A former Shiksa’s Shakshuka

IMG_7139

THIS. This is one of the best dishes ever created. I first had it about four years ago at Tatte, what used to be a small, local coffee shop owned by a direct, business-savvy Israeli woman. (Tatte has since grown to six locations and been bought by Panera Bread, but shakshuka is still on the menu!). I had it again many times in Tel Aviv when I lived there for a summer after grad school, and I’ve had it since at the homes of some Israeli friends. It always looked so complicated, but one morning a few weeks ago I had a craving (like you do in your third trimester). Eating shakshuka that morning wasn’t optional, it was a matter of life or death (ok maybe not life or death, but I would have been a miserable brat for the rest of the day causing suffering for all those within verbal or physical reach). Since we had friends coming over for brunch I couldn’t just run out to Tatte to get my fix. It was time to make my own shakshuka.

After looking at dozens of recipes and comparing them to my memory of Tatte’s – IMO perfect – flavor profile, I settled on the following ingredients. Most traditional Shakshuka recipes I’ve found don’t use feta cheese, but to me this is essential! Amazingly, this came out perfectly on the first try. My shakshuka-loving husband agreed, and the friends that came over for brunch were very, very happily stuffed at the end of the meal. In fact, we were so excited to eat it that I completely forgot to take pictures of the whole dish before it was devoured, which is why you can only see one corner of it here.

A Former Shiksha's Shakshuka

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Bomba! tomato paste (this stuff really is the bomb)
3 tbl Ajvar* (optional)
2 cans (14 oz each) petite diced tomatoes
1 red pepper, diced
1 tsp cumin seed, toasted and ground (you can use regular ground cumin if you don’t have seeds and a grinder)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
dash of cayenne (optional)
6-8 eggs
4-ish ounces feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
flat parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Challah, pita, or some kind of bread for serving

*Ajvar is a really delicious red pepper and eggplant dip that bumps up the red pepperiness of the shakshuka. If you don’t have it, not to worry: increase the tomato paste to 2 tablespoons.

Directions

Step 1
In a cast iron pan, sauté the onion and peppers with a pinch of salt over low heat for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and sauté another 5 minutes.

Note: most recipes call for the red pepper to be sautéed right away with the onion, but I like my red pepper to have a little bit of crunch. That’s why I add the Ajvar early on to boost the red pepper flavor, but wait to add the red peppers until later.

Step 2
Add in the tomato paste and Ajvar, stirring until the onions are evenly covered in the paste. Add in the cumin and let cook another 5 minutes. It should smell really, really good in your kitchen right about now!

Step 3
Add the tomatoes, red peppers, paprika, chili powder, and cayenne. (If you like spicy foods, you can really dial up the cayenne pepper, but I like mine on the milder side.) Continue to simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir occasionally to make sure your shakshuka isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Step 4
Stir in feta. I like a lot of feta… but add as much or as little as you want!

Step 5
Add the eggs one at a time, cracking them over the pan. Add as many as will fit comfortably; they will cook on top of the sauce almost as if you’re making sunny side up eggs. I like to cover the pan to speed things along. How long you cook them depends on how you like your eggs: 7-10 minutes for runnier, 10-15 minutes for harder.

Step 6
Top with the chopped parsley and serve! I’ve seen this served with challah, toasted sourdough, pita, english muffins… whatever your favorite dipping bread is.

Shakshuka is one of those recipes that are just begging to be played with. You can add fresh baby spinach towards the end, chopped sausage (Tatte used to have a version with crumbled Merguez lamb sausage that was killer), diced potatoes… there are so many flavors that go well with the tomato and spice! Go ahead – invite friends over for brunch this weekend and give it a try.

Baked Mac and Cheese

mac and cheese

It seems everyone on the internet has a recipe for baked mac and cheese, so it feels a little silly to post yet another one here. However, I’m picky about my cheese blend, I like the consistency just so, and sometimes I add things to convince myself that I’m cooking a “healthy” meal. (Right, because recipes that call for a stick of butter and six cups of cheese are ever going to be healthy…) With all that in mind, I’m going to throw my mac-and-cheese recipe into the online ether and see if it sticks.

