Sunday, October 19, 2014

Challah Bread Pudding / Kugel

Re-purpose the left-over holiday challot and make a challah bread pudding (AKA:bread kugel)

Don't throw out the left over sweet, fruit stuffed holiday challah - it may not be suitable for breadcrumbs, but you have the base of a great bread pudding. The "recipe" is more of a guideline, improvise as you go.


  • Gather the left over challah. This year we had stuffed pumpkin, apple and strawberry/apple challah, use whatever challah you have on hand. Cube into bite-size pieces
  • Mix  milk (pareve or cows milk), eggs , sweeteners and spices 
  • Bake until firm, serve warm or at room temperature
  • breadboard , knife
  • mixing bowl
  • a large mixing cup or a mixing cup and bowl
  • mixing spoon, measuring spoon 
  • 9x9 or 8x8 baking pan (the size to make a batch of brownies)
Note: this is a guideline. Measurements are approximate - improvise and be creative!

8c bread cubes (you can use white bread, but challah, with or without fruit, jam or nuts make this 
     bread pudding out of the ordinary)
1/2 cup diced dry fruit (optional, use if you choose). Fruit could include dried cranberries, diced 
     apricot or dates, raisins, dried apples, etc. 
1 tsp (or a bit more) ground cinnamon 
1/4- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg 
1/3- 1/2 c brown sugar (more if you like very sweet bread pudding) 
2 Tbsp vanilla sugar (optional) 
2 c liquid (I use soy, almond or coconut milk in order to keep the recipe non-dairy, if this is not
     a concern, you can use milk or a combination of milk and half and half)
4 extra large or 5 large eggs
1/4- 1/3 c vegetable oil 

1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees while you prepare the ingredients. Grease a baking pan. I like to use a glass pan for this recipe because it looks nice to serve from the pan
2. Cube the bread. You can use stale, fresh or frozen bread 
3. Mix dry ingredients including the bread, sugar, spices, fruit in a large mixing bowl 

4. Combine the liquids ("milk," eggs). Oil will be added separately

4. Pour the "milk"- egg mixture into the dry mixture and then mix in the oil. Mix well and pour into the prepared pan

5. Slip the unbaked mixture into the oven, lower the heat to 350 and bake until golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serving idea; whip cold full-fat canned coconut milk as you would for whipped cream, whipping in approximately 3- 4 Tbsp confectioners sugar . Chill for several hours to help the cream firm-up.

Looking for another seasonal recipe idea? 
Check out what I was making about a year ago: 

As always,  your comments, questions, suggestions are welcome! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicken-Spinach steamed dumplings (Filipino inspired, Siomai)

Our family loves dumplings of all sorts. At their most basic, dumplings are dough wrapped around a filling. Easy enough, right? The filling reflect everything imaginable and represent the flavors of every culture.  I grew up on cheese and potato blintzes (also think: pirogi or vareniki), but I recently expanded the filling potential by wrapping the dough around pastrami and corned beef hash . Other Eastern European Jewish-style dumplings include meat kreplach (see my vegetarian variation) or knishes .  Asian steamed buns are made wheat dough with a leavening agent (see Asian style steamed buns) and in the Middle East and Muslim influenced cultures wrappers are usually wheat and oil based (Samsa  or sambusak).  Savory and sweet, the variety and variations of dumplings are endless.

Whenever I made dumplings guests think of them as a complicated treat; however, they really are, at their root, a comfort food and can be prepared at home. They do take a bit of time to make - I would imagine that historically dumplings may have been traditionally prepared as a community project- but given a bit of background music, a radio playing or your favorite tv show, you can sit down and knock them out.  Many can be frozen (I freeze my kreplach and blintzes as well as strudel rolls) and most will hold up in your fridge for several days when you wrap them well (the steamed chicken dumplings in the photos were wrapped, kept in my fridge and used over 4 days during the current fall holidays).

If you're still interested, but not convinced about how doable dumplings are to make, there are shortcuts including ready-made wrappers. You can purchase pre-made won ton and dim sum wrappers (square or round) in most supermarkets or Asian grocery stores.  In Middle Eastern or kosher food stores you should be able to find frozen puff pastry that you can use for a variety of dumplings. Greek style frozen sheets of filo (phyllo) dough are ubiquitous. Most of the time, except for dough requiring yeast or leavening, I opt for ready-made wrappers.

I learned to make steamed dumplings in Manila from both Filipino and Chinese-Filipino friends. Siomai (the Filipino variant of Chinese Shao Mai) is a much loved food - you can find them served at parties, sold by street vendors and in fast food places. The most common filling is made with ground or minced pork, dried or fresh shrimp and mushrooms. When I first started making them I opted to use ground veal as the "pork substitute," however, our daughter stopped eating veal many years ago so I started to experiment with other ingredients including vegetables, mushrooms and as in these dumplings, ground chicken with a complimentary vegetable (spinach).  Water-chestnuts are often used as a filler, extending the filling and improving the consistency.

I've treated myself to a bamboo steamer and wok, but you can create a steamer by using a covered saucepan with a metal vegetable steaming grid.  The trick is to not allow the boiling water to touch the food itself.

