Friday, May 31, 2013

Tahini Cookies

I love the feeling of setting out measuring cups, butter to soften, jars of flour and wooden spoons. Seeing baking ingredients spread across my counter is a happy sight, and since baking is May’s theme for Tasting Jerusalem I was delighted to jump in and try something new and different.

I’ve been playing with different flours lately, and when I spotted the tahini cookies in Jerusalem I thought the flavors might work well with almond and coconut flour in place of the all-purpose flour. I’m also using coconut sugar quite a bit now, as I like its caramelized, earthy flavor so I pulled out that jar, too.

Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds and is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. It can be made into a dip on its own, or it features prominently in halvah, hummus and baba ghanoush. In addition to the different flours and sugar, I added a generous amount of Maldon salt and mixed cinnamon into the dough. I scooped and rolled the dough, topped each with a slivered almond and popped the baking pan into the oven.

The cookies emerged fragrant and toasty brown. Rich from the tahini and butter, they almost taste like peanut butter cookies, with a texture rather like a shortbread biscuit. Perfumed with cinnamon, slightly sweet, and with a little hint of salt in each bite, these tiny gems made a terrific after-school snack with a glass of milk. And this morning, I nibbled a couple with my coffee for a satisfying breakfast treat.

Tahini Cookies
Makes about 42 small cookies
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2/3 cup coconut sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup tahini paste
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
5 teaspoons cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 cup blanced, slivered almonds (to top)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

Beat the sugar and butter together in a stand mixer or with an electric hand beater until combined. Add the tahini, vanilla, salt, cream and cinnamon and mix, then add the flours and mix further until a dough forms. It will be soft.

Using a small cookie scoop or teaspoon, drop little balls of dough onto the cookie sheet (use half the dough to make about 20). Gently roll each into a smooth ball and place an almond sliver on top. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Repeat with the remaining dough.

The cookies will keep in a covered container for a few days.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cherry Mint Shrub

With summer whispering in my ear, I’ve begun happily putting the screens back on the windows, pulling out the barbecue and digging out my flip-flops. We spent this past long weekend in the sunny Methow Valley, and even though we came back to rain I still have warm days on my mind. And warm days call for something refreshing to sip, such as a shrub.

Shrubs date back to the Colonial days in America, when vinegar was used as a way of preserving berries and other fruit. The fruit-and-vinegar syrup was mixed with seltzer and became a popular drink.  I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and colonial wisdom such as this is near and dear to my heart. Discovering this traditional beverage sent me into the kitchen, excited to try my hand at it.

Making shrub syrup is quite simple and, since I chose to make a cold processed one it does not involve any cooking. Fruit is mixed with sugar and left to macerate for a couple of days, and then the resulting juice is mixed with vinegar. Dark red cherries are spilling over in the markets now, and I began thinking about how good their sweet, juicy flavor would be in a shrub.

Remembering to don an apron (messy business, this cherry-pitting), I gently mashed pitted cherries with coconut sugar and then muddled some fresh mint for an herbal note. After a couple of days in the fridge, I drained the juice and stirred in some cider vinegar. Since cherries and balsamic pair so well, I added a touch of that, too, and was pleased.

I loaded up a tray with jars, ice, a bottle of seltzer and my cherry mint shrub to mix drinks outside. A splash of shrub syrup, topped off with bubbly seltzer, was pure refreshment. The first sip was a bit bracing from the vinegar flavor, but then I settled into the tangy, fruity, unique flavor that is a shrub. As my ice cubes gently clinked and melted, I sank back and savored cherries in a whole new way ... and began listening for more summer whispers.

Cherry Mint Shrub
Makes 1 cup of syrup

3 cups fresh red cherries, halved and pitted
1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Seltzer and ice for serving

Place the cherries, mint and coconut sugar in a bowl and gently mash (I used a pastry cutter). Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to macerate for 2 days.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and pour the cherry mixture through. Press to release as much juice as possible. Save the solids to stir into yogurt if desired.

Add the cider and balsamic vinegar and stir until well combined. Pour a splash (or two, depending on taste) into a glass, top with seltzer and ice and serve. Store any unused shrub syrup in the fridge.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rhubarb-Marionberry Jam

There they were, a bag of last summer’s marionberries tucked in the way back of my freezer. A happy discovery! I had been wandering aimlessly, wondering what to create with the slender stalks of crimson rhubarb on the kitchen counter, and those berries were just the spark of inspiration I needed – jam! 

And I’ve decided this will be my summer to start canning! ‘Til I begin that adventure, quick fridge jams will keep me contented. 

