Thursday, May 31, 2012


Challah is near and dear to my heart, but we call it Grandma Bread. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread steeped in tradition- Wikipedia will tell you all about it. My family is not Jewish, but my Grandma makes a mean Challah.

Wanting to get more into the blogging community (yes, this exists), I have recently joined The Daring Kitchen. Each month they post challenges- one for baking and one for cooking- and all members post on their blogs the results. I chose to sign up for baking for now. May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads. I'm taking it as a sign that my first challenge was Grandma bread (I mean, challah).

I have made this type of bread before from my favourite people, America's Test Kitchen, but I found their recipe dry. I know- shock and horror- I've never criticized any of their recipes before. This time I used a recipe supplied in the challenge and it turned out much better. Be sure to use a heavy pan to bake the bread though- my loaves always burn on the bottom regardless of the recipe so I've attributed it to my pan being too thin.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Bread is fairly easy to make, but you have to have some time to do it, what with the risings and in this case, shaping the bread. I did take some advise from America's Test Kitchen, actually, on how to braid the dough. Making a four or six (!) strand braid was confusing the hell out of me, so they have you make two regular three strand braids and stick them on top of each other. Easy. Even I can do that. Regardless of the shape, the end result is two delicious, slightly sweet, golden loaves. Stick one in the freezer for later, but be warned you may be pulling it out sooner than you expected. Cause the first one will be eaten so fast, of course.

Aside from being delicious with a schmear of butter, Grandma bread/challah makes fantastic French toast and uber-delicious sandwiches. But my favourite way, which is kind of a tradition in my family, is with butter and a thick slice of ham. Salty and sweet. It's kinda my thang.


Challah (Honey White)

from Tammy’s Recipes
Servings: 2 loaves
 To make fancy looking braided loaves, at step 4 divide each piece of dough into two sections, one slightly larger than the other. Starting with the larger section, divide each of these pieces into 3. Roll each into strands, tapering at ends. Braid, tucking ends under. Repeat with second, smaller, piece of dough. Brush top of first braid with egg wash and affix smaller braid, tucking ends under loaf.
  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water, separated
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) (15 gm/½ oz sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) (30 ml) (18 gm) (2/3 oz) dry active yeast
  • ½ cup (120 ml) honey
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) oil (light colored vegetable oil, or olive oil if you prefer)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp. 7½ ml) (9 gm) (1/3 oz) salt
  • 5 cups (1200 ml) (700 gm/25 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more as needed (up to 8 or 9 cups total)
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
1. In mixer bowl/large mixing bowl combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast. Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.
2. To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 5 cups of flour. Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed. Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top. Cover bowl with a kitchen/tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Punch down the dough, divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf (shaped or braided as desired).
5. Place loaves on parchment lined or greased baking sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7. Brush tops loaves with egg wash. (Sprinkle with seeds or toppings here if wanted.)
8. Bake loaves 30-40 minutes until done.
9. Cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spanish Tapas

Last week my dad and I went to a Spanish Tapas cooking class at Liaison College. Amazingly, I haven't ever cooked Spanish food. In addition to cooking Spanish food for the first time, I also ate an olive and beef liver (not together). I'd rather eat the liver again before than the olive, to be honest.

Tapas, if you aren't familiar, is basically small bites of food originally served in bars. You know, so you can still get home after drinking. Common Spanish ingredients are garlic, saffron, almonds, smoked paprika, and sherry. We made Chili Garlic Shrimp, Meatballs with Romesco sauce, Chicken Livers in Sherry Cream Sauce (except if was beef liver instead as they couldn't find chicken livers anywhere), and Caramelized Onion Soup. My favourite was the soup, and luckily this was the dish that my dad and I were assigned.

First we watched a demo of each of the four dishes, then each group cooked one of the dishes and everybody got to take home a portion of each dish. It's always interesting getting a group of strangers in the same room. We all gathered around the demo table and as the chef chopped and cook we could ask questions about what he was doing. You knew that some people were asking a "question" that they already knew the answer to, just to show they know stuff. Those are the keeners. I was not one of them (I swear!).

Aside from discovering I really like Spanish food, I learned a couple of neat tricks from the chef. There was a lot of garlic happening and the chef doesn't like using a garlic press, which I usually use, as it squeezes out too much juice and can overpower the dish. He peeled the garlic and then smashed it with the side of his knife before chopping it (like how you would smash the garlic to remove the skin but smash it harder. I looked for a video on You Tube to include here about peeling garlic but they were all over a minute long! It's not that hard, trust me).

The other interesting thing was I had put a lid on the soup pot after adding the broth in order to get it to come to a boil faster. He came by and asked if the recipe called for the pot to be covered. It did not, and he said that was for good reason. Without the lid the soup will reduce as it comes to a boil. I hadn't ever thought of that. Patience is key here, obviously. Still working on that- I had to go busy myself watching other people prepare their dishes in order to stop myself from covering the pot.

I had planned to make the soup and meatballs for dinner last night, but it was so hot out that I couldn't fathom making soup. We ended up turning on the air conditioning and then of course a storm blew in and it's back to long-sleeved shirt weather again today. Go figure.

