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Archive for the ‘milk’ Tag


Mo’ Butta’ Mo’ Betta’

Today I’m going to blog about brioche. It’s been long overdue, let me explain why.

It all started a few weeks ago when I received an email from the Culinary Institute of America. The Culinary Institute of America. I had to read the message a few times so the words could sink in. Dean Sciacca, a dean at the culinary school and reader of my blog, was inviting me to give a talk on storytelling and culinary tradition at their Hyde Park campus in New York. I had never done any public speaking before; not outside of school at least. I was excited, nervous, curious, honored — all at the same time. I wrote back with the most enthusiastic yes I could possibly muster in an email, all while keeping my cool (I think).

It was my first time riding Amtrak. The entire experience was pleasant: no need to show up hours early or stand through long lines, and the seats weren’t bad either — very comfortable. The sky was overcast with large billowy clouds stretching across the horizon. Next to me on the train was an equally charming American expat. She had moved to New Zealand and was back to hike along the Appalachian Trail and visit family in Virginia. She was starting to develop a Kiwi accent, which I thought was really neat. We talked a little about life, traveling, food (of course), but mostly, we stared out our window at the Hudson. The train ride went by quickly that way. As soon as the train neared Poughkeepsie, the clouds, almost as if they were greeting us to our final destination, moved aside to reveal a beautiful summer day.

Dean Sciacca met me at the Poughkeepsie train station where we met in person for the first time. I remember thinking she is just as cool in person as she had been in her emails. And I’m not just saying that because she’s probably going to be reading this — she really is that cool. We clicked instantly. Two people passionate about food and technology. One of our first conversations was about how much we love our iPhones. At that point I knew I was in good hands.

The short ride from the Poughkeepsie train station to Hyde Park reminded me a lot of Ithaca, NY, where I went to school; it’s a very quaint and agricultural area. I dropped off my bags at the hotel and we made our way to The Culinary — that’s how they refer to it there.

bright, sunny day at The Culinary
fountain at culinary institute

When we arrived at The Culinary, Dean Sciacca introduced me to Jason, a senior culinary student and bread enthusiast, who gave me a quick tour of the campus before dinner. I should state now, for the record, that I don’t think any college campus offers better food to its students. The system is brilliant. Since so much food is prepared in the production kitchens each night, students only swipe their campus ID cards to gain access to any of the themed production kitchens. Dean Sciacca arranged for us to have dinner at Chef Eisenhauer’s Mediterranean production kitchen that evening.

Chef Eisenhauer’s Mediterranean Kitchen
production_kitchen

As we entered the kitchen the expediter asked me which of the four Italian dishes I was having that evening. I remember all the entrees sounded delicious, but I went with the chef’s recommendation, gnocchi served with a velvety duck ragu and toasted pancetta bits. My order was shouted across the kitchen and the line continued.

Dean Sciacca and I split up for dinner and I joined a group of culinary students to fill me in on what student life was like at The Culinary. The dining hall we entered was not like the ones I remembered back at school. This looked like it came right out of a scene from Harry Potter. I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was majestic with an elaborate cathedral ceiling, stained glass windows and regal architecture. We grabbed our beverages and took a seat at the back of the dining hall, with a view overlooking all the students enjoying their meal.

gnocchi with duck ragu and crispy pancetta
duck_ragu

Each bite of the gnocchi was like biting into one of those billowy clouds from earlier that afternoon. In fact, I’m convinced that’s where they ended up, on my plate. The gnocchi was light and airy, and floated gracefully in the duck ragu, which was not overly heavy like a traditional ragu, but had a rich silky texture to it. Then there was the pancetta. Oh, the pancetta — crispy pieces of pork goodness sprinkled over the gnocchi. It was perfect. Slightly salty and a nice crispy contrast to offset the soft cloud-like potato gnocchi.

I posted some more photos from the rest of my trip on flickr. But, I have to tell you about the brioche. This brioche is excellent.

