Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Mom's Ka′ak…Lebanese Sweet Anise Bread

My mother was an unbelievable baker. Everything she baked was always perfect. Pies..incredible! Breads…beautiful! And when she baked breads, she would always get more than the recipe specified she would get! My sister would joke that it was the loaves and fishes!  She never owned a set of measuring cups or spoons. She would measure liquids and dry ingredients in the same kitchen cup. Usually that cup was 10 or 12 ounces. She measured her teaspoons and tablespoons with her kitchen silverware. I would always say to her "How do you get those results, when your measurements are so off?" Her reasoning was that she used the same cup, so that her proportions were correct. She never really followed a recipe. She always knew how the dough was supposed to feel, whether it was a pie crust or yeast bread. Her pies had the flakiest crusts and her breads always had a beautiful appearance and lovely crumb! A true gift! She would always say, "learn to feel the dough".  When I first married, I wouldn't even make my own pie crust because of frequent failures!  In those days, it was Pillsbury for me all the way.  My first attempt at yeast bread…came out like a brick!!  Clearly, I did not inherit my mothers gift.  But something happened through the years and I finally got it! The feel! I don't know when..I guess practice makes perfect!  One of her specialties was this recipe for "Ka′ak". Traditionally, Ka′ak is formed into rings. In our family, my grandmother and mom always made them in figure eights. These have a wonderful flavor because of the anise seed and mahleb. Mahleb is made from the kernel of the black cherry pit. It is used in middle eastern cooking. It imparts a really subtle flavor and the scent is lovely. The taste is between bitter almond and cherry. I get mine in a middle eastern grocery but, you can also get it from My family serves these with powdered sugar on top ( The americanization of the pastry ). I understand that in Lebanon they serve these with a syrup.



8 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed mahleb (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter
 1 1/2 cups milk
1 pkg. yeast
2 eggs

  1. Mix flour, sugar, anise seed, mahleb, and salt.
  2. Heat butter and milk to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in milk and add to flour mixture.
  3. Add eggs and knead well. Cover and let rest for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down and cut into pieces and roll to shape into rings or figure eights, placing on baking sheet as you work. When baking sheet is full, cover with cloth and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
  5. Bake in a 350 oven for 15 minutes and browned on the bottom, then place under broiler until tops are light brown.                                                                                                                                                                                               
My mothers rule…Never use all your flour when you start to mix. Add as needed. When I make these I start with 7 cups and add as I knead the dough. I rarely use the whole 8 cups. 

Dry ingredients

Milk and butter heating

When milk-butter mixture is lukewarm add yeast.

Then mix into the dry ingredients, along with the eggs, until a dough forms.

Knead until smooth and place into bowl to rise.

After dough is risen, punch down and cut off small pieces.

Roll into long rope.

Form into a figure eight. Place onto baking sheet.
Ready for the oven.

Breakfast! Perfect with my cup of tea.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Crustless Spinach Quiche


Many years ago, I met this really lovely women. She and her husband were the buyers of our first house. The two of us immediately hit it off. We had children the same age, and I felt we were what I call, kindred spirits. I do believe some people meet and just feel a connection from that first day. That was us! After we both moved in to our new homes and got settled, we started to get together for lunch and playdates with our kids. One of those lunches resulted in discovering my all time favorite quiche recipe. My friend served it for our lunch and was gracious enough to share it with me!  It has been my standby, ever since! My go-to recipe for drop in company! My girls over for lunch favorite! My too hot to cook, let's make quiche recipe! I think you get it! I love this recipe! And today I am sharing it with you! The reason I have such a warm personal attachment to this recipe is the ease of preparation. When I'm busy or rushed I like EASY! Everything gets mixed in one bowl and dumped into a 9 inch greased pie plate. It's baked for 45 minutes. It looks impressive and tastes delicious! Hope you enjoy it!

Spinach Quiche

1 16 oz. package frozen spinach
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
1 small can of Durkee Onion rings 
( I have also used 1 cup of croutons semi crushed instead of onion rings)
2 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, I often use swiss or jack instead  

Thaw frozen spinach, squeeze dry. Then mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Put into a 9 inch pie pan and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350°   
About 45 minutes or till nicely browned 

The ingredients! 

Everything in the bowl 

Mix it up!

Dump it into pie dish.

Spread evenly and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake it.

Out of the oven and ready to eat!

