Friday, December 28, 2012

Behold the kranz!

You know the bit in Julie and Julia when Julie needs to debone the duck? The kranz was sort of the equivalent for me (albeit I'm not attempting to cook all of Jerusalem, that would be slightly insane). But the kranz comes with a warning that it's "neither easy nor quick to make", i.e. not generally what I go looking for in a recipe. So I decided it would be a nice challenge for those lazy, cooped-up days around Christmas. It turned out more of a challenge than I expected, and not for the reasons I thought. Suffice to say, it's supposed to sit overnight but it took three flippin' days to make. Something didn't quite go as it was supposed to, though I managed to fix it. Still, this is a labour of love.

I still haven't gotten round to explaining what  a kranz is: it means "crown" in German and is a uber-Askhenazi cake (one of the few in this more Mediterranean-centred book) with a chocolate filling that is made into two "braided" parts (hence the crown or garland). Here is my recipe, with my adaptations and the further adaptions I plan to make should I attempt to repeat the experiment.

270 grs flour
50 grs caster sugar
half a cube of yeast (the original recipe calls for "fast-action dried yeast". Now, if someone happens not only to be really reading here but also to be British,can you explain what this is? Because I don't get the point of fast-action yeast in cake that's supposed to sit overnight)
60 mls of water (probably more water is needed)
1  egg (possibly will put 2 next time. That's when dividing by 2 becomes tricky, if you have 3 eggs in the original meant for a ginormous and ravenous Jewish family)
1/3 tsp salt
70 grs butter
sunflower oil
Ingredients for the filling
25 grs icing sugar
15 grs cocoa
70 grs dark chocolate, melted
60 grs butter
The original recipe calls for pecans. I don't really do pecans. 
Place the flour, sugar and yeast in a mixer and stir everything together (I'm going to do this by hand next time). Add the eggs and water and continue stirring until the dough comes together. Add the salt and start adding the butter, a few cubes at the time. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and shiny. Place the dough in a large bowl, brush with sunflower oil, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.
This is where the drama began, because the dough didn't grow overnight and I didn't get to sleep in for no reason! So I left it to sit the whole day, out of the fridge this time, and ended up adding a bit of water. So, by the evening, it had finally grown and could move to second part of the recipe. I'll leave out of the fridge next time.
Melt all of the ingredients in a saucepan.  Spread the dough with a rolling pin and cut the edges so that it's more or less rectangular.  Now the scary part comes, which isn't really so scary. Spread the chocolate paste on the dough. This caused further drama, since the filling was liquid, I assume it's supposed to be a Nutella-like paste. Maybe more chocolate would do the trick? Anyway, if I say so myself, I brilliantly solved the problem by later putting the roll in the fridge. Brush with water the long end further for you, then start rolling the long section that's closer to you. You end up with a rolled-up sausage. Put in the fridge so the filling becomes solid. Then, more of the not so scary scary part: cut the roll lenghways and weaves together the two parts, ideally letting the sectioned part up so that the chocolate "drawing" shows. Put in a baking tin and leave in the fridge overnight. Bake for 40 minutes at 190 c.

Now, once the feat was accomplished, what did the kranz actually taste like? It tasted nice, but not as heavenly as to justify all this work. This is a recipe that definitely needs fiddling with and practice. But I definitively learned some things from it, namely how to create plaited cakes with filling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chicken thighs with clementines and arak

The dish before and after being basted with sauce!

Arak was a big (alcoholic) discovery of my trip to Israel last summer. I'm not a fan of aniseed in general and the few times I had tried arak before in Lebanese restaurants I had disliked it. But yet somehow (after many shots?) it has grown on me, so I decided to buy a bottle at the duty-free in Ben Gurion airport before leaving (interestingly enough, it's Jordan-produced). So I was quite intrigued by Jerusalem's chicken with clementines and arak recipe. I'm very happy with the results, it might have been the one, so far in the experiment, that turned out the best. You can do it with an entire chicken that's been cut out or with chicken thighs, I did latter because I'm not going to cut a whole chicken apart and I'm not feeding a huge Jewish or Arab family. The recipe is right out of the book, minus fennel seeds that I couldn't get hold of, and  with quantities for two people:
2 chicken thighs
50 mil arak (apparently you can use ouzo or pernod instead)
3 tbsp of orange juice
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsb grain mustard
2 medium fennel bulbs
4 clementines  sliced horizontally (supposed to be unpeeled, I peeled them)
1 tbsp thyme leaves
oil and black pepper
chopped flat leaf parsley, to garnish