Dumplings are made in three stages: filling, dough/wrapper (if you are making it) and assembly/cooking. You can make the filling, cover and chill it and come back to the dough and assembly hours later.

Give yourself a clear space to work, I usually lay a table cloth across part of my dining room table and give myself plenty of elbow room.

I assemble enough to fill the steamer basket, put that batch over the water, cover and make another batch as the first one cooks. When you have the rhythm the entire process is fairly efficient.

measuring spoons, cups
cutting board and sharp knife
mixing bowls
steamer and wok (alternatively a large saucepan and metal steaming rack)
parchment paper (cut into small pieces to fit the inside of the steamer)

For the filling:
1- 1 1/4 lb ground chicken breast (I do not re-grind, but some people choose to)
1 (8 oz) can water chestnuts, diced very finely
2-3 scallions (green and white parts, trim root and top ends), chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce (or teriyaki sauce or other favorite Asian style/soy sauce based seasoning sauce).
       Many Filipinos like to use Knorr "Maggi" sauce
1/8 tsp ground black pepper (several turns of a pepper grinder will be enough)
1/2 bag chopped spinach (defrosted, drained, approximately 5-7 oz)
1 heaping Tbsp cornstarch
optional decoration: grated carrot, sprinkle on top of uncooked dumplings

For the wrapper:
1 package (50 count) won ton (square) or dim sum (round) wrappers

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, make the filling
2. Dice the water chestnuts, scallions and garlic 
3. Mix all filling ingredients together. Make sure that the cornstarch is not lumpy 


4. Line the steamer with a piece of parchment paper

5. Separate the wrapper pieces and working with one piece at a time place about 1/2 - 3/4 of a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold edges up around the filling, squeeze a bit to make sure the wrapper is snug around the filling

6. The flavoring are all measured in ranges and in order to make sure that the salt and spices are in balance I like to steam 1 or 2 dumplings to check the taste.  Testing a dumpling will also help you evaluate whether or not you have added enough cornstarch: the meat should hold its shape, the dumpling wrapper should stay tightly around the filling after steaming. Steam your "test" dumplings for 12 -15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and either taste it or find yourself a taste tester (this is never a  problem in our house)

7. Continue to make dumplings and steam the batch for 12-15 minutes. Once finished, remove the steamer from the pot, remove the dumplings (it's a balancing act to remove the entire piece of parchment, you can either lift the paper or lift dumplings one at a time). If you are using a bamboo steamer, use one tier at a time and be careful - steam burns are unpleasant

Notice the steam rising : make sure to protect your hands, use mits! 

Serve warm or at room temperature. Serve with your choice of soy sauce based sauce (soy sauce, teriyaki, "Mr Yoshido," General Tso, etc.  A squeeze of lemon or "calamansi" (also called calamondin) in the sauce is really delicious.

Cool completely before packing, single layer in a covered storage container


What was I uploading on my blog a year ago?  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Waldorf Salad (with a twist)

I received lots of hits on  the Instagram photo of this salad, which was a last minute addition to our Rosh Hashana table this year.  It was popular enough in our home this week that Eli ate the leftovers and I made another bowl for the second night of the holiday.

Waldorf Salad is something many of us suffered through making in "Home Ec" class in high school - too much mayonnaise made for a yuck factor. This version is just as simple, but updated, dried cranberries instead of raisins and much less mayonnaise than the original.

Ingredients are approximate, adjust it to your liking. You'll have enough to serve 6-8 as part of a mezza course.

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl, cover and chill for at least an hour before serving:

4-6 apples, peeled, cored and diced (I used Honey Crisp and Jazz, but use any apple you like)
1-2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 c finely chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4- 1/3 cup mayonnaise , mixed with approximately 1/4 tsp curry powder (if you don't think it's creamy enough, add a bit more mayo).

That's it!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Semolina Cake with Honey Citrus Syrup (Tishpishti, non-dairy)

Sephardic Semolina Cake with Honey- Citrus Syrup 

Tishpishti (Sephardi-Jewish) Revani (Greek or Turkish) Basbousa (Egyptian) 
Namoura (Lebanese) Torta di Semolina (Italian) Shamali (Armenian, Rhodes)

Honey Cake, as baked in the Ashkenazi tradition, is either a delicacy a person delights in or is the equivalent of the Christmas Fruit Cake that can't be re-gifted quickly enough. People love it or hate it. Bakers are always sharing secrets on how to keep the cake from tasting dry and crumbly. Recently a friend who lives in Connecticut sent the recipe for her mother's honey cake made with whiskey; I haven't given up on finding an Eastern European honey cake we'll like, so I'm planning to bake it for Sukkot. 

This year however, for Rosh Hashana, I decided to bake a Sephardic honey cake. The cake's ancestry and community associations are incredibly complex and finding one recipe that sounded like the perfect version was tough. There are versions of semolina cakes, soaked in citrus-honey-syrup mixtures from every country touching the Mediterranean basin and throughout the Middle East, each having a slightly different twist in the recipe that makes it a product of the location. 

