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 medium or 2 large russet baking potatoes, sliced
8 cups chicken broth or stock, 2 boxes
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Heat a large heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Once the pot has heated through, add the sausage, which you removed from the casing. Using a wooden spoon, begin to break up the sausage and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until it has fully browned. Remove the crisped sausage from the pot and transfer it to a plate or bowl. Set aside.

2. Lower the heat to medium, add the butter or oil and throw in the onions and garlic. Stir, scraping down the bottom of the pot picking up the browned bits of sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until soft and translucent about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Continue to sauté until the onions have caramelized. Add the chopped kale in batches, allowing it to wilt down as it cooks. Add the nutmeg and stir (nutmeg is a must with leafy greens!). Cook the kale for another 3 minutes until it has turned bright green and completely wilted down. Throw in the sliced potatoes and cooked sausage.

3. Pour in the chicken stock or broth and bring it up to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer until the potatoes are tender and soft. Taste the soup and add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes, if desired. Once the potatoes are fully cooked, stir in the heavy cream.
Foodie served the soup with some homemade focaccia  bread.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

I wanted to made something special for the Season 4 Premier of Downton Abbey.  For the finale one year, it was Sheppard’s Pie but I was feeling like I needed something to go with a spot of tea. 

Shortbread cookies.

I bought some dried lavender at the whole foods store so I decided it would be a smashing additive to the cookies.  I wanted to tint them with a bit of purple but younger daughter nixed that idea. 

She's no fun. 
If you can get past the fact that lavender smells like hand lotion, an underwear drawer sachet, or a meditation candle, it does add a subtle zip to your goodies, especially homemade ice cream.  Lavender tastes like the mishmash of mint, rosemary and pepper and works equally well in sweet treats as it does in savory dishes.  Some herbes de Provence mixtures include lavender, along with its botanical buddies, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and oregano.

The last time I made shortbread cookies (for the Season 3 Premier), I used lemon thyme and made them in squares. 
This time, I resurrected my heart-shaped cookie cutter.  Aren’t they pretty?

Oh, and I finally got to use my vintage rolling pin.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room-temperature
4 teaspoons fresh lavender buds or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled

Using a food processor, a blender, or a mortar and pestle, grind the sugar and lavender petals together.

In the bowl of a standing mixer outfitted a paddle beat the butter until smooth and then add the lavender sugar and continue to beat, at low speed, until smooth. Add the flour and beat until combined. Mixing is complete when there are no visible lumps of butter in the dough.

Form the dough into a rough disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle; cut out cookie shapes with a round, 2-inch diameter cutter.  I used a heart shaped cutter.  While rolling this dough, I found it to be a little crumbly and I had to reshape it a few times.   Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.  Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 300 degree oven just until the sides of the cookies begin to color, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.  Makes about 24, 2” cookies.

The original recipe calls for decorating the cookies with a sugar glaze and sprinkling with lavender buds…it’s the dead of winter (4° when I wrote this post) and the lavender buds are a few months away.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Jerusalem Cookbook Kind of New Year's Eve

As has been the tradition for the past several years, we celebrated the New Year at Architect’s house.  Our dinner menu had a theme this year, inspired by Jerusalem, A Cookbook. The table was beautifully set and there were lovely poetry quotes written on the patio doors….one by John Keats and one by T.S. Eliot.  I include the Keats passage below.

If you are not familiar with the collection of Middle-Eastern delights in the Jerusalem cookbook, I highly encourage you to go to a bookstore, pick up the strikingly illustrated book and leaf through the recipes – I guarantee you won’t leave the store without a copy.  I also guarantee you will be salivating.  Some of the ingredients are somewhat unfamiliar but I have found most of them either on or in various organic or natural food stores, such as our local Coop or Whole Foods. 

Wait, are there still brick-and-mortar book stores?

While I morn the loss of many traditional bookstores (I still yearn to sit at the Borders on Baltimore Pike, read a book and sip a latte), I’d like to celebrate three recipes from the cookbook served on New Years Eve helping us to welcome 2014!

Lamb Shawarma (Page 210)
The rub on the lamb roast is an 18-ingredient concoction consisting of spices common in Middle Eastern cooking including paprika, sumac, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin. The magic happens when you allow the spice-slathered lamb to chill, covered, overnight in the refrigerator.  The rub also calls for fenugreek seeds.  What, you ask? I checked the index of the book and there was a Fenugreek Seed cake listed (Page 290) so I meandered over to that recipe to investigate the spice.  Fenugreek is the “ultimate curry ingredient” and has a strong, savory taste that many don’t like, especially in sweets.  I’ll bake that cake and report later.

After the spice-bejeweled meat spent the evening in the fridge, it was roasted to perfection in a 375° oven for 4 ½ hours.  The directions say to add water after 30 minutes of roasting to use to baste the meat every hour or so.  Further, the directions instruct to tent the roast with foil for the last 3 hours of roasting, to prevent the spices from burning.

This roast was superb.  The barky spice rub enhanced the naturally flavorful lamb, yet did not overpower its distinct taste.  Most of us had seconds….it was, afterall, New Year’s Eve, the really crunchy pieces were already devoured.

Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad (Page 62)
Occasionally you stumble upon a recipe that invigorates your taste buds, literally makes them stand at attention.   Seemingly unrelated ingredients commingle suspiciously but nicely in this colorful and tasty side dish.    I would have never thought to introduce hazelnuts to cauliflower and then sprinkle the mixture with bright and crunchy pomegranate seeds, celery and parsley but, then again, I have not written a wildly popular cookbook.  Maybe, one day, I will…I need to think of a catchy name though. 

The recipe calls for sherry vinegar, which I could not find, but I did find pomegranate vinegar at Trader Joes.  You simply combine the cauliflower with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and roast it in a 425° oven until it begins to brown, about 40 minutes.  Once the cauliflower cools, combine with hazelnuts that have been roasted and chopped, some pomegranate seeds, parsley, celery, cinnamon, allspice, vinegar and olive oil.  Serve at room temperature.  The New York Times is also smitten with the Jerusalem Cookbook and you can read the entire recipe, and some others, here.
I eventually did fine sherry vinegar….in Whole Foods.

Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake (Page 294)
Foodie contributed the cake because she is the mistress of confections and always chooses just the right sweet something to finish up a fabulous meal.  This cake was no exception. 

This fragrant and airy cake can be served bare (as you see in the photo above) or iced and Foodie chose to ice it with a dark chocolate, honey and Cognac potion because chocolate makes everything better, she also added little silver stars.  The authors suggest you can substitute oranges for the Clemetines.  This is a simple recipe of butter, sugar, ground almonds (that you can grind yourself in a food processor after they are blanched and cooled), flour, eggs,  lemons, and, of course, the juice and zest of four Clementines. 

It was a wonderful evening of friends, food and frolic.
Happy New Year everyone!
Ode to a Nightingale
By John Keats
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.