Thursday, May 20, 2010

Far from the Madding Crowd (with apologies to Thomas Hardy)

After several weeks of uncertainty that I talked about in my last post things have started, but just started, to become clearer. Apparently, some progress has been made in negotiations betwen our workers committee and the administration of Hadassah College. No agreement yet although I have received a summons (rather ambiguously worded, of course) for a hearing. They also mention that there is a chance I might be fired. Like there is a chance of some other outcome. Really!! All of this talk, while important because it determines my severance package, only convinces me more and more that leaving this place is really a good thing. I mean, who wants to be working in a place where they treat you like this?

The other thing that has happened is that all of this tension has spurred me on to new cooking and baking projects. My recipe collections are bursting and I find new things everyday. New ideas and new recipes, what could be better!! This being spring time I've mostly been gathering recipes for salads, and light soups, and, of course breads. More that anything, I have been learning about universal methods which then can be applied to hundreds of recipes. Once you understand about making a certain kind of sauce, for instance, then it becomes possible to apply that knowledge and vary the technique and even the ingredients to create something new but in the same 'family' so to speak. So a simple white sauce becomes a mornay (add a nice sharp cheese and melt but not on the heat) or a veloute (use some kind of stock instead of milk). We just celebrated Shavuoth a holiday which is traditionally associated with dairy foods a few days ago. The ongoing uncertainty at work along with the new recipes I've collected made for some great food.

I went out the day before and stocked up on all the local cheeses. BTW, there are some truly great dairy products in Israel and this holiday is a perfect time to try them all. I know I overdid it and invariably spent too much money at the supermarket, but.. what can you do?

This year's menu consisted of two quiches, some rolls and a cheesecake (which my daughter took to her friends for a party. Along the way I made some homemade ricotta for one of the quiches. Here's how...

Crust for the quiches

3 cups all-purpose flour
180 g (about 6 oz) cold butter or margarine cut into smallish pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ordinary vinegar

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and whirl to mix.
Add the cubed margarine or butter and pulse until the texture is like small and grainy. Do not let the margarine melt but it should be small and granular.
Add the vinegar and pulse until the texture is now large and grainy. Again, do not let the margarine melt. Gather the mixture into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
After an hour remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out thin on a lightly floured surface. Place the rolled dough into a 9 inch (23 cm) pie pan. Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180C. Cover the surface of the crust with foil then place uncooked beans or rice on the foil to weight it down so the dough will not bubble while baking. Place in the oven for about 12 minutes. Afterwards, remove the foil and the beans and continue to bake for another 3 or 4 minutes. The crust will now be about half-baked (no pun intended). Well maybe!!

Now for the quiche itself....

150 g (about 5 oz) sharp cheese (cheddar is nice) grated coarsely
150 g (about 5 oz) piquant cheese (kashkeval is nice) grated coarsely
150 g (about 5 oz) ricotta cheese
about 250 g (about 8.5 oz) sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes

for the royale filling...

2 large eggs beaten
1/2 cup cream for baking (about 15% fat)
salt and pepper to taste

Assembly time...

Place the ricotta cheese in the crust and scatter to cover. Then place the other cheeses (mixed) over the ricotta. Spread the chopped tomatoes over it all.

Mix the royale (beat the eggs and the cream with salt and pepper) and then pour it all over the cheese and tomatoes. Make sure it is all evenly distributed.

Bake for around 35 minutes or until the quiche is set. This can be eaten hot or at room temperature.


BTW using this crust and almost any combination of cheeses and veggies you can make hundreds of different kinds of quiche. The other one I made used artichoke hearts (quarteres and sauteed with some purple onion and garlic). Make the crust, place some grated cheese then the veggies and finally the royale. Yum!!
Until next time...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Confusion and Clarity

More than a year ago, when I first heard they decided to close my department, I approached Ashkelon College with a plan to move our program over to their already existing and highly successful Graphics Program. The idea was to graft onto this program a separate track, offering students the possibility of studying Graphics and then a specialty in Printing Technology. After several discussions, drafts of plans etc. I was informed they had dropped the idea for lack of interest. Imagine my surprise, then, to receive an email yesterday from them informing me that they were in fact trying to institute my plan in some form. Are they just being polite and running with my program? Maybe. Still it is intriguing. I am still determined to make a go of it in the baking world... don't misunderstand. Still it is reassuring to think I could have a cushion in the form of a part time job teaching what I do anyway while building the baking business on a parallel track.