Baked mac and cheese is flexible and forgiving, so long as you get a couple of basics right. You need pasta, butter, milk, flour, and cheese. From there if you have to fudge the ratios a bit based on what’s in your fridge, or if you want to try some wacky cheese combinations or throw in some spices or veggies, you absolutely can. It’s also very freezable, which when you’re 38 weeks pregnant like me (probably closer to 40 by the time this actually gets posted) is very, very important. Use this recipe as a guideline, and let your culinary imagination take you somewhere new!

Baked Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 box elbow macaroni*
1 stick (8 tbl) butter
½ cup flour
4 cups milk (whole, 1%, or 2%)
6 cups grated cheese (I use 3 cups sharp cheddar, 2 cups gruyere, and 1 cup parmesan)
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
¼ cup olive oil

Optional (whatever combination you add should total approximately 2 cups):
Steamed, chopped broccoli
Cubed ham
Cooked, diced sweet potato
Sautéed diced zucchini/yellow squash

*We don’t eat a lot of carbs, and when we do we try to make sure they’re as healthy as possible (think whole wheat, ancient grains, and the like). I’ve tried to get behind whole wheat pasta, but the taste and texture just don’t do it for me. So I’ve settled on the protein-rich pastas that are becoming popular, like this one. Yes, it’s still processed and yes, its still carb loaded. But, at least there’s some healthier stuff mixed in (chickpeas, lentils, barley) and you’re trading a small handful of the calories you would be getting from simple carbs and getting them from protein instead. And I feel a little less guilty about eating my mac and cheese!

Directions

Step 1
Boil the pasta according to package directions and drain well.

Step 2
Preheat the oven to 350º. In a thick bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Whisk in the flour, beating continuously until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps (this is your roux, here’s an article if you like to learn kitchen science). Immediately add the milk.

Step 3
Turn the heat up to medium. Continue to whisk occasionally to prevent anything sticking to the bottom, and wait for the milk to start to thicken. This should be about 3-5 minutes. When it coats the back of a spoon, turn off the heat. Add in the cheese a handful at a time, whisking until each batch is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4
Mix the pasta, cheese sauce, and any optional ingredients in a 4 quart casserole pan. If you don’t have a casserole pan you can use a 9*13 glass baking dish, it will just be very full.

Step 5
Mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle over the top of the casserole. If you’re going to bake right away, continue to step 6. Otherwise, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze. Remove from the freezer about an hour or two before you’re going to bake.

Step 6
Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden and the edges are bubbling. Let cool about 10 minutes, then serve!

Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower

Behold: the mighty cauliflower!

If you need an easy, healthy weeknight dinner, look no further. Cauliflower is quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables for its versatility. You can mash it like potatoes, chop it finely and mix it with breadcrumbs to make cauliflower grilled cheese, whisk it up in a soup like this, sauté it on its own and add spices… it can be light and rich at the same time, and is a much healthier option to some of the simple carbs it can replace.

Cauliflower Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 medium sweet onion
2 garlic cloves
1 head cauliflower
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

Fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Step 1
Coarsely chop the onion, carrots, celery, and cauliflower. Heat a saucepan pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and sauté another 5-8 minutes to soften the carrots.

Step 2
Add the cauliflower, water, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for about 8-10 minutes. The cauliflower should be soft when pierced with a fork.

Step 3
Let cool about 10 minutes. Working in batches, pulse in a blender until smooth.

Step 4
Season with salt and white pepper, and top with chopped parsley and parmesan cheese.

If you need something a little heartier, this is delicious served with whole wheat toast.

Spani-brocco-kopita

Chopped broccoliNow that I’m 8 months pregnant (!!!) and the reality is sinking in, I’m starting to make lots of dishes that I can freeze. Just about everyone has told me that having quick things to pull out and bake in you first few weeks (even months) is a crucial element of not losing your mind as a new parent.

