Tony is all about food. His ongoing food events and special projects have been featured in the press. To learn more, you can view his gallery, read his blog, or simply contact him directly.

Archive for November, 2008


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. 

Print

  

creamy rice pudding

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.

Print

opa!