Spoonin' some slurpy stuff about the world's drippiest drool

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chard, Ricotta and Saffron Cakes

Chard, ricotta and saffron. In a pancake. With sour cream on top. Can you say comfort food? The chard gives this an earthy flavor, the ricotta adds depth to the texture, and saffron makes it look and smell lovely. The trifecta.

Saffron is made from the saffron crocus.

Someone interesting saffron facts:

Saffron used to be used by Greek courtesans (prostitutes for the royals and wealthy men) as a perfume on behalf of its pleasant aroma.

In the Middle Ages, one could be sentenced to the punishment of being buried alive if they tried to alter saffron by adding in other substances. This would make the saffron not pure, but unknown to others, mixed with other materials to increase the quantity and weight of the substance. Therefore the seller would illegally make more money off of the saffron.

In order to cure hang-overs, Romans would sleep with expensive pillows that were stuffed with saffron.

It takes about 75,000 crocus flowers to make one pound of saffron spice.
4,500 crocus flowers make up one ounce of saffron spice.

Saffron can cost up to $315/oz. to $5,040/lb. WHAT?!!!

Elderly women are usually given the job of removing the saffron stigmas from the crocus flowers, a very strenuous job, because there are no machines that can separate these three delicate stigmas from the flower.

The beauty of saffron is that it can be used sparingly and still impart fabulous aroma and color. It can take a long time to go through even an ounce. Good thing - especially at those prices!

This recipe is from "Vegetable Literacy", by Deborah Madison. Awesome vegetable and grains cookbook, beautifully written and photographed.

Chard, Ricotta and Saffron Cakes

12 cups trimmed chard leaves Make sure you rinse these really well or they are likely to be gritty
2 pinches saffron threads
1 cup white whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheeseI used whole milk ricotta to give the cake more moisture - I'm sure the world won't end if you use skim
1/3 cup or more grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil or ghee, plus extra for frying
thick yogurt or sour cream, to finish
micro greens or slivered basil leaves, to finish
Boiled, diced baby beets for garnish

Wash the chard, drain and put it in a pot with the water clinging to the leaves. Cover and cook over high heat until wilted. You want the chard to be tender but not overcooked, so keep an eye on it and taste it frequently. Add a few splashes of water if the pot threatens to dry out. When the chard is done, put it in a colander to cool and drain.

Cover the saffron threads with 2 tablespoons boiling water and set aside.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. In a second larger bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, milk, and eggs until blended. Add the oil and the saffron, then whisk in the flour mixture. Returning to the chard, squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop it finely and stir it into the batter.

Heat a few teaspoons olive oil or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by the spoonful into the hot pan, making small or larger cakes as you wish. The batter is quite thick and it will not behave like a pancake. You need to give it plenty of time in the pan to cook through. Cook until golden on the bottom, then turn the cakes once, resisting any urge to pat them down, and cook until the second side is also well colored, maybe 3 minutes per side, or longer. I found 2 minutes per side to be enough - it will depend on your stove - pay close attention

Serve each cake with a tiny spoonful of sour cream and a finish of diced beets and beet thinnings.

This is a really easy recipe to make, and the pancakes are satisfying without being heavy.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:S Adams St,Rockville,United States

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stuffed Romano Peppers

When a master chef's Mom talks, I listen. This recipe, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Mom, caught my eye, in my continuing trek through "Jerusalem". The flavors are delicate, and even the tomato sauce the peppers sit in to steam, ends up being delicious. Having made the recipe, there are some tweaks I would like to try, to coax a bit more flavor from the lamb, but overall, nice flavors and textures.

