Beet Pasta

Beet has once again appeared in my CSA box, and I tried to use it, given the fact I don’t really like it. I decided to try fresh pasta with beet incorporated in the dough. I failed to take any good pictures of the process or the result.

Last time I made fresh pasta I used durum semolina flour and it was great. I went out to buy some but mistakenly bought Type 00 soft wheat flour instead. It turned out well, and I guess all-purpose flour would do fine too.

Here’s the recipe for the dough (for about 6 servings):

  • 300gr flour
  • 2 1/2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp pureed roasted beet
  • pinch of salt
I roasted the beet unpeeled wrapped in parchment paper and tin foil with some olive oil and sea salt. Then it was peeled, chopped and pureed using a hand blender. I used my stand mixer for the dough, kneading until smooth and then let the dough rest in the refrigerator for an hour.
Work the dough through the pasta machine a small piece at a time. My best advice for making pasta is to flour the dough generously, and let it dry a little while working the pasta machine. Also watch out for cooking time as it cooks real quick (my pasta was a little overcooked).
I finished the pasta with toasted pine nuts, olive oil and crumbled goat cheese. I loved the taste – pine nuts are amazing. I wonder what sauces would go well with it. The beet taste isn’t very strong, but the aesthetics could be problematic.

Egg and Tomato Noodles

The nature of blogging is quite problematic. When you start writing a blog, it is very easy to create content. Mainly because you’re inspired, which is what led you to open a blog in the first place. But besides being inspired, there are also no expectations whatsoever of your content. After a while, even if you still don’t have readers, you become much more critical of your posts. It’s like drawing – when faced with a blank paper it is very easy to create the first few lines. When you make some progress though, it becomes harder to put down the extra strokes that refine the picture.

During the past two months that this blog wasn’t updated, I was cooking as usual. I even had some planned posts in mind, some of which were also prepared, but it didn’t work out. I was too critical of the end result, or I would forget to take pictures of the progress. When the pictures were ok, I had no inspiration for a text, or an exact recipe.

But I have not given up on this blog, and I will counter those issues with a simple approach: lower self expectations. I’ll try to publish everything I make, even If I’m not happy with it. I will also attempt to make posts short and simple, so that it will be easier to make them right away and move on.

Today I was trying to recreate a pleasant childhood memory. At some point during my childhood, my parents hired a young Chinese student who was then living in Israel to be a nanny for me and my sister. She happened to also be a very good cook (and believe me, I was critical about food even as a child) and as a result this was one of my happiest times growing up. Sadly she had to leave after several months, but years later I still remember the great Chinese food that I had had on a daily basis.

My favorite dish was noodles with egg and tomato sauce. I could eat it several bowls of it a day and never have enough. For years this dish sat in the back of my mind, yet I never encountered it again anywhere. It’s just some kind of Chinese home food, not something you will see in a restaurant’s menu (besides, real Chinese food is rare). There’s a page on wikipedia about it, but it doesn’t say much.

I don’t know why it took me so long to try it. I followed this video more-or-less:

I did not plan to make my own noodles, but it is quite simple and rewarding, so I did make them myself. I like somewhat thick noodles which hold a bite, but mine were a little too thick. The result had hints of that taste that I remember from childhood, but it wasn’t just that. I think I cooked the tomatoes for too long, and I think the garlic should be omitted. Still, it’s a quick and satisfying dish to make – try it! I will continue to experiment and get closer to my target taste.

Fig Tartlet – An Experiment

I have been consuming many many figs recently. Though very tasty on their own, I wanted to try making a tart with figs and pastry cream. Searching online I only found recipes for either fresh tarts or tarts combining figs and frangipane. I thought that frangipane would overshadow the figs, so I decided to try it with pastry cream anyway and see what happens.

I made some pie dough and pastry cream and prepared myself to conduct a scientific experiment to determine which tart would be superior.

The tart shells were both blind baked at 190°C for 5-10 minutes, and then uncovered for another 5 minutes until slightly brown. The one to be used for the fresh tart was baked a few minutes longer, as it was not to be baked again. The oven was then lowered to 160°C.

Next, I filled both tarts with pastry cream and figs. I should note here that perhaps I should have used the same slice size for both tarts.

