Monday, March 28, 2011

NO NEED TO PLOTZ!

Your Rescue Recipes and Game Plan for Passover

It was barely Purim and my phone was ringing off hook with friends and clients asking questions regarding Passover. What am I making? Will I share recipes? Can I come over and cook for them? Will I come over for a meal (I especially love that one)?
I felt the panic creep into my normally blasé attitude toward the holiday. I made my peace with Matzo Madness years ago and have my annual game plan in place.
But the dread is contagious and I caught it.

I started digging around in cabinets. I planned my meals for the next month, all in an effort to rid my home of forbidden food items. I started my pasta scrap bag with its load of remnants of various pasta shapes. I call the dish created with it Pasta ala Odds and Ends-YUM!
As the anxiety deepened, I went through my spices and planned an alarming number of meals containing my most treasured ingredients. I love my spices and take great pride in my custom mixes. A little of this and little of that and voila, I have a masterpiece. As part of Passover prep, I fear that the delicate nuance that I try to achieve may just become a hodge-podge of global influences all in one dish with too much of this and too much of that.
Oh well, I will sleep well knowing that the spice cabinet Pesach cleanse has been schemed.

I practically freaked out when my husband brought home his favorite dried fava beans. I demanded an explanation for his lack of calendar sense. IT’S ALMOST PESACH! His response mentioned something about 30 days to go.

I was really starting to fret as I was planning my menus a mere 4 weeks before the Seders, when I realized that I have a secret weapon for the holiday. My favorite ingredient Extra Virgin Olive Oil is kosher for Passover. I may have to give up my pastas, rices and spices, but I still have my extra virgin olive oil.

Last year I wrote about extra virgin olive oil and how it is important to purchase the best oil you can. I am revisiting that notion with renewed vigor and excitement.

Maybe you are like me. You go to the grocery store and you know you should buy good quality extra virgin olive oil, but you do not know which one is the best. You look at prices, pretty labels and country of origin and then make your best guess. You are rolling the dice and plunking down good money for something that may or may not be tasty.

Or, you could taste the oil before you buy it. I am not suggesting you crack open bottles and take a swig at the local supermarket. But, what if you could taste the olive oil before you purchase it, just like you go to a wine tasting and sample wines before you buy them?

There is a terrific store in Chicago that allows just such an experience. City Olive http://www.cityolive.com/ is a store specializing in extra virgin olive oils from around the world. At the back of the clever little shop there is a tasting bar where you can slurp and savor your way through dozens of bottles of luscious fragrant oils.
On a recent trip to City Olive, I tasted buttery oil from France that I am using for my Pesach baking. I also tasted oil from Spain that smells just like artichokes and tomatoes. I am using that oil for drizzling on finished dishes and for making pesto and vinaigrettes. I found my workhorse oil from Morocco that will be used for just about everything. That oil is complex and fruity.

You don’t have to be like me and purchase separate oils for everything. But why not? All extra virgin olive oils are kosher for Passover and year round, even with out kosher supervision. How awesome is that? We may give up our breads and cakes for eight days, but we will emerge from the holiday having feasted on foods made with delicious and healthy extra virgin olive oil. You cannot say that about Kosher for Passover oil which tends to be harsh and bitter and not healthy like extra virgin olive oil. How much cooking time and how many ingredients do you need to cover up the taste of bad oil?

My nerves have been calmed and I am cool as a spring day in Chicago knowing that my Passover plan has been executed. I can approach the holiday with excitement…….now back to those Seder menus.







Relish of artichokes
The relish is a concoction of early spring and late winter vegetables. I serve it with roasted chicken, duck and fish. It adds flair to any table and for Passover we drizzle our matzo with extra virgin olive oil and herbs and then dollop some of this springtime treat on top of it for a crunchy snack, side dish or appetizer before the Seder meal.
Yields about 2 cups
1 pound baby artichokes or frozen artichoke hearts
1 fennel bulb, cut into julienne (save fronds for garnish)
2 leeks, white parts only chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup white wine
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup pine-nuts
¼ cup chopped fresh mint + additional for garnish
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. To clean the artichokes, use a paring knife to cut the outside leaves free from the body of the vegetable. Continue turning your knife around the artichoke until the leaves are pale yellow. Be sure to leave the stem intact and peel some of the tough green fibers from the outside to reveal the inner soft white core. The stem gives the artichoke a pretty shape! Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out the choke (if any) with a melon baller. Place the artichoke pieces in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it to keep the artichokes from turning dark.
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat and coat the bottom lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel pieces and leeks. Sauté the vegetables until they are lightly browned and have softened. Add the drained artichokes and continue sautéing until the artichokes are lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato paste and white wine. Stir together. Add the raisins and turn down the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer until the artichokes can be easily pierced with a paring knife (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the pine-nuts. Toast the pine-nuts until they are lightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Watch them carefully as they can burn quickly.
4. Add the pine nuts to the mixture. Add the mint, parsley and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste
5. Serve the relish warm or cold. The relish can be made three days before serving and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.