The inspiration to blog about brioche came from Jason, the bread aficionado who had shown me around campus. I have never heard anyone talk about bread more passionately than him. He liked talking about food, but bread was his passion. At one point I remember asking him what his favorite bread was, and without the blink of an eye, or a hint of hesitation, he said, brioche. That’s how I knew what my next blog post had to be on.

mise en place
mise_en_place

Until last week, I had never made brioche at home. I’ll admit that the thought of baking bread, particularly something like brioche, was pretty intimidating. That was something I left for the experts, like Jason. The most elaborate bread I had made up to this point was Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, and maybe Focaccia, if you consider that elaborate.

Brioche, for those who have never had it, is an enriched bread made with flour, butter (lots, and lots of butter), eggs, yeast, and a bit of milk. How much butter you add to your brioche distinguishes it between a poor man’s brioche and rich man’s brioche. I decided to follow one of Jason’s friend’s motto for this one: “mo’ butta’ mo’ betta’.”

make sure your yeast is alive n’ kicking
yeast

If I’ve learned one thing from baking bread is that you always, always, want to check to make sure your yeast is alive and kicking. 10 minutes in the beginning can save you a lot of pain and heart ache. Flat, dense brioche is no good. Check your yeast.

add butter piece by piece
butter

This is the scary part. The butter. If you’re squeamish about this sort of stuff, cover your eyes and scroll down to the next post. Brioche isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, but the problem is that it’s so incredibly and utterly delicious. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that the French know what they’re talking about when it comes to cuisine, but particularly bread. Bread is their thing. They are to bread what Shakespeare is to literature; masters, that is. Three sticks of butter and four eggs. That’s what it takes.

egg wash
eggwash

After you saturate the dough with good quality butter and give the gluten a workout, you’ll want to refrigerate the dough for at least 6 hours or better yet, overnight. This is probably a good time to do a few sit ups or pushups, if that will help you sleep better at night. I just use it as an excuse to eat extra bread the next day.

78g
weigh_the_dough
light coat of egg wash
brush_eggwash
brioche loaf
brioche_loaf

Brioche Loaf

yields 2 loaves

Components

  • 576g bread flour
  • 340g good quality butter (3 sticks), soft but pliable
  • 4 eggs
  • 7g dry active yeast
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 14g salt
  • eggwash

Putting them all together

  1. Dice the butter into smaller pieces and set aside.
  2. Stir yeast into lukewarm milk (no more than 115 degrees F) cover and let sit in a warm dark place for 10-15 minutes. If your mixture is foamy and full of tiny bubbles, you’re ready to begin. Otherwise, you may have inactive yeast. You can add a tiny drizzle of honey to the milk mixture to speed up the process.
  3. Mix together the flour, milk mixture, eggs, and salt and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes or until the dough barely begins to come together.
  4. Begin to add the butter, piece by piece, until all of it has incorporated into the dough.
  5. Once the butter is fully incorporated, continue mixing the dough on medium speed for 15 more minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
  6. Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  7. Lightly grease 2 2-lkb loaf pans.
  8. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces (approx 78g each).
  9. Roll each piece into a ball and place it into the loaf pans to form 2 rows of 4 in each pan. Brush the loaves lightly with egg wash, cover with plastic wrap, and proof in a dark warm location for 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  10. Brush with egg wash a second time and bake in a 400F/204C oven until the crust is a deep golden brown and the sides of the bread spring back fully when pressed. This usually takes 30-35 minutes.
  11. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Notes: Make sure you have a powerful kitchen stand mixer for this.

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brioche with basil-infused peach jam
brioche_breakfast

*My friend Lecy Mayes made the basil-infused peach jam for me as a gift — the flavor combination is spectacular!

Special thanks to Dean Sciacca for hosting me at the Culinary Institute. Chef Eisenhauer for the delicious dinner that came out of her Mediterranean production kitchen. Laura Pickover for attending my talk and sharing her awesome blog. Jason (the bread expert) for giving me a tour around campus and inspiring me to make brioche at home (my new favorite bread). Diana and Stephen for having dinner with me the first day. Chris and Phil for giving me a second tour around campus and showing me around the Hyde Park. And finally, all the faculty, staff, and students at the Culinary Institute of America who hosted me and made this culinary adventure of a lifetime possible. Thank you!

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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Ma’moul Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.

