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Archive for the ‘French’ Category


Yogurt, plain and simple

Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.

On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.

While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:

Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.

mise en place

Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.

heating the milk

Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).

nestled inside the oven

Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.

plain goat milk yogurt

Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon

Components

  • 1/2 gallon milk*
  • 10g yogurt starter*

Putting them all together

  1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
  2. Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
  3. Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
  4. Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
  5. After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.

notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.

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Roasted Potatoes and my trip to Aleppo

I don’t know where to begin. This is the problem with neglecting a blog for more than a week. It really is. If you have a blog, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Carelessness quickly turns into neglect and finally begins to fringe on complete abandonment. I would never let it get to that.

The last time I signed off, my camera was broken and I was eating gelato — lots of gelato — to diffuse the pain. It worked. Actually, my mom says that if there’s anyone who could get through to insurance companies, it’s me. I wasn’t about to abandon my camera. I called almost daily. In the end, after plenty of hoop-jumping and legal rigmarole, the hotel’s insurance settled and reimbursed me for the damages. It was a relief, sure, but there’s more.

Originally, my plan was to keep this next thing a secret. It was going to be a surprise, but I’m too excited not to blog about it. A couple weeks ago, I finally bought my plane ticket to go to Aleppo. My grandmother is there now, visiting her sister, and I will get to join them in just a few days. I promise to return with plenty of pictures, recipes and maybe even a few videos.

On that note, I will keep this post short. I’ve been strategically trying to use all my produce and perishables for the past couple of weeks. A lot of times the dishes that result from this don’t make it to be photographed, but my roasted potatoes are different. I realize I’ve never written about them before, but my roasted potatoes have gotten me through some difficult times.

mise en place

Preparation is simple. It makes a big difference to scout out good potatoes for this dish: small, firm and tight skin. I prefer reds simply because they have a higher sugar content, so they tend to caramelize better than other potatoes in the oven.

a quick rinse

Since potatoes grow underground, you’ll want to give them a quick rinse before you roast them. Make sure to pat them dry so that the outsides crisp up.

room to breathe

It’s also important not to crowd the potatoes in a pan, otherwise they will still steam, regardless of how well you’ve patted them dry.

my secret weapon

Although I usually use Spanish paprika, or pimentón, it’s a lot easier to find the Hungarian variety at my local grocery store. My inspiration for using paprika in my roasted potatoes came from patatas bravas — a classic tapas made from fried tomatoes covered in a spicy pimentón-base sauce. If you can’t find Spanish paprika near where you live, Amazon is where I usually buy from.

oven roasted red potatoes

Once they come out of the oven, they can be eaten hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Oven Roasted Potatoes

yields 4-6 side dishes

Components

  • 2 lbs baby red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary (double if fresh)
  • 2 tsp spicy paprika
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Wash potatoes and them pat dry.
  3. Cut potatoes into equal sized pieces (I usually quarter them, if they’re small enough).
  4. Mix together all the ingredients on a large baking sheet. Make sure the potatoes are not crowded so that they crisp evenly.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly cooked.
  6. Uncover and continue baking for 30-40 more minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and cooked all the way through.

notes:Sometimes the potatoes tend to stick to the tray because of their natural sugar content. I recommend lightly tossing them with a spatula a couple times while cooking.

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Molly’s Tomatoes

Yesterday, my Friday started out like a dreadful Monday in disguise. It was pouring, I was running late for work and I had a flat tire. In retrospect, this wasn’t too bad. I called in late, pulled up my sleeves and youtubed: how to change a tire. I was mildly amused by the number of videos there were for this topic. After watching a few I thought I was fully-trained, if not an expert, on how to put on those silly-looking donut wheels. To make a long, miserable story short – my spare also turned out to be flat, the tow truck took 3 hours to pick me up, and it took 2 hours to get my wheel changed  - never in my life had I felt so much relief in returning home and closing the door behind me.