The baked tart was placed back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the figs darkened just a little bit and the cream appeared to be stiff. I would have liked to bake it longer but was afraid that the cream would be ruined. The tart was allowed to cool a little and then they were both examined.

The results are clear: 1 of 1 participants agreed that the baked tart was superior.

Baking the fig intensified its flavor, which was accompanied by a velvety bed of cream. On the contrary, in the fresh tart, the figs were almost non existent and everything was overshadowed by the buttery crust.

All in all a great way to conduct science.

Plum Frangipane Tart

As a kid I somehow disliked plums in their raw form. I only ate them cooked, baked or preserved. It remains impossible for the contemporary me to understand the reasons, but I’m glad that I learned to love this great fruit in all of its forms. This new appreciation does place, however, dire expectations from any plum tart or pie to surpass the raw fruit.

I was mostly pleased with this tart, but it couldn’t fulfill those expectations. It did offer though a chance to consume great amounts of butter masqueraded as a fruit based treat. Next time I make it I will try to have more plums and less sugar.

Tart Shell

  • 170gr butter
  • 250gr flour
  • 50gr sugar
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 1tbsp milk
  • beans for blind-baking

I took the basic 1:2:3 ratio of sugar:butter:flour but reduced the sugar amount, as the frangipane is very sweet by itself. Still, I would use less sugar next time. The technique for making the dough is explained here.

While the dough is chilled, cut the plums (I don’t know how many) into small, but not too thin, wedges. Add a little sugar and squeezed lemon juice and toss to coat. You don’t have to alter the plums’ taste too much, just to get them to lose some liquids.

Frangipane

  • 100gr almond meal
  • 100gr soft butter
  • 100gr sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
Cream the butter and sugar, add the almond meal and later the egg and vanilla extract and mix until smooth.

When the dough has chilled through (at least 1 hour) roll it and place in a tart pan. Place the tart pan in the fridge to chill once again before baking, and preheat the oven at 190°C. After 10-15 minutes in the fridge, cover the tart shell in aluminum foil, place some beans on top and bake for 10 minutes before removing the foil and baking for another 5-10 minutes until the rim only lightly browns.

Remove the tart shell from the oven, cover with plums and frangipane:

Bake again until the frangipane gets slightly brown. It’s ok if it is still a little wobbly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before consumption. In the blazing hot Tel-Avivian August, the tart must be kept in the refrigerator, but it is better if let to warm up a little before serving.

B.L.T

You could argue that posting about a BLT sandwich is stupid. There’s no real recipe to follow, and it’s nothing special that I came up with myself. I’m still posting about it because:

  1. Sandwiches are awesome and often overlooked
  2. I’ve been barely posting lately
  3. The pictures are nice
  4. I will be reminded of the idea when I look back in the archive
  5. It can inspire others
  6. Bacon is a key ingredient for lasting happiness
It started with my iron cast grill pan being poorly seasoned. I decided to scrub off the existing “seasoning” layer and start over. I bought 0.5 kg of relatively thick sliced bacon for the process.
I started with a cold pan and turned on medium heat, so that the fat will be rendered out of the bacon as the pan slowly heats. My goal was filling the pan with grease, and having the bacon cooked but not completely crispy. I think it took about 20 minutes:
How about another look at that greasy wonder:
I let the bacon cool because the sandwich wasn’t to be consumed immediately. Here are the rest of the ingredients (and my foot):
There’s a scheduled rerun tomorrow morning, with the addition of sliced Parmesan and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Leftovers

The last month hasn’t been the best, to say the least. Although cooking provides some sort of therapy and escapism, I still found myself cooking less. Even when I did cook, I wasn’t organized enough to blog about it. However, here are some things that have happened:

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes. I made them with the leftover pastry cream from the Mille Feuille. They turned out too dense, slightly egg-tasting, and overall not that great.

I also made some bagels, of which I had not taken pictures. Making the bagels reminded me how I’ve been wanting to make doughnuts, so I tried it too:

I also made some Matcha Ice Cream (again, no pictures). It turned out quite well, both in texture and in taste. However, it’s not really a “casual” taste that you can pop out of the freezer at any occasion.

Mille-feuille

This is easily the best tasting dessert I ever made. It didn’t picture well, but it was amazing.

