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Archive for the ‘almonds’ Tag


Making the neighbor’s cookies

It’s time I made a dark confession. 

You see, when I started this blog, I promised you the whole Mediterranean – and I played favorites. I withheld from you the Aegean nations, the lands of Greece and Turkey. Two ancient countries with glorious cuisine, and I simply rubbed them right off the map! As you well know, I was reared in a kitchen that straddles Lebanon and Syria; I’ve discussed the details of turning humble chickpeas into delightful hummus. I’ve strolled the streets of Florence in search of traditional Tuscan biscotti; I’ve even blogged about the time-honored Moroccan art of preserving lemons. Yet I have not seen the Parthenon, nor have I savored the moussaka of an Athenian gourmet chef.

Today, dear readers, we will travel together to Greece in spirit and in palate. For food, I decided to raid my Greek friend Peter’s blog, who most of you might already know as Kalofagas, the Greek gourmet. I promise to focus on my Turkish deficit later this week. One country at a time.

stepping outside my comfort zone

I put on a light jacket and looked for my favorite black scarf buried deep within the box of winter clothes tucked away in the corner of my room. For now, here I was; figuratively stepping out of my comfort zone (i.e. my humble front porch), ready to document unchartered territory on this blog. I went for a walk to clear my thoughts and enjoy the crisp fall air snuggled within the sunny day. It was the perfect weather far basking in the remaining fall foliage.

After my walk, it was difficult not to get excited for the upcoming holiday season. Call me a cliché, but there’s something mystical about this time of year that seamlessly brings everyone together. Now that I was officially craving something festive for my Greek adventure, I opened Peter’s site for some culinary inspiration. As I clicked through his blog, I realized I was bookmarking every other post. There were simply too many recipes I wanted to try. A simple ‘Christmas’ search narrowed my overwhelming operation to ten posts, three of which featured sweets. Of these three, it was the powdery white appearance of his Kourabiedes cookies that had me wishing Christmas was right around the corner.

mise en place

Peter calls for a shot of brandy in his recipe, but I had to make do without any. I did, however, fill up my favorite shot glass with amaretto and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Cornell pride

The ingredients for the cookies are basic, but they’re classic and well-loved. One of my favorite characteristics of any holiday cookie is the unadulterated buttery undertone that comes through in every bite. This flavor can only be achieved by using clarified butter, essentially butter with all its milk solids removed. This process couldn’t be easier and is one that shouldn’t be skipped. By removing the milk solids from your butter fat, you raise the temperature at which the butter begins to burn and end up with the desired clean, buttery flavor.

every good cookie starts with butter and sugar

Once you’ve creamed together the butter and sugar, the dough comes together almost effortlessly. Mix in the egg, amaretto, vanilla, baking powder, vegetable oil, salt and slowly start incorporating the flour so as to not overwork the gluten. Once your dough comes together, gently fold in the chopped, roasted almonds to make it a done deal.

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, break off a morsel of your beautiful dough and tell me you wouldn’t be happy eating the entire batch straight from the mixing bowl? I would, but then I wouldn’t have any Greek cookies to share with you and I’d be back to square one. So I resist the urge to eat the dough and proceed to preheat my oven. 

line up the cookie sheet

Peter shows off his Greek skills by forming the dough into traditional crescent shapes – I can’t be trusted with the dough any longer than I absolutely need to, so I opt for simple spherical shapes instead. The cookies eventually make it safely into the oven, with minor collateral damage, and bake while I prepare them their sugar bath.

Henry Ford would’ve been proud

After a 20 minute tanning session, these cookies are ready to rest for a bit and roll around in a bowl of powdered sugar. Greek cookies definitely know how to live the good life. Peter even says that these cookies will last for up to three months in an airtight container. Then again, I doubt these cookies will last nearly for that long, but that’s good to know.

Kourabiedes (κουραμπιέδες)

These cookies literally crumble and melt in your mouth; the perfect treat for the upcoming holiday season and any spontaneous, mythical trip to Greece. This cookie is for you, Peter!