Spanikopita is one of my absolute favorite casserole dishes, alongside lasagna and baked mac-and-cheese. Since my brother is the lasagna king (and I fully expect him to bring me homemade lasagna in the coming weeks… ahem) I started down the path of freezer-preparedness with the Spanikopita.

However, pregnancy brain is a real thing. There’s even a Hebrew phrase for this specific phenomena that I learned from a pregnant Israeli friend as I was sharing some of my more embarrassing stories, טפשת הריון (transliteration: tepeshet haraion; loose translation: silly pregnancy). Whether from lack of sleep, crazy hormones, or something as of yet undiscovered, it’s happening to me. Which is highly entertaining to my husband, because I’m the one in the relationship that remembers everything, and he… well… let’s just say I can’t get mad at him anymore because I now understand what it’s like.

All of this to explain that when I go to the store, even with a list of groceries and quantities carefully written out, there is no guarantee that I will return from said store with what is on that list. How does that make sense? I’m LOOKING at a list which has EXACTLY what I need, but somewhere between my brain processing the letters and my hands reaching for an item, there’s a little gremlin chuckling as he pulls a lever that says “abort!”. Which is how I ended up with not nearly enough spinach and this turned into Spani-brocco-kopita, which I argue is an excellent mistake to have made given how tasty it turned out. But, if you’d prefer your Spanikopita without broccoli, simply double the amount of frozen spinach.

Spani-brocco-kopita

  • Servings: depends on how pregnant you are.. 6-8?
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz frozen spinach
2 cups broccoli
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ lb feta cheese
½ cup fresh chopped parsley
1-2 tbl fresh chopped dill
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 package phyllo dough (should be about 18 sheets)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Olive oil for sautéing

optional: 1/3 cup pine nuts

Directions

Step 1
Heat a sauté pan and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Step 2
While the onion and garlic are cooking, thaw the spinach in the microwave. Squeeze out all of the excess water so your spanakopita doesn’t get soggy. Sit down because you’re 8 months pregnant and somehow THAT made you tired.

Step 3
Steam the broccoli and chop into bite-sized bits.

Step 4
Sing along to the Whitney Houston song you’re playing! Stop, because you realize you have zero lung capacity and feel like you’re about to pass out after half a chorus. Realize you left the onion cooking for too long, but since it’s only on medium heat it hasn’t burned yet.

Step 5
Mix the onion, garlic, spinach, broccoli, parsley, and dill and eggs in a large bowl. Crumble the feta cheese over the mixture, add the salt and pepper and pine nuts (if you remembered to buy them…) and continue to mix until the cheese is evenly distributed.

Step 6
Debate using olive oil because it’s much healthier, but then decide that the extra fat from the butter is good for the growing baby. Melt the butter. Then melt a little extra, for good measure.

Step 7
If you’re baking this right away, preheat the oven to 375º. In a 9×13 glass baking dish, brush the bottom with butter using a pastry brush. Layer the phyllo in the pan one sheet at a time, brushing each layer with butter. Typically the sheets are larger than the pan, so each sheet can get folded over and act as two sheets. You’ll use half of the box for the bottom layer, and save the other half for the top layer. I use a whole box of phyllo per casserole, which comes to about 9 sheets for the bottom layer and 9 sheets for the top. This is a lot of phyllo, so if you like yours less crunchy you can use fewer sheets for each layer and freeze the rest.

Step 8
When you’re halfway through the phyllo, spread the spinach and broccoli mixture evenly in the baking dish. Continue to layer the rest of the phyllo on top, buttering in between each layer. Butter the top as well.

Step 9
Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, until golden brown on top. Rotate once halfway through baking.

Note: if you’re freezing this to bake for later, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and put in the freezer. Take it out about an hour or two before baking to thaw (and to let the glass baking dish warm up!) then follow the same baking instructions as above.

