Melt-In-Your-Mouth Easy Chocolate Terrine

terrineI hope that your Thanksgiving was a meaningful holiday experience! This year, rather than braving the airport rush to get home to our families, we chose to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with some of our Dallas closest friends. As it was a chocolate-loving crowd with gluten-free eaters, and considering I have already baked my quota of holiday pies for the decade, I chose to make something extremely different: a no-bake, decadent chocolate terrine.
This recipe had just 3 ingredients, dirtied a minimal number of bowls, and gave the appearance that I had spent all day in the kitchen crafting it. Plus, it’s gluten free and dairy free. Don’t tell, but it took me about 30 minutes from start to finish, including pasteurizing the eggs. Continue reading


Easy as…Pie Crust

pieSummer. Stone fruits. And, of course, pie!

I had the pleasure of hosting a pie making demonstration for a corporate event earlier this week, and in putting together pie making tips for that group, have some fresh in my mind to share with you. Particularly regarding the crust, as I think this can be the most tricky and intimidating part of the pie for some folks.

Pie crusts are extremely versatile (fruit, custard, mousse, and frozen sweet pies; savory quiches; galettes; chicken pot pie; etc). They can be made in advance (3 days in the fridge; 3 months in the freezer); they require minimal ingredients that can be found in your pantry; they are fast to make and with minimal mess; and they taste great. Sold yet?

One of the most important things to consider are the ingredients you will use, and with that, the temperature of the ingredients.

  • Flour – you can use all-purpose or pastry. Pastry flour will give you a slightly more tender, less tough, product than all-purpose, but hey, sometimes we can’t just go tracking down fancy ingredients. If you want to use whole wheat flour, substitute for up to 50% of the amount of flour your recipe calls for.
  • Fat – I prefer butter (shortening coats the roof of my mouth until you a) drink something hot, or b) eat something else to scrape it off – yuck!). You can also use shortening, lard, or a combination of either with butter. The butter must be COLD. I store it in the freezer, cut it up into small chunks (1/4-1/2″), then refrigerate it until I pull the dough together. Cold butter will give you a flakier crust.
  • Water – Must also be cold. I fill a cup with ice and a little water as I measure everything else out, and by the time I’m ready for water it’s melted enough to scoop out what I need.
  • Additional flavorings – Optional ingredients that enhance flavor, depending on what you’re doing with the crust. Sugar for very sweet pies, salt for less sweet pies or chicken pot pie, ground mustard for quiche, etc.

I have really warm hands. So warm that chocolate melts in my presence. I’ve been experimenting lately with making the dough in a food processor so I don’t melt the butter on contact. It’s been working well. Pulse salt and flour together to blend, then dump in butter chunks. Quickly pulse about 7-8 times, checking to see how small the butter chunks have become. They need to be somewhere between the size of ground cornmeal and the size of peas. The frozen garden variety kind. The crust will be flakier towards the pea size of the spectrum. Now add the smaller amount of water according to your recipe. Pulse a few times, then squeeze the dough. If it holds together well in your fist, it’s done. If it crumbles, add another tablespoon of water and pulse 2-3 times, then check again.

Once I have dough that’s capable of sticking together, I dump it out on plastic wrap and squish it into a ball. I knead a few times, then flatten into a disc and wrap with plastic.

This next part is crucial, and requires patience. You must now chill your dough at least 45 minutes. If you try to rush this step, you will end up with butter oozing out across your counter.

After the dough is chilled down, unwrap it on top of the plastic wrap, layer another plastic sheet on top of the dough disc, and whack it a bunch of times in both directions with your trusty rolling pin. This could be your ideal stress relief moment for the day if you plan it right. You’re done whacking when you can press firmly into the dough and you leave an indentation. Now you’re ready to roll.

But first, a bakery math interlude. The plastic wrap is 12″ wide. Your typical pie pan, 9″ wide, has 1.5″ sides. Therefore, bottom + (sides x 2) = 12″. Use the plastic as your guide to determine if you rolled your dough out large enough.

