Sunday, May 25, 2014


Mayonnaise has it's lovers & haters. I was neutral like Switzerland. Lovers are generally divided into Team Hellmans/Best Foods or Team Miracle Whip. Back when I used to purchase commercial mayo I would probably be on the bench for Best Foods, not my go to condiment but useful at times.
A couple of years ago I caught an episode of America's Test Kitchen where Julia was making mayonnaise to go into a potato salad. I thought, "how easy is that?" I had all the ingredients on hand and had just been pondering an egg salad for my morning bagel but had no mayo and I was seriously intrigued by ATK's choice of ingredients using Tabasco & Worchestershire. I subbed Sriracha since I had no Tabasco.
That serendipitous moment propelled the little kitchen to much greater things.
My tweaks to the original recipe continue to be Sriracha only because it'll take me 2 more years to finish that bottle, a squeeze or two of Agave Nectar added at the very end-I like the honey mustard flavors in my finished mayo. I also amp up the Dijon 'cuz I love it. The final steps: add a big pinch of salt & blitz. Taste. Repeat if necessary.
Some tips:
Use a neutral vegetable oil. Olive oil is fine but make sure to taste it first to make sure it's not bitter. My first few attempts at this were foiled by the inexpensive supermarket extra virgin olive oil that I didn't realize was so bitter. It's fine to cook with, but mayonnaise is something like 75% oil-Use something that tastes good on its own.
Use a good quality organic egg if you're freakish about Salmonella. I've made this in the past with cheap supermarket eggs and lived to tell the tale.

Homemade Mayonnaise
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

into your food processor/or mixing bowl:

1 whole large egg
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
dash of Tabasco sauce or Sriracha
dash of Worchestershire Sauce
1/4 teaspoon Dijon-I use a whole teaspoon because I love Dijon-stick with the original measure if you prefer a more neutral mayo. 

Process or madly whisk until it's light yellow.

Sloooowwwwly drizzle in 1 1/4 cup vegetable oil whilst continuing to whisk madly or: see that tiny hole in the middle of the feed tube pusher thingy in your food processor? That's what it's for. Fill that tube with the oil and continue until your measuring cup is empty while the food processor is going.
As soon as the oil is mixed in, taste it. This is where I like to drizzle in some Agave Nectar to give my mayo the honey mustard flavors.
Adjust the taste to your liking by adding pinches of salt, more lemon juice or more hot sauce.
This is great to play around with.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

savory layer cake

The sign of a successful new recipe, or more likely just my kitchen OCD, is when I'm already planning my next shopping list so I can immediately make it all over again-knowing full well that it will take me 2 or 3 days to finish the dish that's sitting right in front of me. I mean, you can never have too much of a good thing...can you? I tell myself "At least wait until day 3 and see how it holds up to the reheat".
I can attest to the fact that this just gets better. I heated a fat slice of it last night after getting home from a crazybusy day and working the closing shift at the market. I was famished by the time I pedaled my bike home and up that last hill that seemed to go on forever...grateful to have this ready to go and thankful to my wine buddy at the market for the remains of a bottle of Pinot Noir. I cracked open a new mystery I picked up from the library earlier in the afternoon and my evening was complete.
This savory layer cake comes from Jerusalem, one of my favorite cookery books.

The chef's behind this collection of recipes are Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, owners of the wildly successful Ottolenghi restaurants in London. They call this an Open Kibbeh, a non-traditional take on a classic Lebanese Kibbeh. There are versions of Kibbeh throughout the Middle Eastern culture, but basically a kibbeh is a meat filled croquet or deep-fried dumpling that includes bulgur wheat (cracked wheat), spicy ground meat with fresh herbs, pine nuts and tahini sauce for dipping.
In this version, each of the components are layered into a spring-form pan and baked, then left to cool to room temperature-at which point it's released from the pan, holding into wedges better and the flavors are at their peak.
This is really super simple to make. I'm fortunate to work in the place that I do with access to the best food in the city. I also have this great Armenian market out in my hood. It is a constant source of wonder when I peruse its aisles while I attempt to build my Ottolenghi pantry. My shopping list consisted of ground lamb (ground beef works too), bulgur wheat  & pine nuts. I've never used bulgur wheat so I neglected to write down specifically "fine" bulgur wheat. I was slightly overwhelmed by the vast array of bulgur wheat on the shelf- 2 brands each with 4 grades from fine to coarse ground. I guessed and chose medium-fine. It worked fine though, the fully hydrated grain was slightly bigger than couscous and a tad grainier in texture.
At the butcher counter, the ground lamb they offered was called "lamb lulu". The raw lamb was seasoned with herbs and spices (I can't remember what they were but it sounded good) and spread squarely and evenly onto a long, narrow white platter, indented with an angular cross-hatched pattern and covered tightly with plastic wrap. It looked so beautiful.

