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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Great Mother's Day Gifts

Whether she's your own mom, the mom of your children, or just a mom you love and admire, be sure to tell her how important she is to you this mothers day. I've  assembled a selection of cookbooks that would make great Mother's Day gifts. This selection of books can make her time in the kitchen fun, and the food on your plate amazing.

"Here's what the book isn't: It's not Escoffier. It's not Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's not a by-the-rules book. It's not a textbook. It's too personal to be any of those things." Dorie Greenspan

Doris Greenspan Acclaimed writer and baking guru, and author of the James Beard Award-winning Baking, celebrates French home cooking in this memorable and visually stunning collection. Greenspan, whom has been a part time resident of the city of love for over a  decade, focuses on what French people really eat at home. Easy-to-prepare dishes that are full of flavor, yet suitable for just about any time of day. From Bacon and Eggs and Asparagus Salad to Chicken in a Pot to Veal Chops with Rosemary Butter, her offerings are hardy, mostly uncomplicated, and superbly appetizing. She also provides sidebars on a wide range of topics, including whether or not to wash raw chicken, several ways of cooking beets, mussels, and more. She offers variations on classic dishes such as Pot-au-Feu, including recipes for seafood and veggie versions that take minutes instead of hours. Recipes include advice on storing leftovers as well as serving information. The chapter on vegetables and grains is particularly welcome, with delectable gratins, lentil, and rice dishes as well as a baby bok choy and sugar snap dish that will make hard-core carnivores drool. A feast for the eyes and palate alike, this superb collection belongs in every foodie's kitchen. Photos. (Oct.) -and-easy weeknight meals.  " Publishers Weekly"

Now more than ever, Americans are giving careful thought to where their food comes from. And farmers, formerly anonymous suppliers of bounty, are proving an inspiration to chefs everywhere. This book celebrates the collaboration between farmer and chef—and the journey from land to table. Readers are invited along to visit the men and women who grow, herd, ranch, and create artisanal foods that supply the finest restaurant chefs in the country. Harvest to Heat explores this dynamic relationship and paints beautiful portraits of these often unheralded people, even while it offers up a bounty of never before published, easy to cook recipes—100 in all. It will encourage readers to think fresh first and buy food locally, as well as motivate them to cook with the confidence of a four-star chef. " Amazon"

From her modest beginnings selling fruit spreads, jams, and preserves in specialty shops and opening a bakery café "on what was then a distinctly inelegant Amsterdam Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side," the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef's star, like her dough, continues to rise. These days, Levine focuses on growing her brand and expanding into a number of other New York neighborhoods and Key West, Fla. Now, in her first cookbook, she gives a historical overview of Sarabeth's and offers scrumptious descriptions of the baked treats she and her staff regularly make. Chapters cover morning pastries, muffins, breads, pies, cakes, and cookies in great detail. Though recipes calling for homemade puff pastry or croissant dough may prove too complicated for the average home cook, they provide a challenge to the ambitious. Sections on spoon desserts like Crème Brûlée, chocolate and bread puddings, ice creams and sorbets, and spreadable fruits (the item that helped Levine launch Sarabeth's three decades ago) add to the appeal of this handsome volume. "Publishers weekly"

Award-winning actress and mother of two, Paltrow pays posthumous tribute to her much-adored father who passed along to her a deep love and appreciation for good food. From an early age, she was his eager eating companion and developed a diverse palate that relished everything from egg creams to oysters to blue cheese. Their dining ventures morphed into joint cooking get-togethers where dad instilled the notion that a meal made for one's family is an expression of love. This is evident in the simple and mostly healthy recipes she shares, as prepared for family and friends, in this warm and inviting collection. Paltrow showcases a wealth of dishes, from soups to pastas to main courses and more. Highlights include fried rice with kale and scallions, sole à la grenobloise, and her mother's blueberry muffins. A helpful pantry section includes recipes for basics such as slow-roasted tomatoes and numerous types of stocks. While many recipes are vegetarian, Paltrow does include meat dishes, including cheesy stuffed burgers and cassoulet. Her chapter on side dishes is superb and appealing enough to take center stage, especially her sautéed greens with onions and soy sauce, maple-Dijon roasted winter vegetables, and crispy potato and garlic cakes. Filled with charming personal anecdotes, this book convinces that healthy food can be delicious as well as good for you—and that a father's passion can endure. " Publishers Weekly"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tsoureki: The Greek Easter Challah Bread