When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.

mise en place

Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Syria, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts or pureed dates.

a stream of butter

The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.

the secret is in the mahlab: محلب

The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.

note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.

finely ground mahlab

The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.

ma’moul in four steps

As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.

miniature ma’moul (معمول)

Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.

ma’moul

yields approx 50-60 small cookies

Components

  • 300 g farina (cream of wheat)* 
  • 100 g fine semolina
  • 125 g pitted dates
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of milk, hot
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Mix 1 stick of the melted butter in with the farina and semolina and knead until well mixed. Cover and let sit over night.
  2. To make the filling process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter, 2 tsp of orange blossom water, and half of the ground mahlab in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
  3. Once the butter has soaked into the semolina add the remaining of the ingredients, except the hot milk.
  4. Pour half cup of the hot milk and mix well to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and moist; if it feels a bit dry continue adding more milk.
  5. Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
  6. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  7. Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.

notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.

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dedicated to my grandfather

My Big Fat Greek Post

During the month of January, A Taste of the Mediterranean was all about the ubiquitous French tart. Crispy, buttery, but not always sweet; the challenge was to create your spin, either sweet or savory, on this classic French pastry. The winner for January is Maggie from Dog Hill Kitchen with her Vegan Orange Cream Tarts with Almond Crusts! Congrats Maggie! You could check out her entry and all the other tart entries here.

This month we’re hopping from France over to the Greek islands with Peter from Kalofagas. For those (very few) who don’t know who Peter is, well, he’s a gifted Greek blogger who lives in Canada and who, I’m convinced, knows everything there is to know about Greek food. He’s the host this month for the A Taste of the Mediterranean contest and he’s calling on bloggers to make their own twists on the classic Greek pastitsio. To kick off the contest I decided to make my variation of this Greek lasagna using as many flavors from around the Mediterranean as I could.

mise en place

The classic recipe for pastitsio calls for meat sauce and bechamel spread between layers pasta. For my variation I incorporated Fontina cheese from Italy, red wine from France and harissa paste from Northern Africa, mainly because I had those ingredients laying around, but also because I enjoy mixing complimentary flavors from different regions of the Mediterranean.

this is where the flavor starts

The first thing I did was get my meat sauce going. It’s extremely easy, but takes time for the flavors to develop and turn into a proper meat sauce. The sauce starts with the classic mirapoux (i.e. the trinity) of carrots, celery and onions. The key is to cook them over medium heat so that they become soft, but it is important they don’t caramelize.

food therapy

I decided to go into full-on Greek mode for this recipe. This means I took no short cuts and made sure to multiply the recipe by three. I then stored two pans of the pastitsio in the freezer ready to go for those days when the bachelor in me wants food to magically appear on the table without chopping an onion or stirring a pot.

a 30s dunk is all it needs

Once you’re done rolling out the dough, all the pasta needs is a quick bath in boiling water. You don’t want to cook it all the way though… this is just to give it a head start. Once the pasta boils for 1-2 minutes, shock it in an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process. The pasta will then finish cooking with the rest of the ingredients in the oven.

my idea of being healthy: meat+greens

Once the meat sauce is done cooking, you’ll be happy. Your entire kitchen will acquire the aroma of the meat sauce and you’ll find yourself in the tasting stage, wondering if there is anything missing. Perhaps a little more salt and pepper might be good? Sometimes that helps, but often the addition of anything fresh and green will strike a balance with the rich flavors of the sauce. I used frozen petite peas for this because they’re green, but also because they have a creamy bite to them that I enjoy.

flavor development at its peak

The layering is up to you and mostly depends on the ingredients you use and your own personal preferences. I always start with a thin layer of bechamel on a buttered pan because that helps prevent sticking. From there I start by layering pasta, more bechamel, meat, cheese, ham, even more bechamel and then pasta again. I do this until I reach the very top, which I finish off with a little more bechamel, a sprinkling of fontina cheese and a thin layer of parmigiano reggianno on the very top to develop a nice crust in the oven.

dinner

This was my humble recreation of Greek pastitsio done alla Mediterranean. It was my dinner last night, tonight and it will probably be my dinner for a few more nights this week. I can’t wait to see other variations of this dish for A Taste of the Mediterranean! Remember that the winning pastitsio post will win a $50 gift certificate to iGourmet!