Roasted Halibut with Green Olive Pesto

Even if the spring weather in Chicago is not cooperating and does exactly feel bright and cheery, this sprightly flavored dish will remind you of warmer days. Halibut is my favorite springtime fish and the buttery flavor of the fish pairs well with the tasty and easy to prepare pesto.

Serves 6

For the halibut

6 6-ounce skinless halibut filets
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350

1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper.
2. Place the filets (presentation side down-this is the side that did not have the skin on it. It is the prettier side!) into the pan. Allow the filets to brown (about 5 minutes). Transfer the filets to a sheet pan and roast in the preheated oven until the filets are firm to the touch (about 10-12 minutes depending upon thickness)
3. Spoon the pesto over each filet and garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and mint leaves.

For the Pesto

½ cup almonds, toasted
½ cup golden raisins
2 cups green olives, pitted (I like the product from Israel)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of crushed red chilies, optional
¼ cup fresh mint leaves + additional leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is a very thick paste with some chunks remaining.
2. The pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.



Chocolate Macaroons

Sophisticated and simple. These macaroons are easy, Passover friendly and gluten free. I fill my macaroons with sorbet and keep them on hand for a stylish dessert or snack. You can also fill them with chocolate ganache and fill them with melted chocolate and sandwich them together.

Prep time-15 minutes
Cooking time-10 minutes
Total-25 minutes

1 1/3 cups almond flour*
2 cups +2 tablespoons Passover powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder (I only use Valrhona)
½ cup egg whites, at room temperature

Yields-25 macaroons

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stack another baking sheet under the lined one for more insulation (this keeps the bottom of the macaroons from over browning)

Fit the pastry bag with a ½ inch plain tip

Preheat oven to 425

1. Sift the almond flour with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder and set aside.
2. Whip the egg whites until they are firm but still glossy. Do not over whip.
3. Fold the dry ingredients gently into the whites in three additions. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag. “Glue” the parchment paper down on each corner with a small amount of batter. This will prevent the parchment paper from blowing onto the macaroons and sticking to them.
4. Pipe the batter into 1-inch rounds. Before baking the macaroons-rap the baking sheets sharply against the counter. This will remove the air from the cookies and keep them from puffing up too much.
5. Place the macaroons into the preheated oven. Immediately turn down the oven to 350. Bake for 10 minutes or until the macaroons are firm to the touch.
6. Remove the bottom baking sheet, place the sheet with the macaroons on a cooling rack, turn the oven back up to 425 and you can now re-load another baking sheet and double stack it on the one you just removed.
7. When the macaroons are cool enough to handle-remove them from the baking sheet and transfer them to the cooling rack.

• You may be able to find kosher for Passover Almond Flour or fine almond powder-if not you can make your own.
Place 2 cups skinned, blanched almonds in the work bowl of a food processor and add 2 tablespoons of confectioners of confectioners sugar to the almonds (this will keep the almonds from turning into almond butter). Process the almonds for 1 minute. Stop the processor and scrape down the bowl. Continue doing this for another 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the almonds are very fine and powdery. Measure the almond powder and eliminate the added 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar from the recipe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A PERSIAN FEAST


The Flavors of Persia

Persia was the trade hub for the ancient world. Animals, textiles, metals, gems and foodstuffs all passed through its ports. Ancient Persia was quite the cosmopolitan empire with influences from India, Egypt, Syria and more.
The foods of Persia are exotic and reflect thousands of years of tradition. Pomegranates, pistachios, rose water and almond pastes are just a few of the flavors of Persia that we cherish today.
Jews have a long tempestuous history in Persia that dates back to biblical times. The books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles and Esther contain references to Persia. Present day, Iran is the home to the largest Jewish community living in a Muslim-majority country.

Chef’s comment: Where has this food been all my life? Persian food has the same sensibility that I have with ingredients and how to handle them. The cuisine takes advantage of seasonal and fresh ingredients. There are no bags of frozen vegetables, over processed packaged products or jars of dusty dried herbs. This food scream fresh. The flavors are simple and elegant. I love it!

Herbed Meatballs with Rice
Kufteh Berenji

The meatballs are so fragrant with herbs and brightly flavored tomato-saffron broth. This recipe is a keeper all year round and elevates the meatball to a new status. Persian food is redolent with fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients. Each ingredient is aromatic and amazing on its own. When they come together it is pure harmony.