 Call me biased, but when it comes to Easter, there's one country that really knows how to celebrate it, and that's Greece. It's not only a religious holiday, but also a religious festival, a party even. People celebrate the resurrection of Christ and with it the rebirth of spring; this is done with singing, dancing, eating delicious foods, and drinking extraordinary wine, all day long.

Easter is the one of the most significant religious holidays in the Greek Orthodox calendar. So much so, that everything comes to a complete standstill. People abandon the city and go to their village or island, and big cities like Athens become a ghost town. During this great escape, lambs are being prepared for the spit, eggs are dyed red, and the sweet smell of "tsourekia" (sweet breads) and "avgokouloura" (egg cookies) baking in the oven tickle your olfactory department at an almost menacing level.  And thus, all these preparations are for one Easter Sunday.

Wherever you go to Greece around Easter time, you will find the sweet scented tsoureki being baked and sold everywhere. Bakeries, pastry shops, and even super markets supply them. Tsoureki (pronounced tsoo-REH-kee) is a brioche style bread enriched with sugar and butter. It is traditionally home-baked on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Embellished with red eggs, tsoureki is given as a gift to family and friends, a sort of gift or blessing for the festive season.

The most popular flavoring for tsoureki is "mahlepi," even though cardamom and mastic are sometimes used. Mahlepi comes from grinding the seeds of the European cherry Prunus Mahaleb. It is such an aromatic spice that a small amount goes a long way. For the Greeks, Mahlepi is not just a spice with a slightly floral flavor, but a spice that evokes a nostalgic warm aroma of evoking thoughts of Easter.

A good tsoureki should be soft, moist and fluffy, yet stringy and chewy. It should have a light crumb; yet, it should be luxurious in taste and smell. If anything, it should be slightly under baked rather than over baked. It is considered a perfect snack to munch on after the midnight Church service on Easter Saturday.  In a way, it eases Greeks into the Easter Sunday’s feast of lemon-garlic-roasted potatoes, spanakopita (spinach pie with filo), tsatsiki (yogurt dill dip) and roasted lamb on the spit, especially after many weeks of lent.  

The shape of choice for the tsoureki is usually a pleated loaf or wreath; the wreath is the most common shape. The reason for pleated is not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because pleats create segments, so when served, the tsoureki can easily be pulled apart into pieces; therefore, slicing is not necessary. In addition, the ring shape, like the red eggs that embellish it, relates to Easter’s theme of renewal, making the bread ideal for breaking the long Lenten fast. Even though Greeks are known to carry on traditions and customs, it is not for this reason that the tsoureki has endured generations and continents.  I would say, with out a doubt, that it’s all in the taste.


Greek Easter loaf
Makes 1 large or 2 small loaves

500g strong white flour (preferably organic, unbleached)

75g unsalted butter

2 eggs, & 1 lightly beaten

42g fresh yeast or 15 g active dried yeast

3/4 cup milk, warmed until tepid

1/2 cup + 2 tbs sugar

1/4  tsp salt

1/4  tsp mahlepi

1/4  tsp mastic

Grated zest of 1 orange (optional)

1. Place the yeast with the milk and a large pinch of sugar until and leave it till it starts to bubble. Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl then stir in the mahlpi, mastic, and orange zest, if using.

2. Melt butter with sugar till the sugar is melted.

3. Add the melted butter mixture to the flour, and then the yeast mixture. Start to knead the dough vigorously for 8-10 minutes, either in a machine with a dough hook, or by hand on a lightly floured surface. The dough is ready when it feels soft, springy and smooth and leaves a thumbprint when pressed.

4. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean, damp cloth or lightly oiled clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size (this will take about 1 hour).

