Sunday, February 28, 2010

Frango na Púcara - Portuguese Style Crock Pot Chicken

It's a cold and rainy day in Tel Aviv. 

All I want right now is to wrap myself in a blanket and watch Coupling. I also don't feel like cooking up a storm and I just thought of a recipe that would fit the bill.  This recipe comes straight from my grandmother's notebook and it proves beyond doubt that simple ingredients and ingenuity can go a long way. She wasn't a fussy lady. After all, she had to feed 5 children with very little resources, most of which, came from her own labor. She could do it all and it's pretty amazing by today's standards. 

This here her amazing crock pot chicken recipe.

Irene's Frango na Púcara

1 large chicken (cut into 8 pieces)
4 large onions (quartered)
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 shot glass of Porto Wine
1 shot glass of água ardente - the equivalent would be grappa or a fruit brandy
1 glass of white wine
2 tablespoons of butter or butter flavored margarine (if keeping it kosher)
1 large tablespoon of prepared mustard (I used French's Mustard)
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Start by gently melting the butter in the microwave and mix it with the mustard and garlic. It will look a bit like a vinaigrette. Set aside.
Take an heavy pan with a lid (oven proof, like a Le Creuset) and spread the onion at the bottom. 
Now put the chicken on top and pour the Porto, água ardente and white wine
Add the butter mixture on top of the chicken and season with a tablespoon of kosher salt and a little bit of black pepper.
Don't mix anything.


Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 1 hour at 200 degrees celcius. Don't open the lid during the cooking time. 
In about 30 minutes, you're entire kitchen will be smelling so good, you'll know there's something out-worldly happening inside that pan.
Now, take the lid off and turn on the grill. Let the chicken brown for another 5 to 10 minutes.
And here it is...  

...and after.

The chicken is melt-in-your-mouth tender and the skin, which is now slightly roasted, is encrusted with a salty/garlicky/tangy layer which I can't resist. The onion at the bottom tastes so good, it's usually not enough. The original recipe calls for 2 onions, but I had to double it because it's almost a side dish all by itself.

Serve it with a simple basmati rice. 


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Never too late for Hamantaschen

...and as a matter of fact, I could just about eat them all year long.
This is the recipe I have been using for the last few years and it never failed me. It's easy to make, easy to work with and best of all, you can accidentally over stuff your hamantaschen and it won't open up. They stay exactly the way you make them. Picture perfect! 

Are they any good? You'll have to try for yourself, but I can assure you, they are the most tender, melt in the mouth hamantaschen you'll ever had. 

But! There are rules to get it right. 

1. Don't use fillings that you've never tried before, like jams, which will boil out of the cookie and make a mess.

2. Don't make short cuts if you don't have all the ingredients. 
3. Double check your oven's temperature.

To make hamantaschen, you need to make the dough and the filling. You can find many recipes for fillings, but I recommend giving this one a try, specially if you aren't a big fan of poppy seeds, like me.
Let's start with the dough:

Hamantaschen Dough
300 g of flour
100 g of powdered sugar
1/2 coffee spoon of baking soda
pinch of salt
200 g of butter
2 egg yolks
1/2  organic orange zest
1/2 orange juice

Take the zest from your half lemon and squeeze out the juice into a glass. Add an equal amount of cold water to it (it will make about 1/4 of a cup). 
Cut your butter into small pieces.
Put the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into the mixer, add the butter and mix at medium speed until it looks like coarse sand. 
Now, lower the speed to the minimum and add the 2 egg yolks, the orange zest and half the orange juice. Speed up the mixer just until the dough forms a ball and stop immediately. It's very important not to over work the dough. 
If you feel that the dough is still crumbly, add just a few more drops of orange juice and speed up your mixer for just a few seconds.
Remove from the mixer unto a working surface and make a neat ball. Put it in a plastic bag and let it rest while making the filling.