Ruth's Stuffed Romano Peppers

8 Romano or other sweet peppers If you use bell peppers , you will need a deeper pot, and may want to steam them a bit longer, due to the thicker skin. I could not find sweet long red peppers, but the green worked fine - just not the sweetness that I associate with a red bell pepper
1 large tomato coarsely chopped I used canned Italian diced tomatoes
2 medium onions
2 C veg stock

3/4 C Basmati Rice Go easy on the rice, I felt like it overpowered the meat a bit
1 1/2 Tbsn Baharat Seasoning You can buy this as a mix or make it yourself. I'll post the recipe below
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsn olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
14 oz ground lamb I only had about 12 oz - it really wasn't enough - the lamb is so delicate, it really needs enough presence
2 1/2 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsn chopped dill
1 1/2 Tbsn dried mint
1 1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and ground black pepper

Make the Stuffing

Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then cook for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water and set aside.

Dry fry the spices in a frying pan. Add the olive oil and onion and fry for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Pour this, along with the rice, meat, herbs, sugar and 1 tsp salt into a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix everything together. I found the lamb sort of disappeared behind the rice. Maybe a bit more salt would help. Part of me wonders if lightly browning the lamb with a bit of salt would elevate the flavor a bit. I also think it may be possible to skip the first step and let the steaming process cook the rice. If you do that, be sure to rinse the rice really well first, or it will be too starchy

Now the peppers

Starting form the stalk end, use a small knife to cut lengthwise three quarters of the way down each pepper, without removing the stalk, creating a long opening. Without forcing the pepper open too much, remove the seeds and then stuff each pepper with an equal amount of the mixture.

Place the chopped tomato and onion in a very large frying pan for which you have a tight fitting lid. Arrange the peppers on top, close together, and pour in just enough stock so that it come 1/8 inch up the sides of the peppers.

There were only two of us, so I did not make more than we could consume.

Season with 1/2 tsp salt and some black pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer over the lowest possible heat for an hour. It is important that the filling is just steamed, so he lid must fit tightly; make sure there is always a little bit of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Serve the peppers warm, not hot, or at room temperature.


Baharat Seasoning
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 small cinnamon stick, coarse lay chopped
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cardamom pods
1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

Place all spices in spice grinder and grind till a fine powder is formed. Store in an air tight container for up to 8 weeks.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce

In my quest to cook my way through "Jerusalem", literally and figuratively, I bring you cod cakes in tomato sauce. Billed as typical of Syrian Jews, this dish combines a vibrant, aromatic sauce with flaky, delicate cakes full of savory flavors.

make sure all ingredients are finely chopped to easily form the cod cakes
white bread, crusts removed 3 slices
cod (sustainably sourced), halibut, hake or pollock fillet, skinless and boneless 1 1/3 lb/600g
medium onion 1, finely chopped
garlic cloves 4, crushed
flat-leaf parsley 1 oz/30g, finely chopped
cilantro 1 oz/30g, finely chopped
ground cumin 1 tbsp
salt 1 tsp
large free-range eggs 2, beaten
olive oil 4 tbsp

For the tomato sauce
olive oil 2 tbsp
ground cumin 1 tsp
sweet paprika ½ tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
medium onion 1, chopped
white wine 125ml/1/2 cup
chopped tomatoes 400g/14 oz tin I know, broken record, nevertheless, use Italian tomatoes - they taste so much better
red chilli 1, deseeded and finely chopped
garlic clove 1, crushed
caster sugar 2 tsp
mint leaves 2 tbsp, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

First make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a very large frying pan for which you have a lid, and add the spices and onion. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the onion is completely soft. Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Make sure you cook off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes, chilli, garlic, sugar, ½ tsp of salt and some black pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until quite thick, taste to adjust the seasoning and set aside. This is a really versatile sauce - I plan to use it with other proteins and pasta dishes. I'm thinking it would be great with shrimp and penne. I also think kalamata olives are a natural addition to this sauce

While the sauce is cooking make the fish cakes. Place the bread in a food processor and blitz to form breadcrumbs. Chop up the fish very finely and place in a bowl with the bread and everything else, apart from the olive oil. Mix well and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into compact cakes, about 3/4"/2cm thick and 3 1/4"/8cm wide. The mixture should make 8 cakes. If they are very soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up. You can add dry breadcrumbs if necessary, but try not to - the cakes should be fairly wet. Heat up half the oil in a frying pan and sear the cakes for 3 minutes on each side, so they colour well.

