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

Ingredients
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

Directions
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.
Cracked

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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?

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I Won!

Today was Cake Competition Day! I was super nervous about getting to the show with my cake in one piece. For every bump in the road that I hit I cringed as I heard my flowers clacking against one another. But fortunately they all made it in one piece! Enough so that I placed Silver in the student cake category!

cakeAll in all it was a very fun experience to compete, and I’m definitely already thinking about the next cake show, which I think will be in June. I saw some fabulous cakes in the professional category and these are certainly worth aspiring to!

Outside of the cake and culinary competitions, the main event was a food show for Ben E Keith, distributor. There were some interesting products, such as parchment cupcake liners that extended above pan level in scallop or triangle shapes and came in fun colors like pink or polka dots. There were also many vendors demonstrating prepared cakes, and while it was fun to see all the different flavor combinations, I was sad to see the amounts of corn syrup and other additives and preservatives within the ingredients. Yet another reason to cook and eat at home!

Cakes and Gum Paste Flowers

It’s unfortunately been longer than I would have liked in between posts! I have been preparing for the past week for my first cake competition! It will be next Wednesday. I’m excited but extremely nervous. I decided to go with a Mother’s Day theme (the category is single-tier celebration cakes) because I needed an excuse to play with gum paste.

Here’s a preview of what I’ve been doing:

flowers

leaves

Leaves & petals

They’re supposed to be sweet peas but they remind me of a rainbow rendition of the delicate pink frilly flowers that used to light up the trees in NJ in the spring. Since I let these dry overnight, today I came back and taped together leaf pairs as well as made some accent leaves.

I’ll post an update after I paint details my flowers. Maybe that will help them look more like sweet peas…If anyone has any other suggestions, including how to form gum paste tendrils that can be wired to stick into a spray, I would love to hear it!!

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
Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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…).

Enjoy!

Greens & Herbs

Spanish lavenderThe last two days were all mine to play in the dirt. I’m not sure why, but there’s just something about breaking up moist chunky soil with my fingers, yanking out dandelions and clovers by the roots, and booting grubs to the curb that I find therapeutic. (Hmmm, picking up on an outward-expression-of-aggression theme…) In the midst of all this psychological release, I finally got my raised bed ready for a new crop of veggies! This year I amended the soil with a blend of organic compost and manure to amend the soil, which was decimated last year by needy tomatoes and bell peppers. I managed to get my leafy greens planted, which will hopefully be ready to go in about 6 weeks: Swiss chard, arugula, mixed Asian stir fry greens, and 3 types of beets, 2 of which are heirloom. I also got some bush lima beans and sugar snap peas, okra, and stock flower seeds into the ground. Hopefully the 4 straight days of rain anticipated in Dallas will help water them in.

raised bedI managed to save some lettuce, Swiss chard, bok choi, and fennel from last year’s planting, and used the bricks to raise the drip irrigation lines while adding the new compost.

My started-indoors seedlings are also coming along, although I’m concerned with how leggy my broccoli is becoming. Nothing to do about it, though, it’s not ready for planting just yet, not enough leaves.

I should also mention that I’m slowing turning my front yard into a nicely landscaped edible garden. It’s so hot in Dallas that I can get away with lots of perennials, but I’m choosing ones that I can also cook with. Plus their flowers attract bees and butterflies, which helps pollinate the vegetables. Right now I’ve slipped Spanish lavender, oregano, bee balm, Mexican mint marigold, and several types of thyme in with the more traditional landscape plants.

Mexican mint marigold

Last year's Mexican mint marigold

Spanish lavender

Spanish lavender

The thyme and oregano spread to form a mat of tasty ground cover.

Thyme

Spreading thyme

Greek oregano

Greek oregano

I need to find suitable spots for artichokes, hyssop, and lemon grass, also perennials.

I also put up tepees for some gorgeous ornamental purple hyacinth beans that bloom large flowers that then sport large purple pods.

Pole setup

Last year's ornamental bean

Last year's ornamental bean

Last year's hyacinth beans