Put the arak, oil, lemon and orange juice, mustard, sugar a in a mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper. Trim the fennel and cut each bulp in half lengthways. Cut each half in 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the liquids, along with the chicken pieces (it works better if you cut the thighs in two), clementine slices and thyme. Stir well and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Put the chicken and marinade in a dish big enough to accommodate everything in a single layer. The chicken skin should face up. Once the oven is hot enough, place to roast for 35-40 mins, until the chicken is cooked through.
Put the chicken and other ingredients in a serving plate, cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquids into a small saucepan, place on medium-high heat, bring to boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced to a third. Put the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

What was nice about this dish was the smell and taste of arak, fennel and other nice things throughout the preparation. The sauce (that can be soaked up with pitta pieces) was particularly yummy. If anything, next time I might try adding some more arak.

In other news, stay tuned because I bought some fenugreek! I'm still not sure what it is but I can use it now!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Being busy has kept me away from cooking experiments, but I've not given up, the November hyatus is over! Muhallabieh, apparently an Arab classic, is a milk pudding. I haven't really altered the book's recipe, except for the garnishings:
50 grs cornflour
500 ml milk
200 ml water
80 grs sugar
Whisk the cornflour with 100 mls of the milk until they make a smooth paste. Pour the remaining milk, along with the water ans sugar, into a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. When the milk mixture begins to release steam, whisk in the cornflour paste. Stir in until it becomes like a thick custard. Pour in individual cups, cover with cling film so that a skin doesn't form, and place in the fridge for three hours. Decorate with pistachioes (that mine were Iranian pistachioes amuses me immensely)

Pretty basic, isn't it? Problem was, the recipe includes a syrup to pour over the puddings, and the syrup includes bay leaves...And I wasn't able to find bay leaves anywhere, I'm not even sure what they are, to be honest. Hence, I gave up on the syrup, which wasn't a good idea, since without it the pudding is ok but, well, a bit mealy. Since I haven't eaten all of my puddings, I'm going to try adding some melted chocolate, which might not be the authentic Jerusalem way to do things, but which I feel might be an improvement.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Armenian hot yoghurt and pearl barley soup

The Armenians occupy one of the four quarters of  old Jerusalem and have a very long history of presence in the city. I decided to make this soup because it seemed like a great dish for a cold evening. Needless to say, it was my first introduction to Armenian food, since I snubbed their eateries in Jerusalem and haven't been otherwise to Armenia or other places with lots of Armenians, so I can't say if this recipe felt a little weird because Armenian cuisine's a little weird for my palate, or because something didn't quite go as it should have. Here is my recipe, reproportioned for one:
- 70 g of pearl barley
-half an onion, finely chopped
- mint leaves
- 2 spoonfuls olive oil (the original indicates butter)
- 1 egg
- 3 large spoonfuls of plain yoghurt
- salt and black pepper

Fill a pan with water and put the barley to boil with a teaspoonful of salt, until the barley is cooked but al dente, you need water for the soup so add some if it's evaporating. In the meantime, sauté the onion and mint in olive oil. Whisk the egg and yoghurt in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the barley and water, one ladle at the time, so that the yoghurt doesn't split. Then return the soup to the stove and bring to medium eat, stirring continuously. Serve hot.

The main issue I had with the soup is that it was too "eggy", because of problems in reproportioning. The original recipe is for 4 people and includes 2 eggs, and obviously there was no way I could use less than one egg. It felt a bit like some sort of liquid omelet (but maybe that's how the Armenians like it?) Next time, I'm certainly going to use a ton more herbs to temper this, because anything which is yoghurt/herbs is bound to be delicious. I also don't get why Ottolenghi&Tamimi recommend using butter so much in contexts where olive oil would make much more sense to me (after all, this is Mediterranean food we're talking about). Maybe they're adapting the recipes to their intended British audience?
However, it made me think that barley is an ingredient I totally need to use more and it's true that it makes for a very comforting dish.