Add the remaining oil as you fry the cakes. Place the seared cakes gently, side by side, in the tomato sauce. Add enough water to partially cover the cakes, about 1 cup/200ml. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the cakes to settle, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with mint. The mint adds a bit of color, but I did not find it to be essential.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad

The more I cook, the more I understand that cookbooks, like many of my favorite record albums (yes, albums), tell a story. Cooking only one or two recipes from a cookbook is like listening to only one or two songs from an album - it can be difficult to get the whole story that the author, or artist is trying to convey.

Lately, I have tried to cook my way through my cookbooks (ok, I did stop short at the sheep's head recipe in Momofuku - just didn't have a big enough pot). If it is a well written cookbook, there will be lessons learned through the journey - ways to apply methods to varied ingredients, differences and similarities in styles from culture to culture, chef to chef. Sometimes it is the introduction of new ingredients, or combinations of ingredients.

My latest acquisition is an excellent example - cooking these dishes, I feel a sense of the city of Jerusalem, bustling, diverse, vibrant. A cross section of cooking traditions, spices, herbs and approaches representing ethnicities from all over the Middle and Near East as well as Eastern Europe and North Africa. Cooking, like music, is a fabulous bridge to geography and history - only it tastes better.

This particular recipe caught my eye. Orange and fennel are a glorious combination. Especially if the orange is amped up with honey, saffron and vinegar, boiled down to a soft syrup, and processed into a chunky dressing. Essentially, orange gold, and definitely the foundation of this lovely, crunchy, fragrant recipe from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

If you are not familiar with fennel, click on the link below. Extremely healthy and very versatile, with a distinctive licorice flavor that sweetens and mellows with cooking, fennel definitely adds dimension and brightness to many dishes.

Fennel Facts

Now for the recipe:

1 orange
2 tbsn honey - more is better than less if the orange is not overly sweet - you will be cooking down a lot of peel and pith, so the honey counteracts the bitterness
½ tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp white-wine vinegar
Enough water to cover the oranges
2 1/4 lb skinless chicken breast
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 small fennel bulbs, sliced thin Including the fronds
1oz picked cilantro leaves
1oz picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced -I only had a green chili, but added thinly sliced red mini peppers for color and a little extra sweetness
1 garlic clove, crushed
Salt & black pepper


Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Slice off the top & bottom of the orange & cut it into 12 wedges. Discard any seeds. Place the wedges in a small saucepan & add the honey, saffron, vinegar & just enough water to cover the wedges. Bring to a boil & simmer gently for about an hour. At the end, you should be left with soft orange pieces & a few tablespoons of thick, fragrant syrup. Place the oranges & syrup in a food processor & blitz until you have a smooth, runny paste, add a little more water if need be. Blitz is my new favorite cooking term.

Season the chicken breasts generously with salt & pepper & drizzle with half the olive oil. Place the chicken on a very hot, ridged griddle pan & sear for about two minutes on each side, to get some good char marks all over. Place the chicken in a roasting tray and roast for 15-20 minutes, until just cooked. The juices will run clear when cooked through.

Set the chicken aside, and when it is cool enough to handle but still a little warm tear it up in to bite sized pieces. Place the chicken in a large bowl & pour over half the orange paste & gently mix together. I used more than half the paste - the chicken is fairly unadorned, I really wanted to rev up the flavor. I still had enough left over to put on salmon for another meal. The remaining orange syrup will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the oil, & toss gently. Taste, season with salt & pepper & if you like add a little more olive oil or lemon juice.

One additional note - the basil may be overkill - coupled with the fennel, the flavor was a bit overwhelming, the mint was definitely lost in the mix. If you use all the herbs, consider chopping them rather than just tearing them for smaller bits in each bite.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD