Monday, May 20, 2013

Tortilla Soup, Ole! Plus May Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

This month's Kosher Connection theme is croutons.  Croutons are delicious, crunchy, fun to eat, generally not so good for you.  But I love them - who doesn't, really?  There is nothing yummier than homemade croutons: a diced loaf of crusty bread, tossed with butter or oil and amazing seasonings, toasted until perfectly crisp on the outside, with a little chew on the inside, so delicious and addictive, and then you put them in some incredibly flavorful soup or a beautiful salad, mmmmm...

Sorry, distracted.  Where was I again?  Oh, yeah, right.  I figure that as a baker, I contribute to not such healthy eating for some folks, so I have to be more careful when it comes to the courses preceding dessert.  That's why I went with a lighter style crouton - tortilla crisps.  No frying here, and the only added fat is cooking spray.  No seasoning is added, though still delicious.  And they top off a bold and hearty soup, which, oddly enough, is beloved by every single member of my family.  How often does that happen?!

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Crisps
3 flour tortillas
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray both sides of the tortillas with a light coating of cooking spray.  Cut tortillas into 1/2" by  1 1/2" strips.  Spread into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5 - 10 minutes, tossing about 3 minutes through for even cooking.  Remove from oven when they are toasted and LIGHTLY colored.  Set aside to cool.

2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
canola oil
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 green hot pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced (be super careful about touching anything after dicing the hot peppers! Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, mouth, children... And even if you wear gloves, remember that the cutting board may retain the spicy heat, so be careful when you wash it)
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon each salt, cumin, and chili powder (the seasoning amounts are very subjective - feel free to adjust to your preference!)
8 cups chicken stock (use water and chicken soup powder in a pinch) + 1 cup water
1 cup frozen corn
2 chicken breasts, diced
1 can black, kidney, or chili beans, drained and rinsed

Saute onions and garlic in a small amount of canola oil until onions and translucent and tender. Add in red, yellow, and hot peppers and saute for 2 more minutes, until beginning to soften. Add in the tomatoes (drained or not, depending if you prefer a redder or less red soup, really not that important unless you have a child who only likes yellow soup. I wish I had made that up, but yeah, got one or two of those.), and seasoning and stir. Then add in chicken stock and water and bring just to a boil and then lower. Allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Add in frozen corn and diced chicken and simmer for about 10 minutes, then add in drained beans and simmer until everything is just heated through.  Adjust seasoning and serve, sprinkling each bowl with a handful of tortilla crisps.  Serve additional crisps on the side, because they're so good.

And when you've had your fill of this delicious soup, check out what all the other talented cooks have contributed to this month's linkup!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

So, Purim... what did we do?

Purim has come and gone.  A great time was had: megillah well read, matanot l'evyonim given, mishlochei manot distributed and received, a wonderful seudah with good friends enjoyed.  So I am sure you are all wondering - what did the Cookie Creators give for Mishloach Manot?  There's only so long you can rely on the old "we can't top it so why try" theory.  But in the interest of Shalom Bayit and sleep, there's a limit on what you can actually produce in addition to order.  What to do, what to do?

This year, of course, Purim is (was) a Sunday.  We had to work that in somehow, and I thought a fun way would be with a cookie decorated with an edible image of the Sunday comics.  There is not much we miss more than having a Sunday, and with that the Sunday paper, especially the funny pages.  From there, it was not too complicated.  We made cinnamon buns and banana chocolate chip muffins, packaged up egg shaped gummy candies, and threw in an orange.  Pop the comics cookie on top, and you've got a pretty decent mishloach manot.
Of course, we won't mention the fact that I am not a big yeast baker, and I have never made cinnamon buns before.  Or that I thought I would be really clever and somewhat healthy with my first attempt.  The lesson I learned was that fat is added for a reason, and that reason is deliciousness.  Just deal with it.  So my second attempt was far more successful, and, thus, went in the packages.  Maybe someday the experience will provide fodder for another post...
Shana tied the whole thing together with a label that sent the message of "Enjoy your Sunday brunch, from the sunny side-up eggs and baked goods down to the fresh squeezed orange juice (you'll have to squeeze it yourself) and the comics, and have a great Purim."  There were, naturally, a few glitches.  We ran out of cookies at some point, and the oranges too, and then had to juggle a bit to make complete packages.  It was not all perfect, though it was fun.  But overall, we were happy, and we survived another year.
Happy Purim to one and all!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ridiculous Hot Dog Cookies for Purim - and Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