The meatballs are made with pork and are definitely different from your standard spaghetti and meatballs with the addition of a pinch of cinnamon and pine nuts. The romesco sauce with them is the biggest revelation though. I'd seen recipes for romesco sauce but never tried it. I expected it to be served hot and taste similar to tomato sauce. In reality, it is served room temperature or cold, and it tastes like a vinegary roasted pepper mayo. It is absolutely delicious and you'll think of lots of ways to use leftovers, I'm sure. We ate the meatballs as a sandwich with the sauce spread on the buns. Delicious.

The Sherried Onion Soup with Saffron is a little like  French Onion Soup, but it is pureed and definitely has a Spanish flair. The amazing thing is it is creamy and rich but there is no added cream. Yes, the onions are browned in butter, but it is the almonds that make it creamy. So, if it has turned a little chilly where you are too, or just feel like soup on a hot day some reason, I have included the recipe for the soup below.

Serves 4
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • pinch saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and finely ground
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp fino sherry
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds and chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Melt the butter in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, stirring to ensure they are thoroughly coated in butter. Saute until onions just start to turn golden. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden brown.

Add saffron and cook, uncovered, 3 minutes. Add almonds and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes. Pour in stock, sherry, paprika, and 1 tsp salt. Season with plenty of pepper. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Pour soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return soup to rinsed pan and reheat slowly, without allowing soup to boil, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if required. Serve immediately garnished with almonds and parsley.

Serves 6

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, fresh preferrably
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 pine nuts or blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large slice white bread
  • 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper, drained if from a jar
  • 1/4 tsp each paprika and salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
In a bowl combine all meatball ingredients except olive oil. Heat 1 or 2 large pans (if using 1 meatballs will have to be cooked in two batches) over medium-high heat. Form meat mixture into 1-inch balls, ensuring not to compact mixture too much. Saute meatballs in oil until well browned on all sides until cooked through. Drain on paper towels.

FOR ROMESCO SAUCE: While meatballs are cooking, bring a small pot of water to boil. Core stem end of tomatoes and cut a small X in the bottom. Drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Remove to a bowl of ice water. Peel and seed tomatoes. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and bread. Fry bread until golden on both sides. 

In a food processor, finely chop bread, almonds, pepper flakes, and garlic. Add peppers, tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth paste. Add vinegar and process to combine. With machine running, gradually add oil in a thin stream to make an emulsified sauce. Serve meatballs with romesco sauce for dipping.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dip Night

Did you ever have "treat dinners" as a kid? Maybe you called them something else, but hopefully everybody gets to experience this growing up. Maybe it was "breakfast for dinner" or ham and cheese waffles like I read about in Bon Appetit. For us, we had two treat dinners- different at my mom's and my dad's. That, and tons o' presents and holiday meals at Christmas time, is the only plus in the broken home column.

So, at my mom's "treat dinner" (yes, we called it that) was cottage cheese and fruit. See, I come by healthy eating honestly. At my dad's, almost every Friday night we would have homemade pizza. I am declaring Dip Night the new treat dinner in my house.

How did this come about? I was looking through my hundreds of recipes saved on my computer thinking that I should make an effort to start cooking the older ones (i.e. the recipes that have now been transferred to three computers). I have a whole lot of dips saved- great for parties and potlucks, but how many dips can you really eat at once? Three, as it turns out. This post could have been called "An Orgy of Dairy", but lets keep it clean folks. With the dips we had pita chips and tortilla chips.

One Year Ago: nada

Buffalo Chicken Dip is as amazing as it sounds. The author on Ezra Pound Cake calls it "pure man-bait" (are you reading this single ladies?). Get the recipe by clicking HERE.

Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip: I threw this one in to be at least a little healthy, and it turned out to be the sleeper hit of the night. Recipe below.

Goat Cheese Spinach and Artichoke Dip: I think I over-cooked this one so it was dry and we didn't eat a lot of it, but I mixed it into filling for chicken manicotti the next day and that was amazing. Get the recipe by clicking HERE

Adapted from Cooking With My Kid
  • 1 cup hummus, store bought or homemade (recipe below)
  • 3/4 cup arugula pesto (recipe below), or store bought basil pesto (reduce to 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup tzatziki
  • 1/2 cup black olives, sliced (optional)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 green onions, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 large pitas, cut into wedges
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes or until golden on one side. Flip them over and bake until golden a crisp on the other side, about 2 more minutes.

Make hummus if using homemade and transfer to a bowl. Then make pesto- no need to wash food processor if you've scraped the hummus out pretty well. 

Spread hummus in bottom of your serving dish (mine was 11x7). Spread pesto over top, then tzatziki. Sprinkle over olives, if using, then tomatoes, green onions, and feta. Refrigerate if not eating immediately.

Traditional hummus has tahini, a sesame seed paste like peanut butter, but I don't keep that around just to make hummus. It's just as good without. 
  • 1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste if using no-sodium chickpeas)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • water
Place all ingredients but water in a food processor. Process until mostly smooth. Scrape down bowl, add 2 tbsp water, process again until a totally smooth, adding a little more water if necessary.

This can also be made with baby spinach, or a combination of both. Great as a pasta sauce, on fish or chicken. 

2 cups arugula or baby spinach, washed and dried
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil (stems and leaves together are ok- they'll be pureed)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
water, if needed

Place all ingredients but water in a food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down bowl periodically, adding water a tbsp at a time if needed.