In that spirit I went to pick up my 'uniform' yesterday at the store for professional clothing (jackets, safety shoes, bandannas etc.) Tomorrow I will get my tools of the trade and have them engraved with my initials. Next week, May 12 we actually start the course. I am more than ready. In addition, I have decided to teach myself cooking techniques using Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set)
 as a guide. I admit I am inspired by the movie Julie and Julia. If you haven't seen it you should. I thought it was great especially the scenes where Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is in Paris training at the Corden Bleu. The 'stuck-up' attitude of the other students and the instructors at the school and especially the administrator were so funny ("Ms. Child, you have no great talent for teaching. You can teach Americans, if you wish, they will never know the difference!") but, of course, in hindsight, the movie was not inaccurate. Julia Child's culinary greatness lay in her ability to simplify and demystify French Cooking. She made this great cuisine accessible to everyone and explained the techniques, not in thousands of recipes, but by demonstrating essential techniques through classic recipes. This way, as she explains, you could adapt the techniques to create countless variations. In time, you would not need recipe collections hardly at all. They would become superfluous as the ingredients would suggest the preparations. Anyway, inspired by the movie, I am going to start going through her book. I figure, if over the next few years I can 'master' techniques from several major cuisines (French, Italian, Chinese) as well as a few others (Thai, Indian, as well as essential techniques like grilling etc.) I can become an accomplished chef, and have some fun and eat well on the way.

Last week and this I have been experimenting with a 'classic' herb bread recipe I found online (Idon't remember where, sorry!). This is a whole wheat bread that divides whole wheat and all-purpose flour equally so the bread is not too dense and heavy. I have been trying to create a bread with a crunchy crust that preserves a soft, not too crumbly crumb. I want a sandwich bread that is savory (hence the herbs) that will be perfect for grilled meat, steak and burgers etc. as well as cold cuts or even a nice sharp cheese with some Dijon mustard spread over nicely. I have now made the loaf twice and this is the latest tweak. The latest loaf came out almost perfect... perhaps a little more steam and one minute less in the oven. In the meantime, good eating and more experimenting next week. Here's the recipe and instructions. Enjoy!!

Whole Wheat Herb Bread

Prep Time: 10 min
Total Time: 3 hours 40 min
Makes: 1 loaf (1 1/2 lb) -- 12 slices

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine -- softened
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons bread machine or quick active dry yeast
1/2 cup dry-roasted sunflower nuts

The original recipe was for a bread machine. If you go that way, and I use my machine sometimes but mostly for making dough, then just add the ingredients in the order recommended by your manufacturer, set it for white bread cycle (add the nuts after the first mixing - after about 10 or 15 minutes - and bake. It will fill your kitchen with a wonderful smell of baking thyme and basil.

If you decide to shape the loaves yourself, then mix all the ingredients and then knead for about 10 minutes to produce a smooth slightly sticky dough. Place in a well-oiled bowl and turn to coat and then in a warm location until doubled (about 1.5 hours). Then turn out the dough onto a floured surface, knead to degas and shape into a loaf the same length as your baking pan. Oil the pan and place the dough to rise again until about 1 inch (2.5 cm)above the sides of the loaf pan (about 45 minutes). About ten minutes before finishing the second rise pre-heat the oven to 350F (175C) and bake for 25-30 minutes. I sprayed the loaf with water just before placing in the oven and also sprayed the sides of the oven generously to create a steamy environment. The resulting loaf is crusty on the outside and with a soft yummy interior. Enjoy!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jachnoon - Slow but Sure

     Well, I can finally sit down and write something after a few months of hectic activity and decision making! When I last posted I was in the throes of deciding whether to take the plunge and learn professional baking. So... I did it. I have registered for the baking program at Hadassah College and last week went for my first session. It is all very exciting but also a little nerve wracking. I have been very busy getting the required equipment (knives and whisks and other implements of construction) along with the uniform and safety clothes, especially shoes. All a little bit of a let down after months of agonizing... I had hoped for a quick plunge into the baking world.