I can now confirm that this dessert belongs to the category of: “It’s somewhat a hassle to make at home, but since you can’t get it very fresh anywhere, it’s well worth the trouble”. You can also make everything in advance, just bake the pastry the same day, you want it as fresh as possible.

This was the original inspiration for making the puff pastry that also served the Bourekas experiment. This was the real deal. Combining different tastes and textures is at the basis of great food. This time it’s the crunchiness of the salty puff pastry with the creaminess of sweet pastry cream.

I’ve made pastry cream many times before, using the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu. However, the last time was quite a while ago, so at first I forgot to whisk the egg yolks vigorously with the sugar before adding the rest of the ingredients. This resulted in a lumpy cream in which the sugar did not dissolve properly. I threw it all away and started over.

This is what the yolks and sugar should look like after whisking, pale and liquid:

You can then follow the rest of the recipe. My first attempts at pastry cream were bad, as it takes some tries to get the technique, and it’s a little hard to explain it in text. It’s best if you can get someone to show you how it’s done. I’ll try to make a video sometime.

This is how the prepared cream looked like, before being refrigerated for the night. The next day, it should be whipped again before use to turn it from a solid cold custard back into a cream.

Next, I had to bake the sheets of puff pastry. My first approach was to cut the dough before baking. This resulted in poorly shaped sheets of which I made the mini mille-feuille that appears at the top of the post:

The better approach was to bake a large sheet of dough and then slice it (guess what happened to all the cut pieces..)

It’s also important to place something on top of the dough when baking, to keep it from puffing too much. I used a small oven tin, put on a baking sheet.

This mille-feuille was better proportioned, but the sun already set and I couldn’t take a decent picture:

As I said, best recipe made ever. Definitely going to become a regular.

Bourekas

I am half Turkish. My father’s parents were born in Turkey and moved to Israel in their adolescence. I grew up on my grandmother’s Jewish-Turkish cooking, and it remains a prominent part in my present identity. In the seventh grade, kids in Israel are required to research their family’s background, and present it in some form. My research was about the culinary heritage of Jews in Turkey and the Balkans.

Spinach has a somewhat sacred place at my grandma’s house. It was always promoted as very healthy and tasty. Meals received a place of honor on the table if they contained spinach. It was the trump card of any occasion, a magic ingredient mentioned to get everyone excited.

To mitigate any chance that any one of the grandchildren will grow not to like spinach, we were all brainwashed with videotapes of Popeye The Sailor Man since early age. However, I can’t say I’m not pleased with the results.

Bourekas (or Börek in Trukish, as Wikipedia tells me) is a kind of pastry (usually salty) made with either puff pastry or Phyllo. It is very popular in Israel and is found everywhere, either in supermarkets or special bourekas bakeries. Popular fillings are cheese, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms and pizza sauce. My grandma still makes bourekas herself, mostly filled with ground beef, or an eggplant based mixture.

Anyone with some baking experience must have heard about how hard and time consuming is the process of making puff pastry. It is usually dismissed as something not worth the effort because it can be bought frozen. I must debunk that myth. Yes, it’s not the most trivial thing to make, and yes, it does take time, but it’s far easier than many other things I tried before. Many other things that people with some kitchen milage tackle without much hesitation, while they still won’t try to make puff pastry.

I guess store-bough puff pastry is good and easy to use, and that’s perfectly fine. I’d still recommend trying it out yourself at least once. It cost me one third of the price of frozen pastry, and it didn’t take longer than the defrosting time.

I started taking pictures of the dough making process, but then I realized that the recipe I used had better pictures than what I could provide. It’s in French, but it’s really all about the technique, and the pictures describe it very well.

Oh, and if it wasn’t clear by now, I was making Spinach Bourekas, though that wasn’t the only goal that puff pastry was meant to achieve… (more on that soon…)

A key ingredient in bourekas-making is what we refer to as Bulgarian Cheese in Israel. Wikipedia told me it’s also called Sirene, and I guess in Bulgaria they just call it “Cheese”. It’s a salty white cheese, similar to Feta yet different in taste and texture. It is the most common filling for bourekas, though Feta would work very well too, and even Ricotta when aiming for a sweeter taste.