Open Kibbeh
Yotam Ottolenghi’s & Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

scant 1 cup (125g) fine bulgur wheat
scant 1 cup (200ml) water
6 tablespoons (90ml) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium onions, very finely chopped
1 medium jalepeno, very finely chopped
12 ounces (350g) ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoon roughly chopped coriander
1/2 cup (60g) pine nuts
3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons self-rising flour (or 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder + pinch of salt)
Salt and black pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons (50g) tahini paste
3 1/2 tablespoons (50ml) water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sumac

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush an 8 inch springform pan with olive oil and line with parchment paper. Put the bulgur wheat into a bowl, add water to cover the bulgur, and set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat four tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Sauté the garlic, onion and jalepeno on medium-high heat until soft, remove from the pan, return it to high heat and add the lamb. Cook for five minutes, stirring, until brown. Return the onion mix to the pan, along with the spices, coriander leaves, salt, pepper and most of the pine nuts and parsley (saving a bit for the finish). Cook for a couple of minutes, remove from the heat, taste and adjust the seasoning.
Check the bulgur to see if all the water has been absorbed (strain if not). Add the flour, a tablespoon of oil, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper and, with your hands, work into a pliable mixture that just holds together. Press firmly into the base of the springform pan  so that it is compact and level, I use the flat bottom of a pint glass. Spread the lamb mix evenly on top and press down. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the meat browns further and is very hot.
Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, water and a pinch of salt for a very thick, yet pourable sauce. Remove the kibbeh from the oven, spread the sauce on top, sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley, and return to the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the tahini is just set and the pine nuts are golden. Remove and leave to cool down to room temperature.
Before serving, sprinkle with the sumac and a drizzle of olive oil. Remove the ring of the pan and carefully cut the kibbeh into slices.
This is great for leftovers too. I just microwave for one minute to take off the chill.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chevre and Roasted Tomato Toasts with Fresh Za'atar

A while back, I spent a rainy "weekend" in the little kitchen cooking up my favorite condiments -The Three Amigos - slooowww roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, & roasted red peppers. I then cooked up big batches of barley and white beans for the freezer,  hard boiled some eggs, and made a batch of fresh za'atar, (a Middle Eastern herb & spice blend of thyme, oregano, toasted sesame seeds, salt & sumac),
A day in the little kitchen makes the work week meals a breeze.
Simple omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches take on a whole new level of flavor, a quick blitz of  white beans and roasted peppers or slow roasted tomatoes (along with olive oil & lemon juice) in the food processor make up a lovely spread - the perfect snack with some toasted pita chips. Spread all over a big flour tortilla + egg salad + fresh herbs, or sliced lunch meat + caramelized onion + a generous sprinkle of za'atar, roll it up and you're good to go or slice it into pretty pinwheels.
My favorite quickie meal is a tartine or open-faced, loaded toasts. This one consists of slices of crusty country loaf which were brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven, then rubbed with garlic, next spread with a mixture of chevre & za'atar, topped with slow roasted tomatoes and another sprinkle of za'atar.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

a stop-you-in-your-tracks grilled cheese sandwich

It's nice to have a leisurely morning, slowly awakening the little grey cells with a couple of pints of coffee. While sitting at my usual window table at my neighborhood cafe on a very, very warm & sunny morning, I was noodling around the blogosphere and working on the cheddar & jalepeno scone post. Suddenly I got very hungry even though I'd just eaten 2 of the afore mentioned scones with my coffee.
I decided that I needed to run home and drop off the computer and then dash up to the market and pick up some eggs and blue cheese, thinking I'd mix up a batch of blue cheese & caramelized onion scone dough before work. I was almost at the door when suddenly I was stopped in my tracks by two little words-grilled cheese.
Not so wise to go to the grocery store hungry...was my next fact, that would be down-right idiotic. Best grab a nosh first. Simply sliced bread and cheddar cheese. It'll only take a couple of minutes. At the refrigerator door, I pondered the last tiny bit of Pt. Reyes Original Blue cheese and those slow-roasted tomatoes and I was pretty darned pleased with myself.  Oh and how's that basil looking?  still perky green after a week. Excellent.
Ten minutes later I sat down to this:
 ...well that's a lie because I had to take 20 pictures of it first. Never made it to the store.