Thursday, June 9, 2016

Fresh Cherry Apricot Tart


When you think of food for Hanukkah, you think of latkes. Passover? Matzo balls. Shavuot? Shavuot is all about dairy products - cheese borekas, cheese blintzes, cheese danishes, and most importantly and quintessentially: cheesecake.

I grew up hating cheesecake. I always thought it was too dense, and too often topped with horrible gloopy, canned, and not-good-tasting cherries. Then I tried my stepmother’s cheesecake, and it was unlike any other I had ever had. It was delicate with a light crust, and it had a thin layer of a cheesecake-like mixture that got topped with loads of fresh raspberries. It wasn’t too rich or too sweet, and the fresh fruit was the perfect compliment to the creamy filling.

Inspired by her’s, this recipe is akin to a no-bake cheesecake that you can top with any seasonal stone fruit or berry. Cherry season is short, and I want to take advantage of every second of it. Apricots pop up at the same time at the market, and both fruits are sweet and tart, complimentary in color, and equally complimentary in taste. I keep the fruit fresh on this tart, which also makes this dessert simple to put together, and easy to whip up in advance.

A few notes: the no-bake filling means that this is looser than any kind of traditional cheesecake. If you really want to use cherries and they’re not available, thawed frozen ones will work. I use vanilla bean in both the filling and to macerate the fruit; the vanilla flavor is more pronounced when the seeds come scraped out of the bean, but you can substitute with good quality vanilla extract instead. Also, I use Luxardo (Italian cherry liqueur) in both the filling and to macerate the fruit. It adds a note of complexity and booziness, and enhances the natural flavors in the cherries and apricots. If you don’t have a cherry liqueur or brandy on hand, you can substitute with other liqueurs (Amaretto, Cointreau, Chambord) or even a good bourbon. A splash of almond extract could work well, too. You can also skip that step entirely and the fruit and filling will still taste delicious.

Fresh Cherry & Apricot Tart
Serves 8-10

for the crust-
1½ cups (150g) graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheet rectangular graham crackers)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

for the filling-
1 8 oz. bar (225g) cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (or 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract)
3 tablespoons Luxardo or Kirsch (optional)

for the fruit topping-
1 lb. (450g) cherries, pitted (thawed if frozen)
2 medium apricots, pitted and sliced thin (thawed if frozen)
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons Luxardo or Kirsch (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

for the crust-
Preheat the oven to 350°F. (You can also skip baking the graham cracker crust - it will set well enough when it is refrigerated).

Generously grease a 10”-12” tart pan, or you can use a pie dish or something similar. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper.

Using a food processor, or a sealable bag and a rolling pin, crush the graham crackers until they resemble a coarse flour. In the food processor or in a bowl, add the melted butter, sugar, and salt and pulse (or mix) until just combined. Press the mixture into the greased pan. You can press and smooth the crust evenly by using the back of a flat glass or measuring cup.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until firm and golden brown. Allow to fully cool; the crust can be made up to a day in advance. Once cooled cover and reserve.

For the filling-
Using an electric stand or handheld mixer, cream together the room temperature cream cheese with the sugar. Add the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and Luxardo (if using) and beat until it is completely smooth and slightly airy. Make sure to periodically scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure there are no lumps in the mixture.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Even out the filling in the crust with an offset spatula or back of a spoon. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight to firm up.

For the fruit topping-
At least one hour or more before serving, prepare the fruit topping for the tart.

Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter, or by slicing the cherries in half and removing the pits. Halve and pit the apricots, and slice thin lengthwise. If using frozen fruit, make sure it is fully thawed.

In a bowl, combine the cherries and apricots with the vanilla bean, sugar, Luxardo, and lemon juice. Toss gently and allow the fruit to macerate.

Top the chilled tart with the fruit and serve.

Any leftover tart can be stored covered in the fridge; it will still be delicious the next day.



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Luxardo Cherry Ricotta Clafoutis


What is clafoutis? It's a classic French dessert, made with an eggy flan-like batter, traditionally filled with black cherries. It's often served warm, usually with a dusting of powdered sugar, and
occasionally with cream.