Instead of flouring your work surface, you’re going to roll your dough out in between 2 sheets of plastic. Adding extra flour to the dough makes it more chewy later. Roll from the center to the furthest edge, back to the center, back to the closer edge and back to the center. Now rotate dough 90˚ and repeat. If your dough stops spreading, the plastic is stuck; lift the top plastic off and gently lay it back on. If you find your dough is too warm (oozing butter or very sticky), slip it on a sheet pan and chill it down 5-10 minutes, then continue rolling.

By now your counters should still be relatively clean, and it’s time to lay the crust into the pan. Remove the top plastic, put your hand under the bottom of the dough sheet, and flip it to invert into the pan. If you need to adjust it to center the dough, just gently move the entire sheet over. To fit the dough into the corners of the pan, go around the pan and lift the dough in sections to take advantage of gravity, dropping the crust into the bottom. If you push or pull the dough it will tear (but you can just fix this with a tiny bit of water on your finger). Now remove the bottom plastic. Viola. You have made yourself a crust.

Fill and decorate the pie as you will. Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back.

If you’ve used a top crust as well, brush it with egg or milk to wash, then sprinkle with sugar. This will provide gloss, browning, and crunch when finished. Be sure to cut steam vents, at least 3, or your pie may explode.

OK, now you’re ready to bake. In baking, keep the pie in the lower 1/3 of the oven, as low as possible. Use a high temperature, around 400˚F. This will help to cook the bottom crust all the way through. When the top of the pie starts to brown, tent it with foil to create a heat shield and prevent it from burning. Don’t wrap the foil tightly or you’ll trap in steam and create sogginess. The pie is officially done when it bubbles out the top. It will make a glorious mess, which will eventually caramelize and burn on the bottom of your oven unless you put a sheet pan or sheet of foil under the pan.

Do you feel ready to bake a pie now?

Honey Ricotta Wrap with Fresh Fruit

I love this time of year. Well, the sudden availability of fresh and local summer fruits and veggies, not the oppressive TX heat. Just to be clear.

A few springs ago my husband and I visited his Aunt Sylvia, who made us some fabulous breakfast “burros”: comforting and warm overstuffed wraps filled with fresh sautéed veggies and maybe some eggs and cheese. Since then I have been hooked on tortilla-filled creations, usually with savory fillings. However, this morning I managed to wrangle a sizable amount of blackberries from the critters that like to share my garden’s efforts and decided to shape a filling combination around these juicy tart fruits.

Blackberry BowlThe Honey Ricotta Wraps were extremely quick and easy to assemble. After warming a whole wheat tortilla, I spread on some local whipped honey from the farmer’s market, followed by several sizable dollops of homemade ricotta cheese (for a creamier and even richer texture, whip it with a beater first). Then I added some sliced blackberries and peaches and topped it all with barely a pinch of sea salt to contrast some of the overall sweetness. You could use any type of fresh fruit in this wrap. I bet mangoes, strawberries, and bananas would be delicious. The finished wrap was warm and comforting, and very light but substantial enough for a meal.

I hope you enjoy!

In Search of Fluffy Matzoh Balls

matzoh ball soup

As anyone who has ever made or eaten matzoh balls knows, there are sinkers and there are floaters. You want the floaters. Not the sinkers. Trust me. Sinkers, well…you might as well go chew on some of the gravel left over from making Stone Soup.

I made 3 batches of matzoh balls this week using 3 different techniques. I did not start this out as a science experiment. I just got lazy. All three techniques are based on the standard Manischewitz recipe. Continue reading

Tea and Red Onion Skin Stained Eggs

eggsJust in time for Easter, or for your hard-boiled egg-eating pleasure!

I stained a dozen boiled eggs to snack on during our Passover Seder, as is Sephardic custom. These eggs are stained by gently simmering them in a brew of black tea and the outer skins of red onions. After they simmer for about 1.5 hours, the shells are gently cracked randomly and placed back in the simmering water for at least another hour. This creates delicate spider web patterns inside the shell and gives enough time for the color to infuse and darken.