5. Knock back the dough on a clean surface by punching the air out and kneading for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces then roll each piece into sausages, about 40cm long for a large loaf. (Divide into 6 pieces and roll into 25cm lengths, if making 2 small loaves.) Loosely plait the dough, tucking the ends under to secure.

6. Lift the plaited loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth or oiled clingfilm then leave to rise for about 11/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

7. Heat oven to 350 F, 180C/Fan, 160C/ Gas 4. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Easter Note: If making the loaves for Easter, tuck one or more dyed red eggs into the loaves before brushing with egg and baking.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ode To Sweet Spring

Knock knock! Who's that knocking on my door? Could it be the best looking season of the year? Could that be you Spring?
It's hard not to be excited about spring. After a long cold and snowy winter, spring has finally shown its green little head at our door. It speaks of warmer weather, spring dresses boasting their bright colors, new fresh vegetables, and the passing of a tyrannical winter. Hello beloved Spring! It's nice to see you again.

This is the time of year we start thinking more about lighter fare and more subtle flavors. It's a great time to find the best produce and preparing it simply by letting the ingredients sing on there on accord. Out go the heavy roasts and mashed potatoes, in come the lighter pork tenderloins and spring vegetables. Citrus is on its way out also, and in its path come tender baby carrots, sweet spring onions, peppery arugula, asparagus, artichokes, peas, rhubarb and strawberries. Let us not forget our herbs! Without herbs, there is no spring.

As the famous chinese proverb goes "spring is recognized sooner by the plants rather than men." So plan for some spring eating with family and friends and embrace what mother earth gifts us.


Spring Pea Ravioli
Serves 8 
Cooking Time Prep time 1 hour, cook 10 mins (plus resting) 
80 gm
20 gm (¼ cup)
2 tbs
unsalted butter
grated parmesan
heavy cream
8  sage leaves, coarsely torn
basil leaves, thinly sliced

Pasta dough
500 gm (3 ⅓ cups)  plain flour
5 (55gm each)  eggs, lightly whisked
1 tbsp  olive oil

Pea filling
240 gm (2 cups)  spring peas, (use frozen if cant find spring peas)
160 gm (2 cups)  finely grated Pecorino
100 gm (½ cup)
50 gm (1.75 oz)
40 gm (½ cup)  finely grated parmesan
1 (55gm)  egg

1. For pasta dough, using a food processor, process flour and 1 tsp sea salt for a few seconds, add eggs and oil and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead into a ball and shape into a log. Cover in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2.Meanwhile, for pea filling, using a food processor, process peas until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until well combined. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
3.Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time and keeping the others covered, lightly flour and feed dough through the rollers of a pasta machine on the widest setting, folding sheet once or twice and feeding through rollers again until sheet is smooth. Reduce settings notch by notch, feeding sheet through until you reach the last notch and sheet is about 2mm thick. Place sheet on a lightly floured 3cm-square 24-piece ravioli tray cutter (see note), pressing lightly. Place a teaspoonful of filling in each cavity, brush edges with water and top with remaining pasta sheet, pressing gently around filling to seal. Using a rolling pin, start at the centre of the tray and roll in both directions until all ravioli are cut and sealed. To remove ravioli, invert tray and tap gently. Transfer to a baking paper-lined and floured tray and freeze. Repeat with remaining dough and pea filling until filling is used up. Makes about 80 ravioli. Ravioli will keep in a container in the freezer for up to a month.
4.Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Remove ravioli from freezer, separate and cook until cooked through (6-8 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup of liquid.
5.Add butter and sage to a frying pan and cook until butter foams (about 1 minute). Add reserved pasta water and bring to the boil. Add parmesan and cream.  Cook until reduced to a sauce consistency (about 3 minute), then add ravioli and toss gently to combine. Add basil, season to taste and serve.

Note: Defrost peas before if using frozen. It is easier to freeze the ravioli before cooking as they are easier to handle, but they can be cooked fresh, too. You’ll need to start this recipe a day ahead.