Kourabiedes

approx 40 cookies

Components

  • 1/2 lb of clarified butter
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 shot of amaretto
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • extra powdered sugar for coating
  • pinch of salt

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Clarify butter by melting it over low heat, carefully skimming off the milk solids that form at the surface and pouring out the butter fat that remains (also discard any white watery liquid that settles at the bottom). Allow butter to cool.
  3. Cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy.
  4. Mix in vegetable oil, egg yolk, amaretto and vanilla extract.
  5. Slowly incorporate the flour and gently knead until a dough is formed.
  6. Fold in the chopped almonds and form cookies into walnut-sized balls.
  7. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Allow cookies to cool, roll them in powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.

note: Cookies will last up to three months in an airtight container stored in a cool dark place. 

Recipe slightly adapted from Peter Minakis.

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opa!

The Cookies the Doctor Prescribed

When I was a kid I was baffled by the cruel idea that anything full of flavor was supposed to be unhealthy. Never mind where babies came from, I was more concerned with philosophical questions like, why ice cream tastes better than my steamed broccoli? And until I developed an appreciation for veggies and the usual suspects, my nutrition primarily came in the form of Flintstones chewable multivitamins and vegetables strategically hidden in my food, something my mom was an expert at.

While I was in Italy this past winter I came across these curiously ugly cookies that stood out among the gorgeous layered cakes and tempting pastries. Not only were these cookies pretty ugly, but they weren’t cheap either; and had it not been for the three consecutive customers that ordered them in front of me, I would have probably never discovered the wonders of brutti ma buoni, which literally translated means, ugly but good.

mise en place

Imagine a decadent cookie that is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and has no added fat or flour! It sounds unnatural, almost sacrilege, but these traditional Tuscan cookies are pure genius. All their fat comes from the natural oils in the nuts and are they’re cleverly held together by nothing more than beaten egg whites.

it’s like magic

Traditionally, these cookies only had hazelnuts and maybe a few almonds, but I like the combination of the different nuts. You can use any combination you prefer as long as hazelnuts remain in the picture. The neat trick that I tried* to demonstrate via my 3-step diagram is to roast the hazel nuts in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes; then spread them over a clean kitchen towel, cover them, and rub them against each other. You’ll notice some of the nuts are stubborn and hold on to their skins for their dear lives. The best (and most enjoyable) solution to this is to bake more than you need and eat the ones that don’t cooperate.

crushed, but slightly coarse

Before the days of shiny and pretty kitchen appliances, Italians would crush the nuts using a mortar and pestle and whisk their egg whites by hand. Sounds outrageous, right? But back then when you said you were cooking, you were really cooking. Today you can use what you want to get that same semi-fine texture on the nuts and stiff peaks on the egg whites.

mounds of nutty-chocolate goodness

In order for the mainly egg white batter to come together, you have to cook it over medium low heat before baking it. Once the batter thickens you can scoop it onto a sheet pan and bake the cookies in the oven until they’re crispy on the outside and crunchy and chewy on the inside.

a look inside

I don’t think it’s humanly possible to resist a freshly baked batch of cookies cooling on a rack. They’re so soft and delicate at this point that eating them becomes effortless, which could be dangerous.

brutti ma buoni

I wasn’t joking around when I said these cookies were ugly! You can imagine how these stood out against their dainty neighbors on display at the patisserie. The traditional recipe doesn’t even call for cocoa powder, but I feel like the chocolate/hazelnut combo is one that can’t be passed up.

Although these cookies are probably healthier than your average butter/flour-saturated cookies, they’re not an invitation for gluttony. These cookies still have plenty of sugar and should be eaten in moderation, like all foods. And that’s precisely what I’ve come to realize since my veggie-avoiding years as a child. Flavor along with all its associated “unhealthiness” should not be avoided, but rather enjoyed in moderate amounts.