Imagining my new favorite jam, I eagerly mixed the rhubarb with my stash of marionberries. I first macerated some diced rhubarb in a mix of coconut sugar, honey, lemon juice and zest.  After that I simply plunked in the frozen berries and let it all simmer into a syrupy, luscious mass of jammy goodness. 

The contrasting flavors of tart rhubarb and sweet marionberries make for a brisk, vibrant jam with a vivid, jewel-toned color. A few spoonfuls swirled into thick yogurt elevated my breakfast staple into a luscious, rather pretty affair.  

If you have any frozen berries hiding out, this is a simple, pleasing jam to make with the season’s rhubarb. Or you can freeze (and hide) some rhubarb for jam-making later, when more fresh berries are available. Blue-barb jam anyone?

Rhubarb-Marionberry Jam
Makes just over 2 cups

1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch dice 
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup honey
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 pound marionberries or blackberries (fresh or frozen, no need to defrost)

In a mixing bowl, combine the rhubarb, coconut sugar, honey, lemon juice and zest and let sit for about half an hour.  Scrape the mixture into a medium sized sauce pan and add the marionberries. Stir and bring it to a boil over medium high heat, then lower the heat a bit and let it cook while actively bubbling for 15 minutes. Stir a few times to make sure it isn’t sticking or scorching and lower the heat more if needed.  Test to see if it’s thickening by running a wooden spoon through the mixture. If it leaves a trail, it’s finished. Remove from the heat and let cool. Store the jam in a covered jar in the fridge. It will thicken more as it chills. It will keep for a couple of weeks. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shavuot Feta-Herb Dip

Dairy and I are very good friends. I have a not-so-secret desire to keep a cow, and while I don’t know if dairy farming is in my future – I like to keep my options open – cooking with dairy always makes me happy.

Dairy dishes are traditionally eaten during Shavuot, the Jewish holiday commemorating the day Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. One explanation of this custom (my favorite) is that Shavuot falls in spring when sheep, goats and cows produce an abundance of milk as they give birth and graze on new grass.

Dairy it is! While we like (love) blintzes and cheesecake, I decided to make a savory dairy treat for this Shavuot. I especially love cheese and yogurt. Creamy feta cheese and lusciously thick yogurt seemed a natural pairing, so with a dip in mind I stirred them together.

Over this past sunny weekend (now gone and turned to a thunderstorm!), I also spent time planting my fragrant new bounty of herbs from my sons’ marvelous school orchestra fundraiser. I could not resist chopping a large handful of dill, mint, parsley and chives to include in this dip. Fresh herbs sing of spring and you can use any combination you may have on hand. Quick to stir together, with lemony zip and tangy richness, this dip is bursting with green freshness. It’s wonderful to scoop up with crunchy veggies to celebrate Shavuot this week or any time!

Shavuot Feta-Herb Dip
Makes 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces feta cheese
1/2 cup thick, plain, whole milk yogurt
Zest and juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 packed cup fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used mint, parsley, dill and chives)
A few grinds of black pepper
Flaky sea salt (optional, depending upon how salty your feta cheese is)
Cut up veggies to dip

In a medium sized bowl, mash the feta cheese lightly and stir in the yogurt, lemon zest and juice.  Gently mix in the herbs and black pepper. Taste for seasoning – since my feta was salty I didn’t add any salt, but if your feta is not very salty add a little flaky sea salt.

Mound the dip on a serving platter with some cup up veggies and serve. You can prepare it ahead and keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Chocolate Truffle Tart for Mother’s Day

Chocolate. And lots of it. This is what’s on my mind with Mother’s Day this weekend! (And avocado toast – but that’s for another time.) I tend to prefer plain chocolate, the darker the better, and keep a stash of bars on hand for easy nibbling. Sometimes, though, I want my chocolate in a more elegant form, something pretty and festive.

When I was cooking at Hillel UW, a popular dessert that I often made for the students’ Shabbat dinners was a chocolate mousse pie. This pie was quite simple to make, using melted chocolate and whipped cream for the mousse and crushed Oreos and butter for the crust. Really, what’s not to love? College kids know a good thing!

Given my new love for coconut whipped cream, though, I decided to re-create this pie using it in place of dairy whipped cream. And I love pairing walnuts with chocolate, so I took my tweaks a step further and made a chocolate walnut crust. After grinding walnuts, cocoa powder and coconut sugar together, I stirred in some coconut oil and pressed the mixture into a spring form pan to form the crust. While it baked, I melted chocolate and whipped coconut cream.

I keep a can of coconut milk in the fridge now, so it’s easy to have chilled coconut cream to whip up quickly. By turning the can over and opening the bottom, you pour off the liquid (save it for making smoothies) and then scoop out the coconut cream. After beating it, you can add vanilla or a touch of sweetness and decadently dollop away.