Clafoutis is obviously a French word, but to my English-speaking brain it sounds almost onomatopoeic. I think of it as something cloud-like, fluffy, fruity, and sweet… and that’s essentially what it is.


This treat straddles both brunch and dessert territory. It's not too sweet. It's not fussy to make. It comes together in a blender. Yes, a blender. The filling is custardy, rich but not too decadent, and studded with roasted fruit. As the name suggests, I’ve added booze to the batter and to the whipped cream to enhance the cherry flavor, and to make this clafoutis a little extra celebratory. If you don’t have Luxardo or Kirsch on hand, you can skip this boozy addition.




This recipe lends itself to many other fruits: peaches, plums, strawberry, apple, and more. But we're deep in cherry season here in LA, and because their season is relatively short, and because cherries are like the incredible delicious jewels of the fruit world, I try to use them in as many ways possible while they're around. Of course, I love them fresh, eaten simply as is - but sometimes you want to do something special to really celebrate this fruit of late spring.


Cherry Ricotta Clafoutis with Luxardo Whipped Cream
Serves 8-10


for the clafoutis-
5 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup whole milk ricotta
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons Luxardo, Kirsch, or other cherry brandy (optional)
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pot (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup all purpose flour
1½ lb. cherries (700g), pitted (fresh or frozen)


for the Luxardo whipped cream-
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Luxardo, Kirsch or other cherry brandy
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pot (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1 tablespoon sugar


Preheat the oven to 375°F.


Grease an oval 11”x 8” baking dish, or a 10”-12” cast iron pan. This recipe can be used in different-sized dishes, but larger dishes will result in less time to bake. Sprinkle a little sugar around the baking dish.


Pit all of the cherries using a cherry pitter, or halve them and remove the pits. Reserve.


In a blender, combine the eggs, ricotta, milk, Luxardo, vanilla and salt. Blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the baking dish.


Scatter the cherries around the baking dish.


Bake for 40 minutes, or until the clafoutis is puffed and golden and the custard is firm.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Best Easy Brownies


What makes the best brownie? I like mine more fudgy than cakey. I like rich chocolate flavor and zero nuts involved. I like something that feels decadent but isn't cloyingly sweet, or gut-achingly rich. I even have to admit that I like a brownie that feels almost like it came out of a box, with that crisped layer on top and soft interior. In my personal brownie baking quest this recipe is easily my new favorite. It relies on cocoa powder for the base, and while I was skeptical about what that would do to the taste, I  found that I like it even better than fussier versions that use tempered chocolate.

Web searches for "best brownie recipes" led to this recipe by Alice Medrich found on Food 52. Its virtues have been tested and confirmed by countless others. The changes I made are minor: I added espresso powder to the mix (brings out the chocolate flavor), and I added chocolate chips to the batter (I like a secondary note and texture of real chocolate combined with the cocoa powder). I omitted pecans, because of the aforementioned preference. Otherwise, I stayed true to Medrich's method; including beating the batter 40 times with a wooden spoon.

My only criticism is that the brownies could be thicker. I wonder how a teaspoon of baking soda or doubling the amounts and baking this in a 9" x 13" pan would affect the outcome. Other than that, these are perfect. Easy to make. They're the "best."

Double Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Genius Recipes
Serves 9-16 (depending on how you slice it)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¼ stick/150g)
1¼ cup sugar (250g)
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (105g), good quality or Dutch processed
1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour (62g)
⅔ cup milk chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C.

Grease an 8”x8” baking dish. Line with parchment so that the parchment hangs over 2 sides (will make it easy to lift out the brownies).

Cube the butter. To a medium heatproof bowl add the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso and salt. Place the bowl on a wide pot or skillet with simmering water. Stir until the butter has fully melted, the cocoa is just hot to the touch, and the mixture forms a paste. If the butter is not melting, adjust the heat accordingly.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in vanilla. Then, add the eggs one at a time; stir vigorously each time you add the egg and ensure it is fully incorporated and the batter is shiny.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour until it just disappears, then beat vigorously 40 times (this is a critical step that aids in the great chewy texture of the brownie). Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. Let cool on a rack.