Clementine and almond syrup cake

I'm aware this looks nowhere as nice as it does in Ottolenghi and Tamimi's book, and not only because I didn't make it in a round spring form... anyway, contrary to what this picture suggests, I didn't carbonize it either. One of the problems I keep having is that the book seems to be targeted at enormous Jewish or Arab extended families and I keep having to reduce and re proportion doses, which isn't always easy. So here's the recipe I followed (the original is meant for 8-10 people. I suggest playing a bit by ear):
90 g butter
40 g sugar
candied orange zest
candied lemon zest (I didn't have organic clementines and lemons)
juice of 2 clementines
One egg
40 gs ground almonds
70 gs sifted flour
a pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a baking tin (it's supposed to be a spring-form) and line with baking parchment.
Place the butter, 50 g of sugar and both zests in a mixer bowl. Mix with a beater attachment. Do not work the mix too much. Incorporate half of the ground almonds.
I happened to have one egg at home, anyway you're supposed to add them gradually (I would have put 2 otherwise, the original calls for 5) while the machine is running.Add the remaining almonds, flour and salt and mix them until it's smooth. Put the batter in the tin and level it with a palette. Bake for about 50 minutes.
When the cake is almost done, prepare the syrup. Place the remaining sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring it to boil. Pour the boiling syrup on the cake as soon as it's out of the oven. Leave the cake to cool down completely before you remove it from the tin.

This cake felt really sweet, which I'm not sure it was supposed to be, though probably yes, considering most Middle Eastern desserts. It also felt quite rich, not at all a "light texture" as the recipe indicated, which is probably due to using the candied zest (I'd love to try making this again with the proper zest, as soon as I have some organic one under my hands). But it does make for a great snack, and goes really well with coffee and tea, especially if, like me, you drink these with no sugar. Plus two of my friends tried it and said it was delicious, and they're nice people and not fussy eaters, but still. This wasn't the first experiment,  actually, since I don't bake very frequently, but I'll have to redo the first couple since I don't remember the modified recipes. Oh, and the book says that if you keep it in a closed container it will last and it's true-I made it 4 days ago and today it still felt fresh and fragrant.

As an intro: O Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city which, for thousands of years, has inspired extremely strong feelings of all sorts. It is easy to fixate on it in one way or another. I for one,have been a bit resilient to its magnetism in what little time I have spent there. To quote the British Jewish author Linda Grant:"Jerusalem sat, sits on me like a helmet. [...I had the feeling that, if I didn't watch my step I'd fall down a hole any minute into the 4th century and however much I shouted no one would come and rescue me from that crevasse." Obviously, I admired such amazing landmarks such as the Western Wall, the Holy Sepulcher Church, the Golden Dome but what I remember most vividly is being harassed by shopkeepers whose eyes lit with shekel signs when they saw me approach along la Via Dolorosa and risking a heart attack after having climbed a hill in tropical temperatures to get to the Dominus Flevit church (where I almost wept since it was closed).

However, Jerusalem began to work its spell on me too in an unexpected way. I was delighted to come across Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi's Jerusalem. I enjoy cooking and buying cookbooks (something I've inherited from my mother, but truth be told I don't always use them), approve of any Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, plus the book is full of gorgeous pictures and bits of the authors' personal histories, plenty of the recipes looked doable and combined different cooking traditions. Eventually, I attempted to carry out one or two of the recipes that looked good and easy to make, and posted pictures of the results on facebook. I realized, as I perused the book, I was developing a mild obsession with culinary Jerusalem and decided to set myself a Julie and Julia kind of challenge, you know, as in the blogger who cooked her way through one of Julia Child's tome. Though the idea came, once again, from Jerusalem itself. While rummaging the drawers for cutlery in the singularly homey kitchen of my Zion Square hostel, I chatted with two American travelers, one of which taught (Italian) cooking. As the conversation touched on the joys of preparing and eating food, the idea of cooking your way through an entire cookbook came up.

Now I don't aim to cook my way through all of Jerusalem. I've no clue where to get some of the ingredients, for one thing (where do Messrs. Ottolenghi and Tamimi expect me to find kohlrabis?) not to mention lack of time, lack of self-discipline, etc. But I'm trying to make my way through as many of the recipes as possible, and use this space to discuss the recipes and their applications.