Purim is a happy, carefree holiday.  If you're a kid, that is.  Costumes, candy, parties, and the cessation of education for at least two weeks.  It's awesome. 
But I get stressed out by this holiday, though I didn't used to.  I finally understood what my problem was recently, when a friend spelled it out for me.  You see, three years ago, we made awesome mishloach manot.  And I can't ever top it, so now I have put myself in a position where expectations are high, and I let everyone, especially myself, down when I give a lame old MM.

So what was so great about that year's MM?  Well, I finally relented and went with a theme beyond "it's Purim, here's some food."  Our theme was fast food, and everything (almost) was cookies and cake.  We made hamburgers,
hot dogs,
French fries with ketchup,

ice cream sundaes,
and chocolate milk - okay, that was real. And if I can't ever live the experience down, well, maybe you can share in my suffering as I share the recipe for the hot dog cookies.  They were bookmarked in my browser in a file called "ridiculous," which, obviously, they are, but you never know when a recipe like this could come in handy.  (I don't actually hve any ideas right now for when that could be, but I am sure they'll come to me.)  So I throw down the gauntlet: make these cookies for your Mishloach Manot, but keep in mind that they will impress your friends and and then everyone will expect to be wowed next year too!

As for me, I am sure we will come up with something, but if you have any great ideas for a theme for us that's not too complicated, we'd love to hear it!

Hot Dog Cookies
Adapted from TLC

150 grams softened margarine (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
red gel food coloring
1/2 teaspoon cocoa
Yellow and/or red buttercream frosting or royal icing

Cream margarine with sugars.  Beat in egg yolk.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Remove 1/3 of the dough and knead in a small amount of the red gel food color and the cocoa. Chill both sections well, at least a few hours or overnight.  Remove the uncolored dough, leaving the rest in the fridge, and divide into approximately 12 pieces.  Form each one into a long cylinder, then use the side of your hand to form an indentation (mimicking the shape of a hot dog bun).  Divide the colored dough into 12, and form each piece into a hot dog shape, then place each one in a "bun."
Chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, until "buns" are lightly browned on the edges. 
When fully cool, put your frosting or icing in a decorating bag with a small round tip, and apply a squiggle of "mustard" or "ketchup" or both.  If you are so inclined, you can use things like cut-up gummy candies and shredded coconut to add "relish" or "onions."  With or without the additions, they will be adorable. Enjoy!
Wishing you all a happy and joyous Purim - and fun with the preparations!

And now for some real Mishloach Manot inspiration, check out the rest of this month's Kosher Connection recipes!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sacher Torte Sandwiches - January Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

I was trying to be super-creative for this one, trying to think outside the box.  I mean, I love miniatures.  I make mini-desserts, I love when foods are made single serving, what's not to love.  But then I realized two important things. One, my brain does not work in a straight line.  I don't really think a box could contain the leaps and bounds and stretches my mind makes when I think about things.  Second, I am always making miniatures.  What are cookies if not miniature desserts?

So instead of something totally different, I thought I would share my process with you.  This is how Dvora's Cookie Creations comes up with a new flavor.

1.  Have a food craving.
2.  If it's healthy, indulge it.
3.  If it's for something sweet, think about how the flavors I am dying for can be translated into a cookie form.