I needed a large amount of red onion outer skins, more than I would have gotten from 1 or 2 onions. And I didn’t want to buy a bunch of them since we can’t eat them that fast. So I must confess, I went a-scavaging. In the grocery store’s product department, rifling through the red onion bin collecting loose skins. I got a few strange looks as I stood there for about 5 minutes, but I got what I needed.  The cashier thought I was bonkers when I handed over the bag of skins to pay.

Tea and Red Onion Skin Stained Eggs
Adapted from Joy of Kosher
Yield: 12 eggs

12 eggs, raw and in shells
2 tablespoons loose black tea leaves, or 3 tea bags
at least 10 large pieces of outer red onion skins (from at least several onions; more skins will yield darker color; I used at least 25 pieces)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

1. In a large pot, add tea, onion skins, salt, and pepper. Gently place eggs in bottom of pot, then fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about 1.5 inches.

Filling PotAdd Eggs2. Gently bring water to a simmer. Do not let boil, or the eggs may crack, which will leave a thick dark brown stripe across the egg. Gently simmer about 1.5 hours.

Add Water3. After 1.5 hours, the egg white should be set. Scoop each egg out of the pot one at a time (I used a spaghetti spoon) and gently crack in different areas using the bowl of a spoon. Gently return to the pot and repeat until all eggs have been cracked.

EggsStaining Eggs4. Cook eggs at least 1.5 hours longer. Remove eggs from pot and shock in ice water to stop cooking process.

5. Peel eggs, revealing unique patterns. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Even unpeeled, these eggs will not last as long as regular hard-boiled eggs since the shells are not intact.

Sephardic Style Passover Menu

Sephardic Charoset

Sephardic Charoset

Happy Passover!

Last night was the first night of Passover, and my husband and I hosted several of our friends to a laid-back Seder. During the Seder we retell the story of Passover, which essentially goes something like this, in a very brief nutshell: The Hebrews migrated to Egypt during a time of famine in search of food, and when the Pharoah died, the new Pharoah enslaved them all out of fear. He ordered that all male babies be murdered, but Moses’ family ensured that he survived and eventually floated him down the river in a basket and into the arms of the Pharoah’s daughter, who raised him as her own in the palace. Moses knew he was a Hebrew, and each time he saw an enslaved fellow Hebrew maltreated he grew increasingly upset. Eventually the Lord, under the cover of the burning bush, told Moses he would be the one to stand up to the Pharoah and demand the Israelites be freed. Moses, despite vast reservations, brought his brother Aaron with him first to the Hebrews to garner their support and convince them that he had been chosen to free them, and then to stand before the Pharoah. Ten times before the Pharoah Moses demanded, “Let my people go!” Each time, the Pharoah refused, unleashing a new plague onto the Egyptian people: darkness spread over Egypt, waters turned to blood, frogs overran the land, bugs took to the fields and then locusts ate the crops, cattle became ill, hail and fire fell from the sky, Egyptians’ bodies were covered first with lice and then in boils, and eventually death of the first born, including flock animals. Except for the Israelites: They were prepared, smearing sacrificial blood over their doorposts so that the Angel of Death “passed over” their houses. This last plague convinced the Pharoah that he no longer had a choice in freeing the Israelites, and so as soon as he had declared them free the Hebrews left immediately, quickly baking their bread dough and taking very little else with them. (In their haste the bread had to be baked without fermentation, causing it to be cracker-like, and so we eat matzoh, an unleavened bread.) They made it as far as the Red Sea when they found themselves being chased by the Pharoah’s army; evidently he had changed his mind after all. The Sea miraculously parted, allowing for the Hebrews to cross while drowning the Pharoah and his army. Moses and the Israelites then found their way to the desert, where they wandered for 40 years. Eventually Moses received the 10 commandments and the people made it out of the dessert.