Serves 6-8 as a first course

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total: 1 hour


½ cup yellow split peas
1 cup Basmati rice
2 eggs, whisked
2 teaspoons Persian Spice mix*
1 large onion, grated
1 pound ground beef or turkey
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup chopped savory
¼ cup chopped tarragon
2 cups chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup tomato juice
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon saffron threads

1. Pick over the rice and peas and rinse
2. Cook the rice and peas covered for 30 minutes until cooked thoroughly
3. Place the ground meat, fresh herbs, eggs, grated onion, spice mix and cooked peas and rice into a large mixing bowl. Knead the mixture thoroughly until it resembles a smooth paste. You can do this by hand or with the aid of a mixer fitted with a paddle at low speed.
4. In a large sauté pan lightly coated with olive oil, add the sliced onion and garlic and sauté until lightly caramelized. Add the tomato juice, chicken stock, lime juice and saffron. Simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
5. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs and gently add them to the simmering sauce. Cook until the meatballs are cooked through (about 15 minutes).
6. Serve with fresh pita and plenty of sauce. Garnish with pomegranate, chopped mint and toasted pistachios



Celery and Mint Khoresh

Khoreshes are a sort of stir-fried stew that are common in Persian cuisine. The ingredients vary from season to season and are treated with care. No over cooked soggy vegetables in these dishes. Everything is cooked to highlight bright flavor.

Serves 4

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total: 45 minutes


Extra virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, sliced
1 pound boneless chicken breast or turkey breast, cut into large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 celery ribs, cut into 1 inch segments
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cup chopped fresh mint

1. Place a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is golden brown and caramelized (about 10 minutes). Add the chicken and garlic and continue to cook until the chicken is golden brown (about 5 minutes).
2. Add the chicken stock, lime juice and saffron to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the celery has softened. Add the fresh herbs and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt, freshly cracked pepper and lime juice.
3. Serve with saffron rice and garnish with additional parsley, mint, pomegranate molasses drizzled over the top, thinly sliced limes



Saffron Rice

I love this crispy textured rice dish. The rice is cooked twice and develops a golden brown crust that is nutty flavored and very crunchy while the rice on the inside of the molded cake is soft, fluffy and fragrant.

Serves 4-5

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
Total: 1 hour 35 minutes

1 cup Basmati Rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
Olive oil
Garnishes: chopped dill, chopped mint

Preheat oven to 350

1. Place the basmati rice and saffron in a medium sauce pan. Add 2 ½ cups of water, cover and simmer over medium heat until the rice is cooked through (about 20-25 minutes).
2. Place a large sauté pan, generously coated with olive oil, over medium heat.
3. Scoop the cooked rice into the pan and pack the rice by pressing it firmly into the pan. Cover and bake in the preheated for 30 minutes until the rice has formed a crust. You can peek at the crust by gently pulling the rice away the side of the pan with a spatula.
4. Invert onto a platter and garnish with fresh herbs.



Rosewater Rice Pudding

This creamy comforting dessert is as familiar as your grandmother’s rice pudding and yet strikingly different. The rose water and saffron are exotic and fragrant. The pale yellow dessert is beautiful and makes the perfect finale for a meat meal. I like to pass bowls of garnishes and let my guests adorn their own bowls of this delicately perfumed comfort food.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes

Serves 4-5

1 cup short grain rice (I use Arborio)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
½ cup rose water*
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons rice flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cardamom
Suggested garnishes: chopped pistachios, chopped almonds, fresh mint, Pomegranate


1. Boil the rice with water, rose water, sugar and saffron threads until the rice is cooked completely and very soft.
2. Whisk the eggs yolks and rice flour together. Stir the mixture into the slightly cooled rice. Add the cinnamon and cardamom.
3. Chill thoroughly or serve warm. Garnish as desired.



*Rosewater is a distillation of rose petals. Rose oil is made from distilling crushed rose petals and is used in cosmetics and perfumes. Rosewater is a by product of this process.
Rosewater is commonly used in Persian and Indian recipes. It is used in desserts as well as savory dishes.
In Europe, rosewater is used to flavor marzipan, marshmallows and scones.
Last year, my husband and I were in Paris and visited many patisseries owned by friends. Rose scented desserts are “in”; we saw and ate them everywhere in Paris. We passed by a shop everyday in Le Marais that only sold rosewater products and baked goods.
Rosewater is an old ingredient that is enjoying a resurgence of popularity. I encourage you to try it. I use it in Persian cooking, desserts, vinaigrettes and marinades. When first trying to cook with rosewater-go slow at first until you get a feel for it. A little goes a long way.

Rosewater can be found in many grocery stores, Persian or Middle Eastern stores and on line. Rosewater is a distillation and does not require hashgacha.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

READY FOR PURIM


Purim Preparedness

I know that Purim is a few weeks off-but somehow the holiday creeps in and often I am left unprepared.