That's it.  There's not much of that "Cupcake Wars" notion of how can I fit a disgusting ingredient into a dessert.  I draw the line at that.  No cheese curls or crispy salmon skin in my desserts.  But this concept of translation has worked for me.  Thus, the orange-cranberry-white chocolate cookies (started with Creamsicles), the apricot white chocolate cookies (chocolate dipped dried fruit), the pecan shortbread (pecan pie), the samoa sandwiches (Girl Scout cookies), the Chunky Monkey bars (ice cream!! - still working on the Chubby Hubby squares), and today's example, the Sacher Torte sandwich.

So let's talk cake for a minute.   I love cake of all kinds.  It's delicious, or should be.  But there's so much of it.  Even a little 6-inch cake is too many servings to just have lying around.  A cookie, however, is portion-controlled.  You can make some, freeze the rest of the dough, eat one, and put the other cookies aside for Shabbat or another occasion that calls for some dessert.

Sacher Torte is a traditional Austrian pastry; two layers of chocolate sponge sandwiching apricot preserves, covered in chocolate glaze.  Mmmmm.  So to translate this into cookie-hood, I decided to go the sandwich cookie route (which, let's face it, I do a lot of.  It just seems a great way to layer flavors and textures.).  I started with a chocolate but not excessively chocolatey roll out cookie, to which I added almond extract - not so authentic, but definitely screams Vienna to me.  I wanted one with a fair amount of leavening, so the cookies would puff up to resemble the texture (sort of) of sponge cake.  I cut the well-chilled dough into circles, cutting out a small circle from the center of half of the cookies to provide a window into the filling. 

After baking, I paired off the cookies, one solid and one with a peek-through, so that similar sized cookies fit together.  It's one of those annoyances that even cookies cut with a cutter are never all precisely the same, so it's just gotta be done.  I covered the backs of the solid cookies with apricot preserves, then topped them with the cut-out cookies.  Instead of coating the whole thing with chocolate, I chose to drizzle a zig-zag of chocolate across the cookies, as I felt a complete or even partial dunking would overpower the apricot and almond flavors.  And a drizzle is always pretty...

So there you have it, an actual cookie recipe from me.  It doesn't happen too often, so enjoy!
Sacher Torte Sandwich Cookies
200 grams margarine, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

good quality apricot preserves
100 grams chocolate chips or baking chocolate
1 teaspoon oil

Cream margarine with sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla.  Sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to creamed mixture.  Divide dough into three disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill well, at least one hours.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Roll out dough on well-floured surface, about 1/8" thick. using a 2" round cutter, cut circles.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Gather up scraps and re-roll.  Cut out a small (1/3 - 1/2") circle from the center of half the cookies.  Bake for about 7 minutes.  Cool and pair cookies, one whole and one cut-out, by matching sizes.  On the underside of the whole cookies, spread apricot preserves.  Top with a cut-out cookie.  Spread cookies out on a fresh piece of parchment.  Melt chocolate with oil in microwave on low power.  Pour into a disposable decorating bag or heavy duty ziploc bag.  Twist shut, and cut off tip/corner.  Drizzle chocolate onto cookies.  Let chocolate set, and - b'tayavon!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I can cook in Israel, and I'm proud (but it wasn't easy!).

When we made aliyah over six years ago, I knew there would be a lot of things to get used to: the language, the culture, the geography.  Little did I know that one of the biggest hurdles would be the supermarket.  (Cue ominous music here...dun,dun, DUNNNNNH) Without a bit of exaggeration, my first supermarket trip left me in tears and a desire to run back to ShopRite.  It is worth mentioning that the particular store I went to was probably a mistake, though I was sent there with the best of intentions.  It is not a local store, and it is not a normal chain for the country.  While it has a great supply of American products, it otherwise offers all the worst that the country can boast - horrific parking, poor organization, crowded aisles, lousy customer service, cashiers who take a sandwich break in the middle of your check-out.  And did I mention that in this country, you need a five shekel coin to release a cart from the chain that attaches it to its compatriots?  Kind of wish someone had before we went to the store. That started things off with a bang. The rest of the shopping expedition was no better.