Before going to bed last night, I finished Molly’s book: A Homemade Life. If you haven’t already bought it, you need to go and pick up a copy. In her book she has a chapter appropriately titled and dedicated to happiness, which apparently is achieved by slow-roasting tomatoes for six hours. I was convinced. After my miserable chain of events, I set out to make this recipe on Saturday morning, and ran errands while the tomatoes did their thing in the oven.

mise en place

Molly’s recipe calls for coriander, which I didn’t have, but I sprinkled some dried thyme instead, and added couple cloves of minced garlic for good measure. I cook under the illusion that anything roasted should have garlic in it. Ultimately though, I was happy that I found a recipe for the large bowl of tomatoes idly resting on the dining room table, just waiting to be used.

tossed in olive oil, thyme & garlic

The dish couldn’t have been easier to put together. I sneaked a taste of a couple the quartered tomatoes, put the rest in the oven at 200 degrees F, and went on with my errands. *I knew I wasn’t going to take long, but if you’re going to do this, I recommend using the cook-time feature in your oven so that it could turn itself off automatically.

ready to combine

After six hours, your entire house will take on the wonderful scent of the roasted tomatoes and lemony thyme. In order to make it a meal, I toasted a few slices of a day-old baguette, topped them with a healthy smear of fresh goat cheese, and a couple pieces of the slow-roasted tomatoes. Molly was right, this is happiness.

roasted tomato, goat cheese crostini

As she describes in her book, the possibilities for flavoring or using these tomatoes are virtually endless. Tomorrow, for instance, I can’t wait to wake up and throw a couple of these in with my scrambled eggs. I can then layer a few more pieces inside my sandwich for lunch, or toss them in with my salad – you get the idea.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

approx 1 cup of roasted tomatoes

Components

  • 2 lbs roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • thyme, to taste (approx 1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Wash and dry tomatoes. Quarter them and scatter them on a large baking sheet.
  2. Gently, using your hands, toss the tomatoes with the oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. Bake at 200 degrees F for 4-6 hours or until tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink by about half.
  4. Pull them out of the oven, let them cool and eat as desired.

notes: Recipe adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Roma tomatoes are best for this recipe, but any tomato will work just as fine. You could go longer than 6 hrs if you’d like, I actually went 7hrs when I made these and they were excellent.

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deliciously wrinkly

According to the atmospheric noise generated by this random-number generator, these three commenters will be receiving a pack of mahlab in the mail.

Congratulations to Hélène, Katie and Hannah, respectively, and thank you to everyone who commented and e-mailed me with their support. 

Inspired By Inspiration

I don’t know what else I’m supposed to call it, but inspired by inspiration seemed appropriate. This month for A Taste of the Mediterranean we’re exploring tarts. Seeing as I’m asking bloggers to submit their own variations of this French classic, I thought I’d make some myself.

mise en place

My inspiration for this post came from Fanny, who had gotten her inspiration from Pierre Herme (aka Meeta’s sugar daddy). Sounds like a soap gone bad, I know, but it’s all about the food here (focus, Tony). Tarts usually have two components to them: a crust and a filling (and sometimes a topping).

This crust for is made from ground walnuts and the usual suspects: flour, eggs, butter and sugar (ie. the stuff that makes desserts desserts). For the filling I decided to combine roasted pears, half of a banana, and some ginger because the combination of ginger and pears makes me happy.

Then I thought of Italy. I know, quite random (and rude) if you’re making a French dessert, but I couldn’t help it. Let me explain. While I was in Italy last winter I tasted this chocolate pear torte that made my taste buds swoon. I wasn’t sure if I could recreate that moment in my own kitchen, but it was worth the try. In the end, my taste buds were quite happy. 

mash to your heart’s content

Once the pears have roasted with the vanilla bean, some sugar and ginger, it’s time you bring the banana into play. In retrospect, I would use either less banana or more pears just because of how powerful the flavor of the banana could be. Also, if you’re an eat-while-you-cook person like I am, I suggest you make more of this filling than you think you’ll need – it’s like gourmet baby food good. 

upside down mini-cupcake tin

I wanted to make mini tarts, but not too mini. If I would’ve used the inside of the mini-cupcake tin, the tarts would have been more dough than anything else. Solution: I flipped the tin over and made use of the bottom. 

scooping the roasted pear filling

The fact that the inside of the cupcake tin was too small turned out to be a good thing. Each tart ended up with a nice star design from the naturally crimped edges. 

chocolate heaven

The ganache is the last, but albeit most decadent component of the entire production. I recommend anywhere from a 60% to 75% good quality chocolate for this component. Since the pears and banana are naturally sweet you’ll want to look for a chocolate with natural bitterness to it in order to offset the sweetness of the filling.

a pool of chocolate

Once the hot cream melts the chocolate for the ganache, add a tablespoon of room temperature butter to the recently-ganached chocolate. This gives the tarts that shiny gloss that makes them so pretty.

ginger-infused roasted pear chocolate tarts

Top with a couple thin slices of crystallized ginger and you’re set. I hope this has inspired you to try out your own tart concoctions at home! igourmet is ready to give a $50 gift certificate to the winning tart entry – check out more info on A Taste of the Mediterranean.