Brutti Ma Buoni

approx 18 cookies

Components

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, peeled
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup almonds, peeled
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • zest of an orange
  • zest of a lemon
  • 2 tsp frangelico (or any nut liqueur/extract)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch process
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

Putting them all together

  1. Toast the nuts until golden brown and allow to cool.
  2. Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak.
  3. Mix the nuts with the sugar and pulse in a food processor until you reach a semi-fine consistency.
  4. Fold in all the ingredients into the whisked egg whites (carefully so as to not lose too much volume).
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  6. In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, cook the mixture until slightly thick 20-25 minutes. This will yield a thicker batter that won’t flatten out in the oven.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake the cookies at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until dry on the outside and still slightly moist and chewy on the inside.

note: These cookies are perfect gifts for the upcoming holiday season. Pretty packaging for these cookies is a must, though.

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Celebrating a year of Olive Juice, with a drink

أهدي هذا إلى جميع أفراد عائلتي في حلب، وأقدم شكري للجميع، خاصة خالتي كيكي، لحسن استقبالها لي أثناء زيارتي إلى حلب. ولم تغب صورة الأهل عن فكري بكل رشفة أشربها. حيث أتخيل حلب وأهلها الأحباء في ذهني، والتي لن تغيب أبد الدهر

I would like to dedicate this post to all my family in Aleppo, Syria, and extend my thanks to everyone, especially my Aunt Christine for her kind hospitality during my visit to Aleppo. With each sip of this drink I remember them in my memories, which will last forever.

My blog turned one this past Tuesday. I didn’t even think I’d last this long, but sure enough, I love to eat and a few snaps from the camera never hurt anyone (except when someone, ahem ahem, tries to eat the food before it’s been thoroughly photographed). All is well now; I’ve gotten a lot better at quickly taking the shots I need and clearing the food for consumption.  

Today I want to share a recipe that has been sitting in my back burner for a whopping 9 months now. It’s for a traditional Middle Eastern drink called شراب اللوز (“sharab al loz” in English) that is made from just almonds, milk and sugar. I had it for the first time when I visited Aleppo last winter and there is no better way to put it other than, I was hooked. Nothing complicated, but in my opinion, it was the essence of unadulterated almond perfection.

start with good almonds
almonds

Don’t think it was easy though, I worked for this recipe, very, very hard. As soon as I showed even the slightest interest in knowing how this drink was made, it was as though the whole country simultaneously suffered varying degrees of memory loss. No one was ready to divulge their secrets, but I wasn’t about to give up just yet.

I had no shame; I employed the help of my cousins and we went store to store asking around for the recipe. After a while we lost track of whom we had already asked and ended up asking some people multiple times – they weren’t too happy about this. Eventually we found a kind old man who sold buttons and fabrics, and with my broken Arabic I initiated a conversation with him. I think he felt sorry for me more than anything else and gave me a very basic idea of how the drink is made. I, of course, thanked him for all his help and my cousins were simply relieved they weren’t on recipe duty anymore.

mise en place
mise en place

As soon as I got back to school, this was one of the stories I shared with the dean from Cornell that funded my dream research project. She thought it was odd that I had such a fascination with something that already existed in the States and was readily available at all major supermarkets. She prefaced the comment with her opinion that the almond milk found in the organic section of the grocery store doesn’t taste well, but being the curious foodie that I am, I gave it a try. Not only was she right, but “doesn’t taste well” was a complete and utter understatement. The almond milk I had from the store tasted like someone had soaked cardboard in water for months, processed it and finished it off with a couple drops of the foulest-tasting almond extract known to man. My description may also be an understatement, but I hope it gets the message across.

make sure there’s some left for snacking
almonds for snacking

You can safely put away the cardboard for this recipe; we’re using nothing but real almonds here. Besides being ridiculously good for you, almonds also have the added benefits of being delicious. These are the best sorts of foods in my opinion – guiltless and tasty. 

a quick blanch in hot water makes them easy to peel
peeled almonds

After soaking and blanching the almonds, the peels slip right off. I actually found it therapeutic, which is why I decided to add this picture. Does anyone else find other cooking processes therapeutic or is it just me? Anyway, I digress. Once you get the peels off, process everything in the blender until you get a smooth consistency (depending on the power of your blender, this may take 5-10 minutes).

sharab al-loz (شراب اللوز)
sharab el loz

Once the mixture comes out of the blender it will be slightly thick as this is technically the base for the beverage. Keep this base in the fridge and whenever you want a glass of this frothy, almond drink all you have to do is blend it with some ice, a little more milk and saha w hana (bon appétit in Arabic).