But now it's 2013, and the sorrows of 2006 are mostly gone, though not forgotten.  The supermarket situation has improved radically since our arrival.  Between all that I have learned and all that has changed, I feel good going to the store now.  I have been privileged of late to be able to contribute to Jamie Geller's Joy of Kosher website, and some of my articles have included tips on adjusting your baking and cooking to the new environment.  This month's article includes helpful substitutions for some absent ingredients, and two recipes - Magic Salt, which is a copycat Seasoned Salt recipe, but with less salt, and Old Fashioned Sweet and Sour Meatballs, which is a classic recipe that represents absolute comfort food to me, yet offered a challenge because the basic ingredient for my sauce, canned tomato sauce, was not available here.  I hope you enjoy both the article and the recipes, no matter where you live.

But an article can include only so much information, so I wanted to include a few of the things that I learned, some the hard way, when it comes to produce shopping in Israel.  I have also learned that what I am writing is generally true for the country, but specifically for my area.  There may be some variations if you live in a different zone.

1.  Produce is seasonal!  I cannot stress this one enough.  It is not a matter of being willing to pay for out of season fruits and vegetables.  They are just not available.  Make use of what is beautiful, and pay attention to the prices.  A low price can mean one of two things: the produce is beautiful and plentiful, or it is nasty and should be avoided, even though it is unusually well priced.  This happens a lot with peppers, but can also be true of other items.

2.  Israelis do not know what good fresh corn or green beans are.  I am sorry, I don't mean to generalize or be prejudiced, it's just a sad truth.  They have not been exposed to the deliciousness that these vegetables can be.  Corn on the cob here is not what we got back in the Garden State - sweet, juicy, delicious - but is starchy and blah.  Just skip it.  Frozen corn is somewhat better, and so is (egads!) canned, but the fresh will just make you sad.
Same with green beans.  Fresh are starchy and icky.  We have been much happier with frozen, though that too will occasionally disappoint.  They are delicious roasted, steamed, or sauteed, and are available frozen both cut and whole, and even haricot verts, called "adina" (delicate) or "dak meod" (very thin).

3. Parsnips - fuggedaboutit! Parsnips were a mainstay of my chicken soup back in the States, but no more.  They really don't exist here.  My soup has had a radical transformation since we moved.  We make a veggie heavy soup, which includes, in addition to the staples of carrot, onion, garlic, and zucchini, along with the fresh dill and parsley that we always used, chunks of kohlrabi and pumpkin, butternut squash and/or sweet potato. On occasion I will include a whole tomato, particularly if I am making a Teimani version, which is made delicious with hawaij l'marak, a spice mix for soup which includes seasonings like turmeric, cumin, black pepper, and cardamon. (Don't confuse this with hawaij l'cafe, a spice mix for your coffee!) 
Celery is one of those surprisingly seasonal items which we add in only when it is worth buying - it ranges from sturdy and lovely to thin and limp.  And the celery stalks you are used to, they are called Celery Amerikai (American Celery), so don't confuse that with Celery Root.

4. Avocados - different, but still good.  Also a seasonal item, we never get the Haas avocadoes that we were accustomed to in the States.  The variety available here can be pretty hit or miss, sometimes failing to ripen, sometimes going mushy before your eyes.  But when they're good, they're very good.

5. Even apples have their off-season.  Lately, the apples in have been mealy and not particularly tasty.  The price is low (as I mentioned before), so apple sauce, pie, or cobbler is not a bad idea. Also, apple varieties are available sporadically.  So if you love you some Pink Ladies, if you see them on the shelf, grab a giant bagful because they may not be there again for a while.  In fact, that is a pretty good piece of advice for pretty much anything you see in the stores here.  You can't bank on most things being there on your next trip, so learn to stock up on things you don't want to live without.

I may add to this list as additional items occur to me, so feel free to leave any comments or questions so this can be as helpful as possible!

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