Ginger-infused Roasted Pear Chocolate Tarts

approx 18 mini tarts

Components

  • tart dough, replace pistachios with walnuts
  • 3 bosc pears
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ginger, ground
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz dark chocolate, 60-75%
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • crystallized ginger for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Make tart dough and bake the tart shells (you can use the bottom of a mini cupcake tin or anything else you might have on hand).
  2. Cut pears into medium-sized chunks and scatter them in a roasting pan.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  4. Over medium heat cook the sugar and water until you get a dark amber color. Swivel the pot, but resist the urge to mix with a spoon, this will help keep the sugar from crystallizing.
  5. Once color turns amber, add the ginger and 1tsp of the lemon juice to the hot sugar mix (be careful, it will splatter a bit) and pour over the chopped pears.
  6. Baste the pears while they roast in the oven and remove them once they are soft and you can poke them with a knife with little to no resistance (the time will depend on how large your pieces are, approx 25-30 min).
  7. Once they’re out of the oven mash the banana and add the remaining tsp of lemon juice. Cover the mixture and allow to cool in the fridge.
  8. To make the ganache, bring the cream to a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon until all the chocolate has melted. Add one tbsp of butter at room temperature to add gloss to your ganache.
  9. To assemble the tarts scoop some of the pear filling on the bottom of each tart. Then cover with the chocolate ganache and top with slivers of crystallized ginger for garnish.

note: Tart shells and roasted pear filling can be made a couple days in advance.

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the best part about working with chocolate

A Holiday Brie from Mr. Man

I know it’s been a while and I’m sorry, really. Luckily, though, I don’t have a laundry list of excuses for you – just one: I got a new job. On weekends I get paid to sell cheese at Whole Foods; yes, you read correctly, PAID to be at Whole Foods.

Many families bring their children along and encourage them to try different cheeses. I think that’s great! One family has the most adorable child that always calls me Mr. Man. Every weekend his parents greet me at the cheese counter and I give them the low down on all the new and interesting cheeses we carry. Once they make their selection and are ready to go, the little kid always yells, “bye, Mr. Man!” This weekend I shared this brie recipe with them and thought it would be appropriate to share here, as well.

I understand the holiday season is here and everyone is up to their necks in shopping, cleaning, traveling – the works. You won’t need any measuring spoons, fancy equipment or unusual ingredients for this one – just garlic, honey, a wheel of brie and preferably a warm baguette. 

mise en place

I make this brie all the time for dinner parties and it has never let me down – never. My good friends Marilyn and Diane are huge fans of this appetizer and it always makes me happy to hear their success with this recipe.

slathered in garlic

We’re off to a good start with the garlic. You want to smash it really finely with the side of your knife so as to create a smooth paste. A sprinkling of salt helps with this process. Once this bakes covered by a layer of honey, the garlic will roast and caramelize.

healthy squeeze of honey

Now comes the sweet part. You’ll want to coat your garlic-covered brie with your favorite honey and don’t skimp either. Any excess honey will drizzle down to the bottom of your ramekin while baking and form a nice sauce for later.

stringy brie

As difficult as it may be, let your brie cool for about 5-7 minutes once it comes out of the oven. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pool of brie and miss out on the stringiness. Remember that warm baguette? This is where it would come in handy.

sweet & savory brie

Don’t forget to scoop out some of the liquid honey sauce that settles at the bottom of the ramekin.

Happy Holidays!

Baked Brie

approx 8 servings

Components

  • 1 wheel of brie
  • 3-4 cloves, garlic
  • honey
  • 1 warm baguette

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Smash garlic into a smooth paste using the side of your knife and some salt. The salt will help brake down the garlic even more.
  3. Spread the garlic over the brie and cover with honey.
  4. Bake in a slightly larger ramekin for 15-20 minutes and enjoy with warm bread.

note: You don’t want to use your fanciest brie for this recipe. A standard, good-quality brie works just fine.

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