For this tart, I added vanilla and espresso powder to the whipped cream before folding in the melted chocolate. After pouring the filling into the cooled crust, I chilled it to firm up. The last step was showering the finished tart with golden flakes of toasted coconut.

I sighed when I took my first bite. More truffle than mousse in texture, this is an insanely rich, dense, luscious tart, perfect to celebrate Moms everywhere. Wishing all of the Mamas a beautiful Mother’s Day!

Chocolate Truffle Tart
Serves 8-10

2 cups raw walnuts
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
6 ounces dark chocolate, 70-85 % is ideal
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon hot water
1 15 ounce can whole, unsweetened coconut milk, chilled overnight
1 teaspoon vanilla
A pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup shaved coconut, toasted until golden

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch spring form pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, cocoa powder and coconut sugar together until the nuts are ground. Add the melted coconut oil and pulse a couple of times to mix. Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and gently pat on the bottom to form the crust. Pop it in the oven for 20 minutes. The crust will be soft but will harden a bit as it cools. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Melt the chocolate slowly over low heat, just until it is mostly smooth. Remove from the heat and stir to finish melting. Set aside to cool just a bit. Stir the espresso powder and hot water together in a small bowl.

Remove the coconut milk from the fridge. Turn the can over and open it. Slowly pour the clear liquid out (save for a smoothie!) and scoop the coconut cream out into a bowl. You should have about 1 cup. With an electric beater, whip the cream on high speed for about 3-4 minutes, until it lightens and is creamy. Add the espresso mix, vanilla and a good pinch of sea salt. Whip the cream on high again for a minute, scraping down the sides. Pour the melted chocolate in and gently fold it into the cream. Pour the chocolate mix into the cooled crust and gently spread it evenly.

Put the pan in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours before serving. You can prepare it the night before, too. When ready to serve, run a small knife around the edge and pop open the sides. If the top has cracked a bit, don’t worry – the coconut will hide it! Place the tart on a serving dish, shower the toasted coconut flakes on top and slice. The crust may remain a bit soft, so use a pie server to gently lift out each piece. I like the tart's texture and flavor after sitting out for about 15 minutes, as it softens just a bit and tastes richer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sam's Gazpacho

Our April showers have happily brought us May flowers. Buds are bursting into bloom everywhere, and Bob has successfully foiled our mischievous chickens from hopping up on the coop roof, so I can once again plant flowers there.

May also brings us a little closer to Sam’s high school graduation. As I was digging through a box in the closet the other day, I came upon a cookbook that his second grade class had made featuring their favorite soups. I stopped what I was doing and plopped down on the floor to page through it, memories of helping him choose a soup for this project rushing back. Second grade. How have the past ten years gone by so quickly?

Sam’s contribution to this collection was gazpacho and it remains a favorite of his. With graduation and birthday celebrations on the horizon, I have been thinking about festive meals to make and gazpacho will be a terrific addition to one of these celebratory menus.

Gazpacho is a refreshingly chilled soup that is full of flavor and texture. With the hot summer days to come, it’s also a wonderful choice as the only cooking involves roasting some red peppers, which can easily be done on the barbecue while you’re hanging out in the backyard. I like little flecks of charred pepper in my soup, so after roasting them I remove the seeds but leave much of the blackened skin on. The peppers are pureed and then chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions and parsley are added for a chunky texture. I’ve added some pickled jalapenos for a spicy kick, too, along with lemon and lime juice for a bright finish.

Over this past gloriously sunny weekend, Sam finished off the gazpacho and it's still his favorite soup. Where has all the time gone?

Sam's Gazpacho
Serves 6

4 red bell peppers
2 pounds tomatoes (roughly 6 medium)
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 large cucumber, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon pickled jalapenos (or more to taste), diced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sliced avocado to garnish (optional)

Preheat your broiler or barbecue on high. If using the broiler, place the peppers on a baking sheet and pop them under. If using the barbecue, place the peppers on the grill, lower the heat a bit and close the cover. Check on the peppers every few minutes, and turn them so that they blacken and soften evenly. When they are quite soft, remove from the heat and let cool.

Open the peppers (careful for all the liquid that will pour out) and remove the seeds and stem. Place them in the bowl of a food processor. Roughly chop half of the tomatoes and add them to the peppers. Puree until smooth. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the parsley, garlic, cucumber and pickled jalapenos to the food processor and pulse a few times until chunky. Add to the bowl of puree.

Dice the remaining tomatoes and add them to the soup. Stir in the lemon and lime juices, salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Cover and chill the soup for at least 2 hours or for up to one day. Taste again for seasoning before serving with sliced avocado, if desired.