Passover is a holiday filled with the celebrations of freedom and springtime, while also making time to think about more global social issues: What does it mean to be free? Where does slavery still exist? What do we take for granted?

Continue reading

Easy & Delicious Artichokes

To stay patient while tearing off each leaf one at a time, layer by layer, with just a little bit of flesh stolen from the heart to dip in butter and scrape off with my front teeth to remind me that this process will pay off in the end. To finally remove those flimsy, pale inner petals that only serve to prick my fingers and slow me down as I get closer to the reason for disassembling this odd edible in the first place. The anticipation building as I finally – eventually – get to the core of the thing. Then, buttery flavors dance across my tongue while pleasantly coating my mouth (or perhaps that’s the melted butter…) as I take my first bite into the firm yet tender heart of the artichoke. An artichoke experience.

Happily, it’s artichoke season.

ArtichokeArtichokes as we know them are actually the flower buds of a type of thistle. According to Wikipedia, artichokes probably hail from North Africa. They are low in calories and fat and provide decent amounts of fiber and protein for possessing relatively little edible portions overall.

I’ve eaten artichoke hearts grilled. Marinated. Breaded and fried in the Italian Jewish style. And boiled in the classical this-is-how-my-mama-made-them style. So, not surprisingly, boiled is the way I most often prepare them, because it’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require any special equipment outside of a sharp knife and a pot.

Artichokes can be prepared for cooking in several ways. They can be boiled or steamed whole, or cut in half. Some of the outer leaves and inner fuzz can be removed prior to cooking or left to deal with afterward. The stem can be removed, peeled, or left whole. The choice is yours. Here’s how I make mine:

Boiled Artichoke Halves with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce
1 lemon, whole and cut in half, preferably organic
4-5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 – 1 full-size Globe artichokes per person
Salted butter
Lemons for juicing

1. In a pot big enough to accommodate the artichokes you will cook, fill most of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into the water, then add the lemons, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Set aside.

2. Chop the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the artichoke leaves off and discard.

3. Remove a layer of the outermost leaves along the base of the stem. Then, trim the stem of the artichoke if you are planning on eating it: Using a paring knife, cut off the end of the stem. Then cut the outer skin from the stem towards the heart. After rotating through to reach all of the skin, cut a shallow circle around the base of the heart to disconnect the skin from the stem. If you do not plan on eating the stem, just cut it off at the base of the heart. The skin of the stem is extremely fibrous and tough, and if left unpeeled will not make for pleasant eating.

peelingremoving skintrimmed stem4. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Using a table-teaspoon or a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the fuzzy area in between the soft pale inner leaves and the flat heart. Discard these bits. (You could also just cook it whole and deal with the fuzzy area when you expose the heart after eating the leaves, but I found it annoying to have to stop eating and carve out the center in the middle of dinner.)

halvedRemoving insidecored5. Add artichokes to the prepared pan of lemon-water. You can choose to cover the pot or leave it uncovered (I’m usually too impatient to keep the cover off, although boiling with the lid on can trap unpleasant flavors released by green vegetables when heat is applied). Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. The artichokes are done when you can easily slip a sharp knife through the heart and they dull in color; this takes about 15-25 minutes in my experience, depending on the size of the artichokes.

cookingcooking 26. Eat plain or serve with a dipping sauce. I usually serve with a mix of equal parts melted butter and fresh lemon juice.

finisNote: The exposed heart will brown extremely quickly when exposed to air. To avoid this, add them to the reserved prepared pot of lemon water as soon as you finish trimming each piece. The acid from the lemon will keep them from browning. If you are preparing these ahead and will cook them very soon, put them in a bowl of lemon water and refrigerate before use; just don’t keep them soaking too long or the artichokes may take on extra water and their texture will be off when cooked. If you are going to make them a day ahead, hit them with a spritz of lemon juice to thoroughly coat, then cover and refrigerate (and cross your fingers…).