Sharab Al Loz

serves approx. 6-8 people

Components

  • 1/4 kg almonds
  • 1/4 kg sugar
  • 1/2 kg water
  • milk, for service
  • ice, for service

Putting them all together

  1. Soak the almonds in water overnight.
  2. Boil the almonds for 10-15 minutes and peel immediately.
  3. While the almonds are boiling, make a simple syrup by mixing the sugar and water in a saucepan and simmering until all the sugar is melted.
  4. Blend the peeled almonds with the hot simple syrup. Warning: be sure to vent your lid and pulse so that the hot syrup does not explode when you turn on the blender.
  5. Blend the almond mixture for 7-10 minutes in a strong blender.
  6. Strain the mix with a cheese cloth or a fine sieve and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  7. Once the sharab (the base) is cooled, you can prepare the beverage by mixing 1 part sharab, to 1 part milk and a little ice. You can add more milk and ice to thin out the consistency to your liking.

notes: If you’re lactose intolerant you can try replacing the milk for some soy milk. Also, if you want to reduce the amount of sugar, honey is a great alternative.  

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Nut your Typical Eclair

I still remember the day I stumbled upon the Daring Bakers. Do you? I thought it was odd. Why did everyone all of a sudden decide to blog about French bread? And why were they all using Julia Child’s recipe? I was sure I had found some sort of freaky food cult, but there was no way around it. Every blog, every comment, everyone was going on and on about these breads. It was like being the new kid in school all over again; only this time all the cool kids were talking about food & baking.

Orange Logo

This is my 6th month now as a Daring Baker and I got to cohost the August challenge with the amazing Meeta from What’s for Lunch Honey. She took me under her wing a few months ago and we immediately started scouring cookbooks for the ultimate recipe.

mise en place
mise en place

We began by brainstorming via e-mail and quickly settled upon an eclaire recipe from Meeta’s sugar daddy, and king of French pastries, Pierre Hermé. This was great since I had never made éclairs, but consider myself a professional éclair eater. Of course, the best part of any challenge is modifying the recipe and having the complete Culinary Freedom to bake whatever you want. I decided to make profiteroles (ie tiny, round éclairs), filled with an almond pastry cream, glazed with a hazelnut chocolate glaze and topped with finely chopped pistachios. Here is how it all went down: 

choux dough
choux dough

Choux dough is extremely easy to make, to my surprise. French pastries don’t exactly have the best reputations for being the ones you could whip up in no time. But for this dough there is no worrying about cold butter or overworking the gluten by stirring it for mere seconds. Nope, all this is left behind when entering choux paradise. Once these babies puff up in the oven, you’ve got yourself an empty canvas perfect for filling with whatever your foodie heart desires.

profiterole work flow
filling the profiteroles

I opted for an almond-infused pastry cream, and let me tell you: this pastry cream could be a dessert on its own. I had no problems eating it straight from a spoon as the profiteroles were baking away in the oven. Eventually, though, I had to exercise self control in risk of not having enough filling for the pastries. Next time, I’m doubling the the recipe for the cream – mark my words!

triple nut profiteroles
triple nut profiteroles

I’ve got to hand it to the French – they know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to cuisine (especially pastries). I will definitely be making these again in the near future.

I want to send a big thank you to all the Daring Bakers who joined us this month in baking eclairs! Finally, I also want to send a big hug to Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Helen of Tartelette for helping us tackle any choux questions and offering their pearls of wisdom on how to achieve eclair bliss. 

Triple Nut Profiteroles

makes approx. 35-40 profiteroles

adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Components

  • 900 g almond infused pastry cream
  • pâte à choux
  • 1 cup hazelnut chocolate glaze
  • finely chopped pistachios

Putting them all together

  1. Pipe choux dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and dry.
  2. With a serrated knife gently slice open each profiterole and pipe pastry cream into the bottom half.
  3. Replace cover, drizzle with hazelnut chocolate glaze and top with finely chopped pistachios.

notes: The individual recipes are posted under “Read more…”

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made to be eaten
a big bite

(more…)

What’s life without the occasional dunk?