    I have also been collecting recipes (some I found online and others donated by friends and colleagues) of 'Jewish Bread' from all around the world. You would think that 'Jewish Bread' is essentially the same as any other and that the kind of bread really depends on the locale of the Jewish community. If you think that you are only partly right. It seems that all major communities have developed their own traditional bread. Some are based on local ingredients and are typical of the surrounding culture, to be sure. But many others are adaptations that dietary laws require or 'get around' Shabbat restrictions.

     A classic example is the famous Yemenite 'Jachnoon' bread that is  usually eaten on Shabbat morning with grated raw tomatoes and schug (a fiery pepper sauce that comes in red and green versions - both like lighting a fire in your mouth - literally). The basic bread is called ajin - stress on the final syllable  - a-jin -. This flatbread is rolled up, covered in butter or other oil and slow baked at a low temperature overnight. Many times this bread accompanies Hamin (the Sephardic equivalent of the European Tschulent) and is used to sop up the wonderful sauce created in this slow baked equally famous dish. All of this acrobatics is necessary because of the prohibition of cooking or baking on Shabbat. And the way to 'get around it is to set up a long slow cooking and baking process before the Shabbat actually starts. Many, many dishes both European (Ashkenazi) and Middle Eastern (Sephardi) are the result of these acrobatics.

     All of this makes for interesting and sometimes very creative cooking and baking. And, of course, tasty!!
Here is a recipe for Jachnoon starting with the ajin. For completeness I have included the recipe for schug red and green versions but be careful, it is very hot!!!

These days, in supermarkets all over Israel, you can find ready-made Jachnoon and schug. If you have ever seen the movie 'My Cousin Vinnie' with Marissa Tomey and Joe Peschie, then you will remember the famous scene where, Vinnie questions the witness in court about whether he made regular or 'instant' grits for breakfast. The answer - "No self-respectin' Southerner would make instant grits" sums it up. It is truly more work to make your own Jachnoon but so worth it!!! Mix up the dough. Roll it out and place the eggs. You will not regret it I promise.

Ajin – Bread dough (Yemenite)

is the basic dough ball from which several types of Yemenite breads are prepared including Jachnoon and a fried flatbread called Malawach.


4 cups flour
2 tablespoons oil (or butter)
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups water, or enough to make a soft dough
¼ pound margarine, at room temperature


1.                  Mix everything together except the margarine, knead a bit for smoothness. Rest the dough covered for 3 hours.
2.                  Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Flatten out 1 piece to about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Incorporate about 2 teaspoons of margarine into the dough circle, pushing and kneading it but maintaining the circle.
3.                  Cut a line open from the center of the circle to the outside edge. Take one end and roll it around counterclockwise into a ball. This is the ajin. Prepare all pieces of dough in the same way. Bake as directed in individual recipe.

Jachnoon – Baked Bread with whole eggs

Jachnoon is Sabbath food since it is prepared ahead. Eggs baked in this fashion turn a rich amber and have a pronounced nutty flavor. Baked eggs are traditional  in both the Middle East and India.


4 Ajin (see above)
5 eggs in the shell
Butter or margarine


1.                  Take 4 rolled up ajin and place them in a well-buttered pan just big enough to contain them. Push 1 egg between each ajin plus 1 more in the center.
2.                  Bake at low heat, 250° F (120° C), all night, or about 6 to 8 hours during the daytime.
3.                  Remove from the oven and serve at room temperature.

BTW, in my research I have found some excellent books on Jewish cooking in general. A quick search on will give you a very comprehensive list in seconds. One of the best, IMHO, is Sephardic Cooking: 600 Recipes Created in Exotic Sephardic Kitchens from Morocco to India
I highly recommend it not just for the bread but for the variety and the fact it is so well researched and comprehensive.

That's it for today, I'm on my way out to buy safety shoes. Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for my first-ever attempt at homemade mushroom soup. That, along with seared eggplant in a yoghurt-lemon sauce made for a very tasty weekend!