Once cool, transfer the brownies out of the pan and cut into the desired amount of squares (9,16, or 25).







Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring Chicken


Like so many good things, this dish was discovered as a result of throwing together whatever I had in the fridge into one pot and putting it into the oven. Since then, I've been cooking it on repeat.

It was a Sunday, I had two large leeks leftover from another meal sitting hopefully in the fridge. I had a pile of good sweet potatoes (yams) sitting in a bowl on my counter. I had a whole chicken waiting to be roasted. When everything came together and ended up on the table, we ate the first few perfect bites in total happy silence.

I can and have cooked chicken dozens of ways, but among my favorite preparations is putting the entire bird into a Dutch oven. You can make this recipe in a deep casserole dish or even in a roasting pan, but I can't guarantee the same success. There's just something that ceramic cast iron does to the bird: the meat stays tender, the skin gets perfectly browned, the flavors are somehow more pronounced. Yes, these pots are generally expensive. I have been lucky enough to have been gifted a few that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, but I also have a pot that I got years ago for $50 dollars at World Market and it's the one that I made this chicken in, and I continue to use this cheaper less sexy Dutch oven for countless other dishes. The point is, any cast iron pot will do. Even a plain lodge cast iron pot would be great. If you don't have one, this one time investment will last forever and will be a welcome addition to your kitchen.

This recipe can be modified endlessly. I like to use Japanese sweet potato alongside the beautiful orange variety. I like to throw in a shallot or two for a contrasting onion note. I would happily swap out sweet potatoes for carrots and parsnips, or plain good quality potatoes if I didn't have yams on hand. I sometimes use fresh rosemary, and sometimes I use fresh thyme. Sometimes I use both. I could get away with neither. You get the picture...

But in its best form, this dish is about leeks and sweet potatoes, leeks and sweet potatoes, and leeks and sweet potatoes. Cooked down with the chicken, the aromatic sweetness of the leeks marries with the floral sweetness of the potatoes in rich chicken drippings. The vegetables get very soft, the leeks become unrecognizable, and it all goes so well with perfectly cooked, deeply savory, crisped roast chicken.

All this glory comes together quickly and easily. Everything is thrown into one pot, everything is cooked at the same time, no extra sides are necessary (unless desired). This is a very happy Sunday night meal.

One Pot Roast Chicken with Leek and Sweet Potato
Serves 4-5

1 whole 5 lb. chicken, or you can use the same weight of just white or dark meat pieces (but you will want skin on bone in pieces)
3-4 medium sweet potatoes (1 lb./450g) (any variety or mix of varieties)
2 large whole weeks (1 lb./ 450g)
1 large shallot (3-4 oz / 90g)
4-5  large cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Hungarian parika, to taste (optional)
Olive oil, to drizzle
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup water (or white wine or chicken stock if you have it)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks that are no more than 1" in thickness. If the chunks are too thick they might not cook through. Trim the green tops off of of the leek. Use the white/light green part of the leeks by cutting them in half lengthwise, and then washing them well to remove all of the grit. Roughly chop or slice the leeks into half moons, their thickness is totally up to you. Halve the shallot lengthwise and cut it into half moons.

To a pot add the chopped sweet potato, leeks, shallot, smashed garlic, and whole springs of fresh Rosemary (the leaves will come off the stems as everything cooks. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Generously season the whole chicken with salt and pepper, inside and out. Top with paprika if using Drizzle the chicken generously with olive oil, and rub the oil all over the outside of the chicken.

Place the seasoned chicken into the pot on top of the sweet potato mixture.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the chicken. Add 1/2 a cup of liquid to the pot, drizzled all over the veg. The liquid will help cook the vegetables and keep everything from getting too dry.