This entry is dedicated to Anna (Grazie Cosmos), my host mom from Florence and Queen of Tuscan Cuisine: Grazie di tutto l’aiuto che mi hai dato in cucina e di tutte le meravigliose ricette che hai condiviso con me.

Biscotti, literally translated, means twice-cooked in Italian. This crunchy confection of sheer goodness formed a significant part of my diet while I was in Florence this past winter. Undoubtedly, it is a cookie worth blogging about.

Upon my arrival, my host mom had prepared what seemed like an endless batch of her signature almond biscotti, piled them high in a bowl and set them on the kitchen counter for me to snack on. Soon after, the bowl had become a rite of passage for me as I was incapable of making it in or out of the kitchen without munching on one and grabbing a couple for later. Each time reassuring myself with the blissful nutritional fact that these addicting cookies contain no butter and are packed full of health benefits. At any rate, the seemingly endless supply quickly dwindled to a mere dozen. That very morning (no joke), my host mom noticed the depleted supply and immediately insisted on whipping me up another batch. Of course, I couldn’t refuse, so I rolled up my sleeves and offered to help.

Making biscotti with Grazie Cosmos

Anna’s expertise was obvious and quite impressive as she confidently poured the ingredients out onto the counter without hesitation or measuring utensils. She reassured me that after hundreds of batches I’ll begin to get the hang of it; in the mean time I’ve resorted to my awesome kitchen scale for incredible precision each time.

the well method

The well method pops up everywhere in cooking and quite frankly, I’m a huge fan. Anything that gifts me with one less dish to wash is a blessing. Plus, it rewards you with the distinct sense of authenticity that you’ll appreciate in each bite of your homemade biscotti. Definitely well worth the messy hands!

logs of dough

Once your dough comes together into a smooth ball, you’re set. Shape the dough into two long logs and bake until they are firm enough to slice (approx. 12-14 minutes). Slicing them right out of the oven is easiest, and a serrated knife makes your task a synch. Bake them a second time for 7-9 minutes and prepare yourself for some obsessive biscotti consumption!

biscotti con café

One of the great qualities these biscotti share is their remarkable versatility. Pairing them with a hot cup of joe is considered perfection for many of us, but these cookies go well with almost anything. Tuscans traditionally enjoy these biscotti with a glass of vin santo, an Italian dessert wine, to accentuate their sweet flavor.

biscotti con latte

For me, a handful of biscotti and a tall icy glass of milk is my favorite way to start my day (continue my day, and end my day, too). The kid in me wouldn’t have it any other way besides dunking – so dunk I did. It was not a trivial skill to acquire as any seasoned dunker can easily attest to. Prolong your dunk and the structural integrity of the cookie is compromised, but withdraw prematurely and the mission fails. Let me part with some words of encouragement for the aspiring dunker: clear your calendar, double the recipe and let your inner-child dunk.

biscotti alle mandorle

Biscotti alle Mandorle (Biscotti with Almonds)

(yields approx. 24 cookies)

Components

  • 275 g flour, approx 2 cups
  • 225 g granulated sugar, approx 1 cup + 2 tbsp
  • zest of 2-3 lemons
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp anise, ground (optional)
  • 200 g raw almonds, approx 1 1/3 cups
  • 3 eggs

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. On a clean work surface create a well by mixing together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.
  3. Add the eggs to the center of the well, and slowly mix them into the dry ingredients. Once the mix begins to resemble a dough, add the almonds and shape into a smooth ball.
  4. Shape into two long logs and bake for 12-14 minutes or until firm enough to slice. While hot, slice the logs horizontally (best with a serrated knife) to form mini-biscotti.
  5. Bake again for 7-9 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Note: This is a very sticky dough. Make sure to have some extra flour on hand to form the dough into logs.

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