Pastitsio

yields one 9×13 pan

Components

  • 4 cups bechamel
  • 1 1/3 lbs ragú
  • 1/2 lbs of sliced ham
  • 1 1/2 cups fontina cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup parmesan for top layer
  • lasagna sheets, fresh or dry

Putting them all together

  1. Prepare all the components to the pastitsio and set aside for assembly.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9×13 baking pan.
  3. Begin by adding a thin layer of bechamel to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Follow with a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of meat mixture, a layer of ham, and a sprinkling of fontina.
  5. Repeat until you reach the top of the pan (usually 2-3 layers of meat).
  6. Top the final layer of pasta with a final thin layer of bechamel, a thin layer of fontina and finish off with parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for the last 15 (broil for a couple minutes at the end if you want an extra crispy crust).

note: You can make your own pasta dough or use the dry lasagna sheets available at your local supermarket.

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For the Love of Pudding

A few days ago I promised you a Turkish post, but I’ve got something better. Ever since I wrote about Peter’s Greek Christmas Cookies I’ve been thinking, rather remembering, more about what this blog means to me. Blog existentialism, if you will; Olive Juice was born out of necessity. I needed a place to jot down and compile my recipes, experiences and, most importantly, the memories that would inextricably become a part of those experiences.

A mathematician by day, I realized that I can use a blog to pursue what genuinely inspired me: food, something that a lot of friends and family thought was a silly crush that would soon fade away. Seven years later, the passion is still here, and admittedly, stronger than ever. As I write this I’m eager to share with you more about the other aspects of food that make me giddy, but that will have to wait for another post. Today, as promised, is going to be about Turkey and the traditional pudding called Muhallebi that I chose for my inaugural Turkish entry.

The detail that makes this pudding better than simply ordinary, besides its ease and wonderful flavor, is its history. When I first read on Wikipedia that Muhallebi was Turkish, I became curious. Not because it was Turkish in particular, but because Muhallabi, rather محلبية (pronounced Mahlabiye), was a dessert I had always considered as Middle Eastern – a childhood favorite, in fact. It was the pudding I could never get enough of. The pudding that would make me (voluntarily) set the dinner table only to reach dessert mere minutes sooner. The pudding I knew I had to blog about.

mise en place

Upon reading that the pudding was originally Turkish, the skeptic in me also wanted further proof of the fact. A few Google searches later landed me on Warda’s blog, 64 sq ft kitchen, where she writes about Muhallebi as a staple Algerian/Moroccan pudding also reminiscent of her childhood. A pudding that her grandmother would quietly, but often predictably, put together in a matter of minutes. The ultimate indicator being the unmistakable fragrance of the orange blossom water that carried through from the kitchen. It was stories like these that made me fall in love with this pudding all over again.

The pudding is a trooper, a survivor of sorts. A simple milk-based dessert that dates back to the Ottoman Empire, which for hundreds of years grew to include most of the Mediterranean, including parts of North Africa and most of the Middle East. This explains a lot of the influences that carry over, with slight variances, across the more recent country boundaries. On that note, here’s what you’ll need to do to bring Muhallebi into your own kitchen:

In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, rice flour and sugar until dissolved. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set). I didn’t time it, but Warda says this takes about 15 minutes total.

the streak test

Once the spoon test clears, you’ll want to turn off the heat and add a few drops of the orange blossom water. Pour the thickened pudding into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. A light dusting of ground cinnamon and a sprinkling of chopped nuts is traditional. I used pistachios, but almonds are also popular (I’ve even seen both used together).

muhallebi

The pudding is a mix between a velvety custard and a rice pudding, but with a little more to offer. The subtle fragrance of the orange blossom water is present, but not prominent. After just 15 minutes in the kitchen you can leave with piece of mind, knowing that dessert is already covered. It’s this dish that will leave your guests smiling, and remind you why you fell in love with food in the first place.

Muhallebi

approx 4 servings

Components

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • cinnamon
  • pistachios and/or almonds

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan whisk together milk, sugar, rice flour and salt until dissolved.
  2. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
  3. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set).
  4. Remove from heat and add the orange blossom water.
  5. Pour into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  6. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle with almonds and/or pistachios for garnish.

note: You can find orange blossom water at Whole Foods or any Middle Eastern market. 

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creamy rice pudding