Put the lid on the pot (if using a deep casserole dish or roasting pan, cover the dish/pan tightly with foil). Cook with the lid on for 45 minutes. Cook with the lid off for the rest of the cooking time, about 30 minutes - depending on the size of your chicken. You know the chicken is done when it is golden brown, the juices run clear when pierced, or when the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Carve, and serve the chicken with the cooked sweet potatoes and leeks.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mexican Inspired Matzo Brei

Photo by Eric Slatkin

Matzo Brei is easily one of my favorite types of Passover food tied only with matzo pizza (because pizza anything is the best). 

There are endless variations on matzo soaked in egg and cooked in fat (ideally butter). This is my favorite version: it's reminiscent of Huevos Rancheros or even a good Chilaquiles. The crispy buttery matzo combines perfectly with a little heat from the sauce, creamy avocado, and fresh cilantro. 

Ranchero sauce is made of chilis, peppers, and aromatics that are cooked and blended together, but you can also find many good pre-made Ranchero salsas at the market. It can also be substitutes with almost any another kind of chili based sauce that you prefer. 

Whether you make the matzo brei savory, sweet, or spicy, I've learned that one thing that is critical for good brei is a generous amount of butter or oil. Without a good amount of fat, the matzo can become dry and brittle. With fat the matzo is creamer and gets crisped and golden on its edges.

This recipe is featured in our Passover Assembly Line series! Video below.

Chag Sameach!

Mexican Matzo Brei
Serves 2-4

for the matzo brei-
4 matzos
4 large eggs
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon ranchero salsa (homemade or store bought)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon chili powder
4 tablespoons butter

for the toppings-
1 avocado, cut into thin slices
2 scallions, sliced thin
½ cup cilantro leaves
sour cream, to taste
hot sauce, to taste

Start by breaking up your matzo into large chunks into a sieve or colander. It’s ok if the matzo pieces are uneven. Rinse the matzo under cold water until dampened and just softened, about 10-15 seconds.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, ranchero salsa, spices, and salt together. Add the soaked matzo to the bowl, and stir until the matzo is coated in the egg mixture. Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan. Once the butter has fully melted, add the matzo mixture to the pan in an even layer. Allow the matzo to cook and brown on one side for  2-3 minutes. Flip the matzo pieces over and cook them on the other side until they are nicely browned as well, another 2-3 minutes.

Transfer to a large serving platter or individual plates. Top with sliced avocado, fresh scallion, cilantro, and sour cream and hot sauce if desired. Serve immediately.




Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Deep Fried Matzo Balls

Photo by Eric Slatkin

Why do matzo balls need to be confined to soup? In the spirit of freedom, these matzo balls are let go from their usual broth home, and instead,they're dunked into hot oil, fried until golden, and served with a spicy herbaceous schug dip.

These matzo balls are more hush puppy than airy donut. You have to expect denseness with matzo meal. Once you get over the absence of soup, and the slightly unexpected texture, you find yourself halfway through a second matzo ball... they are delicious and addictive.

Schug is a spicy cilantro and chili sauce, that is commonly found throughout the Middle East. I love the recipe from Zahav, by Michael Solomonov (brought to my attention by friend and collaborator Ellie Bowman), but there are many other recipes out there. You can often even pick up this stuff pre-made at your favorite Israeli restaurant or Middle Eastern market. 

And we've been putting these recipes into motion over at the Assembly Line.



More Passover recipes are on their way... 


Deep Fried Matzo Balls with Yogurt Schug Dip

for the matzo balls-
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
4 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup oil schmaltz or oil (vegetable or safflower)
vegetable oil, as needed for frying

for the dip-
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tablespoons Schug (spicy herb sauce*)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the matzo meal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl. To the matzo meal mixture add 4 beaten eggs, ¼ cup of oil, and spices. Stir until just combined. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour. Once chilled, formed the dough into even-sized balls.

Fill a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot with 3 inches of oil. Heat until hot, about 350°-375°F when tested with a candy thermometer.

Drop the matzo balls into the oil in batches. Be careful not to crowd the pot, add 6-8 matzo balls at a time. Fry until golden brown on all sides.