The recipes have ancient roots, semolina meal having been used in biblical times. Versions of this cake is eaten as a well-loved ordinary street food or as the ending to a holiday meal.  Many contain milk products (yogurt, sour-milk, whole milk), some have nuts or nut-flours added (pistachio, almonds, walnuts), more modern versions may also contain flaked coconut.  Mastic, a sticky resin, with a flavor reminiscent of licorice is sometimes used, as is vanilla, cinnamon or cardamon. A history of the cake and the associated variations could go on forever, but that is not the point of this posting. The version posted here is non-dairy (pareve).  

Members of Sephardi and Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) communities typically eat this cake for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There are flour-free variations that can be baked for Passover. Honey, the ubiquitous symbol of a Sweet New Year is an ingredient in the syrup. Stella Cohen, a descendant of the Rhodes Community and cookbook author recommends serving the cake with berries and whipped cream. Other suggestions include dusting with confectioner's sugar or, as Janna Gur, an Israeli cookbook author suggests, shaved coconut. This recipe is a modification and combination of cakes by Stella Cohen and Janna Gur.

The cake is sweet and sticky and is typically served in small pieces like many Middle Eastern sweets. Some bakers will strategically place almonds, almond pieces, dates or figs pressed into the batter after it is spread in the pan. The fruit or nut pieces will serve as markers for cutting the cake squares or diamond shaped pieces after the cake has been baked and cooled. I've used dried apricots for this purpose. I also opted to use Hodgson Mills  "pasta flour," a mixture of semolina and regular wheat rather than the traditional method of measuring flour and semolina separately. The end product has a slightly smoother crumb when prepared this way. There are several flour companies that make this product, it is easily available on-line and some supermarkets with large baking sections stock the combination flour.

Like soup, this cake improves after the flavors have melded; therefore, it's best to bake the cake a day or two before serving.

The cake, although not difficult to prepare, requires a cooled syrup. Therefore, make the syrup first, prepare the batter (mixed by hand), bake, score while warm, douse with syrup and allow to cool completely before serving. Waiting at least 24 hours will improve flavor and texture.  Serve in small pieces.

A useful hint when making the syrup: include a piece of lemon or lime rind while the syrup is simmering. Once the mixture is clear and the rind appears translucent, the syrup is finished.

The cake itself is mixed by hand in a large bowl, but after reading through many semolina cake recipes and trying a few, I settled on the technique of separating the eggs and beating the egg whites to lighten the texture of the cake. I mix the whites in a stand mixer.

Have all the ingredients measured and ready to mix. You'll need bowls, measuring spoons and cups. A sharp knife for scoring and cutting the cake.

I find it easier to weigh dry ingredients and therefore use a kitchen scale. The recipe has both weights and volume measurements.

A rectangle baking pan, approximately 10 x 15 x 2. I like the way a glass baking pan (e.g. pyrex or anchor hocking) looks for serving.

For the syrup:
7 oz (1c) sugar
8oz (1c) honey
8oz (1c) water
1 medium cinnamon stick
1 inch strip lemon rind
1/4 tsp lemon oil (preferred) or 1 Tbsp lemon juice (as a second choice)

For the cake:
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites beaten with 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
4oz (1/2c+ 1 Tbsp ) sugar
1oz (barely 1/4c) coconut flakes
5 oz (1c) almond flour (or use finely ground almonds)
15 oz (3 full cups) pasta flour (a combination of semolina and regular flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp baking powder
8 oz (1c) vegetable oil
8 oz (1 c) orange juice
1/4 tsp orange oil (optional)

12-16 dried apricots

1. Make the syrup by combining all of the ingredients except the lemon oil, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for several minutes. The lemon rind will begin to appear translucent. Remove from heat, add the oil or juice and allow to cool.

2. For the cake, measure all of the ingredients. Grease and flour the pan.

Combine the dry ingredients, except for the sugar in a large bowl.
Combine the oil, juice, eggs and oil in a bowl or large mixing cup.
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Place the rack in the top third of the oven.

3. Whip the egg whites at a high speed until they begin to hold peaks. While still beating, add the sugar in several additions and the cream of tartar. The whites should be stiff, hold peaks, but not look dry.

5. Mix the dry ingredients. Pour in the liquid ingredients and keep stirring with a large spoon. The mixture will be thick.

6. Take approximately 1/4 of the batter and gently fold it into the beaten egg whites.

7. Add the whites into the remaining batter and mix together gently. The batter will be thick. 

8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Place the apricots on top of the cake and slightly press into the batter.  The raw batter will be very thick and springy, the fruit will not settle into the cake.

9. Slip the cake into the oven. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. The cake will turn golden along the edges. Test by slipping a cake tester, or toothpick into the cake, if not done, bake another few minutes.

10. Score the cake into squares or diamonds.  The cut should go about halfway through the cake (don't pierce completely).  Pour the syrup evenly over the entire cake. Use all of the syrup.

11. Cool the cake completely before serving in small pieces. In lieu of apricots, you can try dates, almonds, walnut pieces, or sprinkle the top of the cake with ground nuts before baking.