Spiced Almond Nut Filling
My favorite filling is by far medjool dates. I usually eye ball the recipe, but I'll post it as soon as I have it on paper. If you like almonds, you'll love this one!

100 ml of milk
100 g of sugar
50 g of butter
60 g of honey  
1/2 orange zest
cinnamon (to your taste)
large pinch of salt
pinch of ground clover (opt)
20 ml of arak (or any other liquor that you like)
100 g of almond meal (or ground poppy seeds)
30 of cranberries (raisins or chopped dates)
30 g of coarsely ground nuts (I like walnuts, but you can use pecans or even macadamia)
6 to 8 tablespoons of breadcrumbs (highly variable)

My favorite filling is by far medjool dates. I usually eye ball the recipe, but I'll post it as soon as I have it on paper. 

Start by gathering everything on the list. It will be much easier.
Warm up the milk in a small pan, add the butter, sugar, honey, zest, cinnamon, salt, clover and arak. Let it nearly boil, just so the flavors blend. Remove from the heat and add the almond meal, the cranberries and the nuts. Finally, add the breadcrumbs. Start with 3 to 4 tablespoons and give it a good stir. It should have approximately the same texture as the hamantaschen dough, so keep adding and stirring until you get the right consistency. Ideally, you should even be able to shape small balls with this filling. It should not be too stiff though!

Now is a good time to turn on your oven (turbo is fine) and heat it up to 190 degrees celcius.

Now, take your dough and gently flatten with the rolling pin, sprinkling flour both under and over. 
Sometimes, the dough will still stick to your counter top. Don't worry. Just scrap it off and shape it back into a ball. Work it a little bit and try again. When you dough is about 5mm thick, start cutting circles with a cookie cutter (no smaller than 8cm). Take all the scraps, shape a ball and repeat.
Put all your circles of dough on your floured working surface and have a little bowl with water nearby.  
Dip your fingers in the water and just moisten 3 or 4 circles. Drop about a coffee spoon of filling in the middle and gently close the dough around it, so you'll get 3 corners, leaving the filling visible in the center. Seal the seams well. Moisten another 3 or 4 circles and repeat.
Put your hamantaschen on a lined cooking tray (no need to leave much space between them, since they don't really rise). Cook for about 15 minutes or just until they start to be slightly golden.



This recipe usually makes two trays of cookies (25 to 30 cookies total)

If you have any trouble making this recipe, please let me know, I'll work with you until you get it right!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Swirly Feathers - or how I mastered the supermarket challah

One of my favorite things about a good challah, is unfortunatly something I seem to find only in the store bought kind. But being the DIY nut that I am, this was too good of a challenge to just resign myself.
Until recently, I even started wondering if this was achieved unnaturally with some kind of additive that conditions the dough.
I'm talking about "feathering". I have no idea if there is a particular name for this, but even a lengthy search on the internet didn't turn out anything clear on this matter. Every time I buy a supermarket Challah and crack it open, it seems to be made of long yummy, slightly moist, swirls of bread crumb... whilst the ones that are home made, turn out caky or like white bread, meaning, no feathering whatsoever. They are good, but it's just not the same.
I decided to try Uri Scheft's recipe. Nothing seemed particularly different from any other Challah recipe,  except that the picture in the book seemed to have the intriguing pattern of a feathered crumb.
I followed the recipe exactly and even used a timer.
Well, I did add a good 30 minutes to the first rise, because the dough obviously didn't double it's size. And yes, I also added another 15 minutes to the final rise for the same reason. But that's it! (blame it on the cold weather).
My electronic scale. Can't live without it.

I have to admit that my skill at making braids ends with making them on my own hair, because when it comes to dough, it just looks silly. I did manage to make some pretty neat 25 cm long ropes and this time, I didn't roll it like the usual. Could it have made a difference? I want to believe so. 
I usually roll by pressing the dough, pretty much like anyone would do with play-dough, but this time, I did it like when making a baguette. By flattening it down a bit and rolling it unto itself. I did it about 3 times until I got the right length.