Once cooked transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and fry the next batch. You can can keep them warm in a warm oven if necessary. The fried matzo balls are best served hot and fresh.

for the dip-
In a bowl, combine the yogurt and schug. Mix until incorporated.

*Schug (also spelled Zhug or Skhug)
Schug is a spicy green sauce that originated in Yemen and is commonly eaten across the Middle East. It can be purchased in some Middle Eastern markets, or from Israeli restaurants. This recipe is from Michael Solomonov's Zahav cookbook:

Schug
20 serrano chiles, stems removed
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup canola oil

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the oil. Once processed into a coarse paste, transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the oil. The sauce will appear chunky, not smooth. Store in a container in the fridge for up to 1 month.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Savory Hamantaschen - Leek, Fig and Cambozola


Hamantaschen. Triangular. Filled with stuff. Made for Purim. Meant to resemble Book of Esther’s Haman. Also maybe meant to resemble aforementioned defeated enemy’s ears (in Israel Hamantaschen are called “Oznei Haman” - translation from Hebrew: Haman’s ears). Whatever they are, they are defined by their shape. There are endless variations on their dough, their size, their flavors, and their fillings.

This year, like many other years, I continue to explore the possibilities of what Hamantaschen can be. I experiment with the dough. Egg or no egg? Butter or margarine? Sweet or savory? Traditional fillings or crazy fillings? I'm still seeking my perfect version of a sweet, not-too floury dough (this one comes close), but I am increasingly happy to eat a pastry that is a little more savory. While it has a note of sweetness, this hamantaschen is more appetizer than dessert. The dough is the same used in flaky pie dough or crostatas, the filing has leeks, fig preserves and Cambazola cheese. The result is salty, sweet, and rich.

As a cautionary note, the impulse may be to fill these generously with your filling; exert restraint, it will seem like too little but any more will cause the cookie to overflow or taste too filling-heavy. Another cautionary note, make sure to really pinch shut the edges of each hamantaschen. These tricky guys like to unravel in the oven any chance they get.

Savory Leek, Fig, and Cambozola Hamantaschen
Makes approximately 20

for the dough-
2½ cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, cold
6-8 tablespoons ice cold water
1 egg, beaten for the egg wash
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the filling-
2 large leeks, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼-½ teaspoon fig preserves per hamantaschen
½ teaspoon Cambozola or creamy blue cheese per hamantaschen
for the dough-
In a food processor, add the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse a few times. Add the cold cubed butter. Pulse until the mixture forms pea-sized crumbs of butter and flour. (If doing by hand, using a pastry cutter combine the dry ingredients with the butter until pea-sized balls form).

To the food processor add the apple cider vinegar, and the ice water a few tablespoons at a time. Pulse until the mixture comes together in a ball. If the dough doesn’t stick together easily between your fingers, add another tablespoon of water. When it is done, the dough will be slightly crumbly but will easily form into a ball. Form the finished dough into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerated for 2-3 hours or overnight.

for the filling-
Clean and dice the leeks. To a skillet over medium low heat, add the butter. Add the leeks to the pan and season them with salt. Sauté until the leeks are soft and starting to caramelize (turning golden but not crispy and browned), about 10-15 minutes

to assemble your hamantaschen-
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Flour your surface and rolling pin lightly. Roll out the dough until about ¼-inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit, cookie cutter, or even a drinking glass, cut out rounds from the dough. Fill each round with ½ a teaspoon of the leek mixture, ½ a teaspoon of fig preserves, and ½ a teaspoon of cambozola blue cheese. Fold over one third of the round onto the filling, fold over a second third, and fold over the last third. With each third, gently pinch and seal the edges of the dough firmly together, forming a well-secured triangle-shaped pastry. Transfer the hamantaschen onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure there is at least an inch between each pastry. You can re-roll the remaining dough and form more hamantaschen.

In a small dish, beat an egg. With a pastry brush, brush the top of the dough with the egg wash. Top with freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Bake the hamantaschen for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown.

Once baked, transfer to a rack to fully cool. Serve at room temperature. The hamantaschen can be stored in an air-tight container for several days, if they last that long.