I made my filling by mixing steamed spinach, bulgarian cheese, kashkaval, and an egg, with a ratio of roughly the same volume of each item.

I then experimented with three different shapes: triangular, “snail”, and “square” (rolled like pain au chocolat). The bourekas were then brushed with egg and sprinkled with sesame.

Ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and they were ready. The triangles were very crispy and flaky, the snail was softer, had more filling and was moister inside. The square one received neither of the benefits of the other shapes and was mediocre.

It was a great breakfast and I was happy with the success of the puff pastry. Looking at those pictures I am now hungry again…

 

Steamed Cabbage Rolls

Whenever I cook something Asian, I feel some unease. I reached that point where I feel I “get” Asian food, and I really enjoy it. However, when I think about my knowledge (or rather, ignorance) of Asian cooking, I always come up with an image of a Chinese cook trying to make Middle-Eastern food. Making Hummus-Ful with kidney beans instead of Fava beans, or Malabi with maple syrup instead of rose water. It could still be very tasty, but just not the right thing. And I’d justify any Asian laughing at attempts to recreate his culture’s staples using the wrong ingredients, just as I’d find the combinations above quite amusing.

Saying “Asian food” is in itself an expression of ignorance. The word “asian” associates many different cultures (who nonetheless share some properties and background) together, and when it comes to food, it results in a blend that’s missing out on the different tones and narratives that every cuisine has to tell.

And so, knowingly ignorant, I’d still call these rolls Asian, as I’m not really sure where they belong. I’d guess it’s Chinese, because of the pork-cabbage combination and the fact that it’s steamed, but I really don’t know enough.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 cabbages
  • 400 gr ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp shoaxing rice wine
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 thumb-size piece of peeled ginger
  • 1 bunch coriander with stems
  • 4-5 sprigs spring onion
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
I should note here that I ended up using only half the filling when I ran out of cabbage and steamer space. I used the rest of the filling for wheat gyoza which went for direct freezing.
Start by cutting a triangle around the base of the cabbage to remove it. Then put it in simmering water for a few minutes to soften, and help the leaves separate. You should keep the water and simmer them later when it’s time to roll the leaves.
I suggest getting two cabbages, because only a small portion of the cabbage makes good rolls. The outer green leaves are too big and thick, and the inner leaves are too small. The best part is when the leaves change from green to white. I still tried to use the rest of the cabbage, but the difference is clearly seen:
While the cabbage is simmering, combine ginger, coriander and spring onion by slicing thinly or using a mortar and pestle (the picture was taken before the spring onions were added):
 Next, combine with all the rest of the filling ingredients except the cornstarch:
Mix with your hands, and then add the cornstarch gradually to help the mixture thicken. Add more if necessary. It shouldn’t be very thick, just not swimming in liquid (the different sauces add quite some liquid). Don’t forget to take the cabbage out of the simmering water.
Start filling the rolls. Separate a leaf at a time from the cabbage, and pull it to invert its natural curve. Place some filling at the base of the leaf, leaving some space to the sides. Pick up the sides with both hands, fold inside to cover filling, then pick the base of the leaf and roll over folded sides, to the end of the leaf. Place rolled leaf in steamer.
If the leaf is too hard to roll, simmer it for another minute before rolling.
When the rolls are done, place steamer over boiling water and cover. Cook until the cabbage is soft and filling is cooke through. I think it took 20 minutes.
I made some sauce by reducing soy sauce, shoaxing and brown sugar, but when the rolls were ready I found a fly swimming happily in it :/
Eat the steamed rolls, and think about the Chinese guy who is laughing at you for using fish sauce instead of oyster sauce.

Leftovers

Some things that I recently made but don’t get a post on their own:

Soy braised chicken with rice noodles

It was overall nice and easy to make, but not flavorful enough.

Leek and Swiss Chard Quiche

Easily the best quiche I ever made. I attribute it to the slowly caramelized leeks and the use of Gruyere.

Dinner with Maayan and Tor

Maayan made amazing dim sum, I made some kind of basil chicken (gai pad krapow)

Chili-Garlic Shrimps with Polenta

A quick improvised dinner, was great except the Polenta being too lumpy.

Vegetable Curry with Coconut Cream

My first step in the wondrous world of curry+coconut+coriander.