Spanikopita

 

Mussels in Makrut Lime and Curry

mussels

I discovered the joy of bivalves late in life. Mussels, clams and oysters were a foreign food category to me until my early 20s, but now I love them! Perhaps one of the most incredible food experiences during my travels was discovering Coromandel mussels. While they’re not my favorite to eat, they are my favorite to look at. They’re MASSIVE at 3-5 inches long (that’s almost the size of my hand), and they have a stunning iridescent green edge to them, hence they’re called green-lipped mussels. They’re native to New Zealand, and that’s the only place I’ve seen them in grocery stores. I don’t actually like my mussels that large – I prefer daintier bites of mollusk – but they are certainly worth trying if you find yourself in that neck of the world.

I’ve talked with a number of friends who are nervous making mussels at home. But really, cooking mussels is easy and safe: so long as you know what to look for. There are some straightforward guidelines to make sure your mussels are alive and well: throw away mussels with cracked or broken shells, mussels that don’t open when you run water on them or tap them, and mussels that don’t open after they’ve been steamed… if it’s borderline, the rule is better safe than sorry. Can it go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing? Yes. I had a friend who didn’t follow these guidelines and I ended up with a middle-of-the-night trip to the emergency room. It took me a while to like mussels again, but so long as I’m cooking them for myself I’m happy as a clam! Or a mussel.

Mussels in Makrut Lime and Curry

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

1 tbl coconut oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 13oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup white wine
2 tbl curry powder
6 Makrut lime leaves*

2lb bag of mussels

Fresh chopped parsley and grated parmesan for garnish
French bread for sopping up the broth

*If you didn’t see my recipe for the Lao Blossom cocktail, here’s why I’ve chosen to use the indigenous name for Kaffir lime.

Directions

Step 1
Prep your mussels! Scrub the outside to get them free of any muck or seaweed, and then “debeard”. I don’t know why they call it debearding, there’s nothing beardlike about the process. It’s more like playing tug of war with a mollusk that got floss stuck between it’s teeth (gills?), but you can only use your finger strength. Rock climbers will excel at debearding. Regardless, here’s a great description on cleaning and debearding your mussels. Throw away any that have cracked or broken shells, or any that don’t close up when you’re rinsing them.

Step 2
In a large saucepan with a lid (ideally a glass lid), heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until fragrant.

Step 3
Add the coconut milk, wine, curry powder, and kaffir lime leaves. Heat until boiling, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom. Make sure you’ve poured yourself a glass of said wine, too!

Step 4
Add the mussels and cover the saucepan. Cook for 5-7 minutes. At five minutes the mussels should be opening. Mussels that don’t open after 7 minutes should be thrown away.

Step 5
Top with the chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese (as much or as little as you want), and serve with crusty French bread for sopping up all that delicious broth.

Fun fact: My husband has two pet peeves. One, he hates the phrase “pet peeve”. Two, for some reason he really hates the phrase “sop up the broth”. I mean, HATES it. I don’t understand it, but any time we eat mussels at a restaurant and I ask for more bread to “sop up the rest of this delicious broth!” he gets inexplicably irritated. So of course as a caring, thoughtful wife I’m selective in my word choice… or, not. It’s not that I forget; it’s just that I find it so gleefully entertaining that I keep doing it. Don’t tell! Now, go eat your mussels and don’t forget to sop up that broth.

New Zealand Apricot Glazed Lamb

apricot-glazed-lamb-1

A friend of mine once told me that her dream is to go to a place like Scotland or Ireland, drive around, encounter a flock of sheep in the middle of the road, and have to get out and “shoo” the sheep away. (If you’ve seen the movie Leap Year you can get a good sense of what she means from watching Amy Adams in the cow scene.) Now everywhere I travel, I look for flocks of sheep so I can send that friend pictures to keep the dream alive and well. In New Zealand, where sheep outnumber people about 6 to 1 (it used to be 22 to 1…), this was alarmingly easy. Lamb in New Zealand is everywhere. Which makes it affordable, and since it can be pricey in the US, we ate it all the time.

The other thing that’s everywhere in New Zealand is high-quality, local, fresh fruit. There are still fruit stands on the sides of the road where you can stop and pick up a handful of juicy nectarines, unassuming-yet-delicious greengage, or my favorite: apricots. I created this recipe one night as sort of an ode to two of my favorite signature Kiwi ingredients.