And here are my three challot, ready for the final rise. 

Covered with a kitchen towel and a plastic bag to keep moist

After raising for 35 min (plus 15 in my case) and glazing with egg (no sesame seeds this time), I cooked them at 220 degrees Celcius for 25 minute (if you are serious about cooking, I highly recommend getting an oven thermometer. You won't believe how often your oven thermostat is out of whack.

As you can see, the braid didn't come out very pretty, as expected, but it smelled fantastic. At this point, I had absolutely no hope for feathering, since this looked like any homemade bread... but I was wrong.

 Distinctive swirly feathers. Yum.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

לחם בבית by Uri Scheft

As many of you may know, I love bread. I mean... I LOVE it.
Bread is not only the perfect vehicle for all sorts of yummy things, when made properly, it can be delicious all by itself... sometimes, just sometimes, it might even be the star, no matter what you put on top of it.
Unfortunately, the art of making good bread can be elusive.
This brings me to little book I recently got my hands on and I would like to share with you.

לחם בבית by Uri Scheft is a little book with a little over a hundred pages that can be found at Lehamim Bakery on החַשְׁמוֹנָאִים street, Tel Aviv.
Step inside this place and you'll instantly be taken to Carb Heaven.
Everything looks delicious, fresh and beautiful to look at.
Cleverly, there are also bite size versions of pretty much everything... so you'll have no choice but to grab a box and to fill it up to your heart's content.
No wonder the place is always packed and just for once, I can understand what's all the buzz about.
So in a recent visit, my husband noticed they were selling a book. At 76.00 shekels a pop, I hesitated a bit, wondering if this wasn't another book like the one I bought from the restaurant Catit (a high-end collection of recipes you'll have a hard time  making at home). I browsed nervously and finally decided to take it home with me.
And rightfully so.
This book is a jewel of bread wisdom.
Well organized and straight to the point, it explains all the concepts behind making good bread at home. The recipes are not complicated, but either if you are new to bread making or not, I recommend not skipping the book's technical explanations, which are extremely valuable.
You can find bread recipes everywhere, but essentially, what makes the real difference is the process. In that aspect, this little book is a winner. If you follow it diligently, you'll be rewarded with beautiful tasty bread, just like what they sell at the shop.
Uri Scheft, if you ever stumble upon this humble blog:

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cream Cheese Fraisier

Oh, I know I know, it's been a long time and to whoever out there, I apologize for taking such an inexplicable long time to write anything substantial. 
These last weeks have actually been quite rich, food-wise. Amazing marbled steaks, a beautiful (and equally delicious) "Fraisier", homemade butter puff pastry, yummy Portuguese style chicken, salted cod fish cakes... and macarons... lots of macarons.
I also had the chance to visit quite a number of restaurants and eateries in Tel Aviv, some of which left me pleasantly surprised, while others literally made me fume. For all those with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a meal out, it's pretty clear that I just can't keep my thoughts to myself, either they are complementing or not. Years of working in restaurants does this to you. Once you step in a restaurant, no matter where, everything is familiar and you'll notice small details, like bits of information reconnecting you to a past experience.  You know you've been there in a way. While most have the bliss of simply having to decide whether the food is good or bad, when you worked in a restaurant, nothing is ever that simple.
It's compulsive really.
If you love food, food should love you back.

Talking about love, how's this for a start?

 Fraisier (still with the ring)

This was a highly modified version of the famous french "Fraisier", which stands for a wonderful, genoise and  mousseline cream, strawberry cake. Seriously, there's nothing not to like about it. This was made for my daughter's birthday and as always, I overestimated how much time I had and ended up cutting some corners. Fortunately, it came out both beautiful and delicious.
Ps: Because it was meant for children, I skipped the soaking liquor and because I don't really like marzipan, I left it out (though admittedly, it does help to hold the cake together more neatly). 