Every year I wait until the last minute to even think about Purim and making Hamantaschen and before I know it the holiday sneaks up on me and I end up buying Hamantaschen at the store or bakery.
Yeah-they are OK Hamantaschen all right-but nowhere near as good as those made at home. I have to sneak the package into the house and arrange the counterfeit confections on a plate and try and pass them off as my own.
This year-I am armed and prepared to bake my own. I have a recipe for each week and if I stick to the plan I will have enough of the gorgeous goodies to serve my family and friends in my home and even enough to put in cute little bags for Mishloach Manot or gifts to friends.

This year is going to be different and Purim will not slide by me unnoticed. Who knows-Maybe I will even wear a costume to shul?

Here is the first installment of Hamantaschen recipes. This one starts off strong and you can see how sincere I am as I prepare for the holiday. I went with a Persian theme and added a touch of Rosewater to a sensuous Almond Paste filling. With Hamantaschen this good-baking at home may be come habit forming.


Chef Laura’s Hamantaschen

This elegant confection elevates the triangle shaped cookie we all know and love. In the spirit of Persian flavors I have used a Rosewater and Almond Filling.


½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
1 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

1. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Add the orange zest, orange juice and vanilla extract to the mixture.
3. With the machine running on low add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg.
4. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix to combine-be careful not to over mix or the dough will be tough.
5. Roll the dough on a floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Dip a round cookie cutter into flour and cut circles in the dough. Fill the dough with ½ teaspoon of filling and pinch the edges together to form a triangle. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
6. Transfer the Hamantaschen to a cooling rack.

Rosewater-Almond Filling

8 ounce almond paste
4 ounces softened butter
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract (I like Nielsen Massey extract)
½ teaspoon rosewater*
2 eggs
4 tablespoons almond flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill-found at most grocery stores and Whole Foods)

1. Mix all of the above ingredients together in a mixer until very smooth. The almond filling can be made up to 5 days ahead of baking and can be stored covered in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 1 month.



*Rosewater is a distillation of rose petals. Rose oil is made from distilling crushed rose petals and is used in cosmetics and perfumes. Rosewater is a by-product of this process.
Rosewater is commonly used in Persian and Indian recipes. It is used in desserts as well as savory dishes.
In Europe, rosewater is used to flavor marzipan, marshmallows and scones.
Last year, my husband and I were in Paris and visited many patisseries owned by friends. Rose scented desserts are “in”; we saw and ate them everywhere in Paris. We passed by a shop everyday in Le Marais that only sold rosewater products and baked goods.
Rosewater is an old ingredient that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. I encourage you to try it. I use it in Persian cooking, desserts, vinaigrettes and marinades. When first trying to cook with rosewater-go slow at first until you get a feel for it. A little goes a long way.

Rosewater can be found in many grocery stores, Persian or Middle Eastern stores and on line. Rosewater is a distillation and does not require hashgacha.



Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

This homemade spread is better than Nutella because it is non-hydrogenated and made with high quality chocolate. Do not skimp on the chocolate and your spread will be an addicting schmear for everything from toast to apple slices.

I tried this delicious spread in my Hamantaschen and found a new out of this world Purim treat.

1 2/3 cup hazelnuts
1 3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup powdered whole milk
3 tablespoons honey
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped (I use Callebaut)
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I use Callebaut)
Pinch of sea salt

1. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet, keeping the almond separate, and toast the nuts in a 350ºF oven, stirring a few times, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the hazelnuts are browned.

2. While they are roasting, warm the whole milk and powdered milk in a small saucepan with the honey and salt just until it starts to boil. Remove from heat.

3. In a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, or in a microwave oven, melt the chocolates together until smooth.

4. Once the nuts are well-toasted, remove them from oven and use a spatula to place the warm hazelnuts in a clean tea towel, then fold them inside the towel and rub them vigorously to remove any loose skins. They don’t need to be pristine; just try to get as much off as possible.

5. In a food processor, grind the warm hazelnuts until they’re as fine as possible. You may not be able to get them completely smooth, depending on your food processor

6. Add the melted chocolate and continue to process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl, as necessary.

7. Once the mixture is smooth, add the warm milk mixture, sea salt and process until everything is well-combined. Store covered in the refrigerator



Hamantaschen Dough

½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
1 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

8. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer until light and fluffy.
9. Add the orange zest, orange juice and vanilla extract to the mixture.
10. With the machine running on low add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg.
11. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix to combine-be careful not to over mix or the dough will be tough.
12. Roll the dough on a floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Dip a round cookie cutter into flour and cut circles in the dough. Fill the dough with ½ teaspoon of filling and pinch the edges together to form a triangle. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
13. Transfer the Hamantaschen to a cooling rack.