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Archive for January, 2009

Beyond Hummus

In elementary school I was the kid with the weird food. No contest. My lunch wasn’t cute like a pb&j nor was it stringy like the cheesy pizzas on Pizza Fridays. I had falafel, tupperwares of hummus brimmed to the top – typical Middle Eastern food, with the occasional ‘I love you’ note from my mom. This is what inspired today’s post. For the longest time I thought I could get by just blogging about the famous Middle Eastern dishes, leaving the tricky ones that don’t photograph well away from Olive Juice, but that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve blogged about the big names like tabbouleh (تبولة), baba ganoush (بابا غنوج), baklava (بقلاوة), but now it’s time for kibbeh (كبة).

Kibbeh is a traditional meat dish native to the Levant area (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) that can be prepared over 20 different ways. It’s a dish that’s dear to me because it’s most popular in Aleppo, Syria, the city where my grandparents are from. All the different preparations for kibbeh start with the same particular cut of meat called habra (هبرة) and that’s what I’m featuring today. 

mise en place

Habra is particular in that it cannot have any fat. Zip. Zilch – nada. This used to be an issue and a royal pain in the butt, but not anymore. Although my mom and grandmother still (stubbornly) de-fat their own meat, Sylvia is always more than happy to help me. Sylvia is my friend and head butcher at my local Whole Foods. I don’t want to turn this into a PSA, but befriend your butcher, fish monger, produce (guy/gal?)… they can make or break your grocery shopping experience. Plus, they’ve always got interesting stories. So yes, if your butcher is willing, ask him or her (kindly) to de-fat some inside round and pass it through the grinder 2-3 times. Make sure to specify though that it have no fat, because this is what makes habra

a tiny pinch of baking soda

The rest of the job is done by your handy food processor, which has conveniently replaced the mortar and pestle. You want to pulse the meat with a tiny, tiny amount of baking soda, salt, and the smallest amount of ice water necessary to make it sticky, but not watery. Can you imagine how long this would have taken to do with a mortar and pestle? Seriously?

habra: extremely lean meat

Once you’re done, I like to divide the meat into handy 500g (1/2 kg) portions that I keep in the freezer for when I want to make kibbeh, which will be featured on my next post. These portions can last months in the freezer, so load up and get ready for some awesome kibbeh posts to come.


1.5 kg (3 500g portions)


  • 1 kg inside round meat*, extremely lean
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ice cold water, as necessary

Putting them all together

  1. Trim and defat inside round cut of meat making sure that it is impeccable and no white spots are visible (ask your butcher nicely and he/she might do this for you).
  2. Pass the cleaned meat through the grinder 2-3 times (can also be done by the butcher).
  3. At home, pulse the meat in the food processor with baking soda, salt and very little water (approx 1 tbsp). You want enough water to make the meat sticky, but not watery.
  4. Separate into 3 500g portions and freeze until ready to use.

note: Traditionally this is made with (extra lean) lamb meat, but it has become very popular with beef as well.


    Thank you to all those who submitted ideas and suggestions for my morning show appearance on Fox 5 earlier this month. Here’s the clip of the baklava segment. Thanks for joining me on my blog and for making it so much fun! You rock 🙂

    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


    • 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.


    the best part about working with chocolate

    France challenge: Tarts

    The first leg of our Mediterranean excursion starts in France. Not a bad place to start, don’t you think? Home to the Eiffel Tower, Les Champs-Elysées, The Lourve, yes; but let’s not forget about the food.

    I still remember the first time my family took me to a local French patisserie as a child. My parents love to tell me the story of how I stood in front of the glass case mesmerized by all the pretty sweets on display. It’s amazing how, within a single memory, the mind can recreate the scent of freshly baked baguettes or the image of sweets perfectly aligned on display.

    I like to think that that memory played a pivotal role in me wanting to pursue cooking, but who knows. One of the things I remember most from that shop growing up is the array of tarts, sweet and savory, that the head chef was known for. Seeing as this is the first installment to A Taste of the Mediterranean and we’re on our way to France now, I thought we could make tarts for the first challenge.

    The tarts could be sweet or savory, it’s up to you! Probably many of you (with exception of the kiwis and aussies) are wondering where you can find fresh berries like these this time of year without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.

    The simple solution is to not limit yourself to summertime berries! Luckily, one of my favorite French food bloggers, Fanny from Foodbeam, is not only our lovely co-host for this month, but she also has a couple of amazing posts for some tart inspiration.

    On her blog, Fanny has a milk chocolate passion fruit tart with roasted pineapples inspired by Pierre Hermé – of course in French that all rolls off the tongue as as simple as Tarte chocolat au lait et fruit de la passion, ananas rôti. How’s that for inspiration? Not only that, but Fanny also offers a beautiful step-by-step tutorial on how to make your very own pâte sucrée at home, here.

    The first challenge for A Taste of the Mediterranean is to create your own tart, sweet or savory. The blogger with the winning tart will receive a $50 gift certificate to igourmet.

    Submission Deadline: January 31, 2009

    home || rules & how to enter || banner: sm, lg || ATOM archives || questions

    A Taste of the Mediterranean

    The start of a new year is always exciting. Whether you buy into resolutions or not, there’s something special about starting anew with a clean slate. The holiday season certainly take its toll on foodies and I hope everyone survived alright – I got away with only a couple minor scratches and a miserable 16-hour stay at the airport (but that was so last year). I’m finally back and ready to talk food.

    For those who know me (by now that should be most of you), you’ll know that I have an slight affinity for Mediterranean food. My dream would be to travel and get to know every single region that makes up this culinary paradise, but I doubt that’ll fly with the jefe. In the meantime, I thought we could all go together. Shall we?

    A Taste of the Mediterranean is a contest I’ve been putting together for the past few months. Of course this itinerary would’ve never become a reality without the help of some pretty amazing people (names to follow). The premise of this culinary excursion is to virtually travel to the different regions of the Mediterranean through food and our blogs. Hold on, it gets better. Each month a traditional dish of the region we are visiting will be presented. The goal is to then blog about your own spin on that dish for a chance to win that month’s prize.

    Whether you turn regular pesto into basil, sun dried tomato & hazelnut pesto or doctor up traditional hummus with some special scotch bonnet pepper sauce, the possibilities are endless. These are two of the winning entries from a pilot of the contest launched last summer. Now some sweeter prizes have been added to the mix, courtesy of igourmet, and a awesome panel of Mediterranean bloggers are determined to make this trip the best thing in 2009.

    igourmet has agreed to sponsor the contest by offering prizes from their extraordinary selection of fine foods. And of course, a trip to the Mediterranean is also not complete without friends waiting to greet you at your final destination. For this I’ve asked a few of my favorite Mediterranean bloggers to help host this delicious journey to the Mediterranean.

    Mediterranean Panel

    Stay tuned for January’s challenge – it will be posted by tonight!


    rules & how to enter