So lets get started!
First of, you need some material. This is mostly a cream based cake, so you'll have to get hold of a ring mould. Either those that open on the side and have a separate bottom or a simple stainless steel ring (you'll need a decorative carton bottom for this one). You can actually find the simple ring at the same place as the first link (it just doesn't show on the website). "Mistral" happens to be close to where I live, so it's convenient.
I highly recommend a simple ring. Not only are they higher, but the fact that you'll be sliding it up the cake makes for flawless results.

Cream Cheese Fraisier
There are now some amazing strawberries on the market,  so get a couple of boxes (and perhaps a third one you'll be eating as you work!).

Genoise (Pierre Herme)
140 g of flour
40g of butter
4 eggs (room temperature)
140 g of sugar

Turn your oven on at 180 degrees Celcius.
Prepare a large shallow tray with a sheet of cooking parchment, which should form a rim around the tray of about 3 cm high. Take your ring mold and check that it's size matches the tray. Later, you'll need to cut a circle of cake that will fit that same mold. 

Gently melt the butter in the microwave (or a small pan) and let it cool down a bit.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and slowly start adding the sugar. If you feel compelled to work a bit a harder, Mr. Herme recommends putting the mixing bowl over another pan of nearly boiling water (a technique called "bain marie"). I almost never do it and still get very reasonable results.
Anyway you go about it,  keep beating the hell out of it. After about 10 minutes it will triple it's original volume.
Stop mixing, and using a spatula, gently start to fold in the butter and the flour. Just fold, don't stir! When the flour is well mixed in, pour half of the batter on the prepared tray and spread it with the spatula until it's about 2 cm thick. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until nice and golden.
Slide the cake with it's parchment paper on the counter top and put another cooking sheet. Cook the second half of the batter.
After you let it cool down a bit, use your ring mold as a cookie cutter (another reason why I prefer the simple rings). Cut 2 circles of cake. Keep aside.

Now is a good time to prep your strawberries. Separate them in three bowls:
a. the really pretty ones - 2 should be enough
b. The big even sized ones - cut in vertical slices (4 mm thick).
c. The not so pretty ones - chop coarsely

Cream Cheese Filling
1 package of Philadelphia cream cheese
2 small boxes of liquid whipping cream (very cold) - guessing they were about 150 ml each
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of powdered gelatin (dissolved in a little bit of warm water)
Red food coloring (opt)

Beat the cream until it forms nice stiff peaks (careful not to overdo it).
Now beat the cream cheese with the sugar, vanilla extract and a bit of red food coloring (you just want a hint of pink).
Dissolve the gelatin in a little bit of warm water and quickly add it to the cream cheese.
Carefully fold the cream cheese with the whipped cream.

Vanilla Syrup
1/2 cup of water
2 cup of sugar
vanilla extract

Mix everything and bring to boil until sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool.

Now for the fun part:
Place your ring in whatever plate you're planning to serve your Fraisier on and put a circle of cake at the bottom. Sprinkle a good amount of vanilla syrup directly on the cake.
Take your B strawberries and stick them neatly to the inside of the ring (see the next picture for a better idea). Now pour 1/2 of the cream, making sure it gets everywhere. Sprinkle your C strawberries on top. Pour half the remaining cream and top with the second circle of cake, give it also a good sprinkling of syrup. Pour the rest of the cream you have, to cover the top of the cake. Even it out nicely with a spatula.
Now is the time to let it set. I recommend leaving it in the fridge until the next day. This will allow the flavors to blend with each other. If you are in too much of a hurry, like I was, put it in the freezer for an a couple of hours.
When ready to serve, decorate with the rest of your A and B strawberries.
One thing I would certainly like to try on another occasion, is to add a bit of pureed strawberries in the
 the cream (instead of food coloring). Yum. I'll leave it up to you to give it a try! 

 Fraisier (ringless)