New Zealand Apricot Glazed Lamb

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

Lamb shoulder steaks (or whichever lamb steak you can find in your local market)
4-6 ripe apricots, diced*
1 tbl honey
2 tbl coconut sugar (optional)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbl chopped fresh mint
Salt

*If you don’t have fresh apricots, you can substitute 16 dried.

Directions

Step 1
Place the diced apricots, coconut sugar, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. If the apricots are ripe, the liquid should start to seep out pretty quickly. Cook until they’re soft and mushy, then add the balsamic vinegar and mint. Cook for just a few minutes more to allow the flavors to blend, then remove from the stove to cool.

Modification for dried apricots: Chop the dried apricots finely before sautéing in a saucepan with the honey, coconut sugar, and ¼ cup water. Once most of the water has evaporated, let them cool and then mince in a small food processor.

Step 2
Brush all sides of each lamb steak with the glaze.

Step 3
Place the lamb steaks on the grill on med-high and cook until just on the rare side of medium (about 4-5 minutes on each side, but best to use the finger test since not all grills are created equal). They will keep cooking after you remove them from the grill, so this will ensure you have the perfect, tender lamb steak.

If you don’t have a grill you can use a broiling pan and cook these in the oven, just be prepared to spend some time scrubbing dishes!

When in New Zealand (or when making New Zealand inspired dishes), drink Kiwi wine! Specifically, drink Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region. It’s shimmeringly delicious, and I’m not typically a Sav Blanc kind of girl. Look for a bottle that describes tropical fruit flavors, rather than citrusy flavors. Cheers!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bread Pudding (aka: Food of the Gods)

smuckers-peanut-butter

For those who aren’t up to speed – check out the Chopped Birthday Challenge that precipitated this recipe.

I HATED bread pudding for over twenty years. But here’s the funny thing: I had never actually tried it, I just hated the idea of it. As a kid, the words “bread” and “pudding” did not sound like they belonged together. I fabricated an image in my head of soggy Wonderbread with butterscotch flavored Jell-O pudding spooned over it (I don’t know why it was butterscotch, but there you have it). The whole idea made me want to gag. So when I first actually tasted bread pudding, I was shocked. This?! THIS was bread pudding!?! But this was tasty. Not just tasty, this was borderline orgasmic!! How had I been missing out on this my whole life? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?!?!

Since that fateful day, bread pudding has become one of my favorite desserts. My dad judges a restaurant based on its cocktails and crème brûlée. Me? I used to use the crème brûlée test (after all, like father like daughter!) but now I judge a restaurant based on its bread pudding.

This particular recipe is an over-the-top indulgence when it comes to bread pudding. But, if you like chocolate and peanut butter it is certainly indulgence worth making!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bread Pudding

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

12 slices / 1 lb brioche
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
10 oz bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
8 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Step 1
Cut the crusts off the brioche and discard. Cut the remaining fluffy bread centers into ½ inch cubes. Place the cubes in a 9*12 baking pan.

Step 2
Heat milk and cream on the stove until just simmering around the edges. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted, then add the peanut butter and stir until blended. Remove from heat.

Step 3
In a large bowl, whisk the 8 egg yolks for 30 seconds until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined.

Step 4
Pour the cream/milk/chocolate/peanut butter mixture in a slow stream into the egg mixture, beating constantly. Continue until all of the mixture is added. Pour over the brioche and let sit for at least an hour, up to overnight (so the brioche can soak up all the yummy goodness…). If you let it sit for more than two or three hours, put it in the refrigerator.

Step 5
If you’ve let the brioche sit in the fridge, remove it one hour before you bake it. Preheat oven to 350˚ and bake… to be honest I forget for exactly how long, but it was somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. I think. There was a lot going on. Best thing is to poke the middle of the bread pudding: it should be springy, and the custard should be cooked through.

Step 6
Let cool a smidge, then proceed to eat your masterpiece.

1 2 5