Friday, March 25, 2011

French Fridays With Dorie--- Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce

Our gourmet dinner…fabulous!
Well, it's friday again! Since I've been cooking with this group, I've notice how quickly fridays roll around. Because it's lent, and because we eat a lot of fish durning lent, this was a great pick! My husband has also started South Beach diet recently. This recipe fits our healthy, low fat needs. I was astonished at the cost of sea scallops. I paid $15 dollars a pound. Actually, my husband paid $15 dollars a pound.  I sent him to the grocery store today because, we were having work done on our kitchen and he was getting cabin fever. He called me from the store to let me know the scallops were quite pricey! After he told me they were the most expensive item at the fish counter, he asked me "Do you still want them".  Of course I did!! Where can you get a lovely gourmet dinner for under 10 dollars a person. I decided to serve them with the beautiful fresh asparagus, I had picked up the day before, and the Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley.
I was very organized with this recipe. I knew the scallops would cook quickly, so I started the rice first. It takes 25 minutes to cook. I then washed and trimmed the asparagus, and put them in a pan ready to go. Now, time to work on the sauce. I sprinkled the sugar into the pan and set it on the heat. I watched it carefully because once it started to brown, it moved quickly. I had my juice and wine ready to pour. I remembered what Dorie had said about it bubbling up, so I carefully poured the wine and orange juice into the syrup. I then stepped back! I found that the sugar got really hard and then as it boiled it all melted into the mixture. After it reduced, I moved the pan from the stove and started my scallops. Even though I patted them dry, when I put them into the hot olive oil, they sweat quite a bit. I had to pour off some of the liquid. They never got that deep golden brown color that I was looking for. I love seafood, especially scallops!  I was really looking forward to this dish. It did not disappoint! It came out great! The sauce was amazing! Another great recipe from Dorie, added to our keeper list!
This recipe can be found in the new Dorie Greenspan book "Around My French Table". You can also find it HERE!

Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley….love it!

wine and oranges for sauce

Juicing my oranges

Sugar in pot 

Starting to melt

Golden brown and just about ready to add the wine and juice.

The sauce, after the wine and juice was stirred in.

My very beautiful, expensive scallops!

After the scallops were added to the pan…they did a lot of sweating.

Bon Appétit!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Luscious Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Years ago, ( probably 23 ) my daughter was in a confirmation class and, I was one of the mom's that volunteered for several of the events they were having for the group.  During this time, I met a  lovely woman, who would eventually become my friend. Together, we started a dinner club. Our original group had 6 couples and, we would meet once a month. We always planned a theme that we would follow. We would break into two groups and each host would pick the menu together. They would then pick a recipe for a dessert and an appetizer to assign to each guest couple. Both houses served the exact menu. Through the years, we have lost members and gained some. We are now four couples! The rules have loosened quite a bit but, we still try to meet every few months. The host still picks what they would like to serve. However, now when they assign the others to bring a dessert or appetizer, the person assigned gets to choose what they bring.

Saturday night, we were getting together for one of our dinner parties. I was assigned the dessert! I decided to make a "Dulce de Leche Cheesecake". Dulce de Leche means "sweet milk". It is a traditional dairy product from Argentina. It is used as a topping for ice cream or fresh fruit.  In this delicious dessert, it is used to give the cheesecake a delightful caramel flavor.  You will need to have a can of dulce de leche, which can sometimes be bought in the ethnic part of your grocery store or homemade. My grocery store did not have any, so I bought a can of sweetened condensed milk and made my own. There are different processes for making dulce de leche, the easiest being boiling the can of sweetened condensed milk. It is important to keep the can covered with water during this process, because the can could explode!  I use a big soup pot and put the can into it and boil for at least 90 minutes. Keep adding water as needed. After the can cools for about 10 minutes, open and scoop into a small bowl to cool completely. I like to make it a day ahead and not open the can until I am ready to use it. Here is a link to different methods on making Dulce de leche. They do not recommend the boiling can method that I use but, I have been doing it for years and have never had any trouble. This cheesecake is easy to make but does have several steps.  For the crust I used dulce de leche maria cookies made by Goya. They really complimented the cheesecake and made a delicious crust.  After you mix the cheesecake, take out 1/2 cup of the batter and put into small bowl, then add a 1/2 cup of dulce de leche. Pour the plain cheesecake batter onto the baked crust.  Drop tablespoons of the dulce de leche batter onto the plain cheesecake batter. Then, with the tip of a knife swirl it into the plain batter before it is baked. This was truly sinful and was a big hit with our dinner club. Hope you'll give it a try. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, March 18, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie Salted Butter Break-ups

Awesome buttery cookie!!
Here in New Jersey, Spring is in the air and the sun is finally shining! Our temps are suppose to reach 70° degrees today. Daffodils and crocuses are popping their heads through the soil. I am dressed and ready to take a long morning walk. This is a day I would love to spend outside but, I have a dessert to bake for a dinner I am going to tomorrow night.  However, it's Friday and that means this post belongs to Dorie.  I made the "Salted Butter Break-Ups" last night after dinner. I was quite surprised at how fast this recipe was to prepare. I put the flour, sugar and salt into my food processor. I did not have the "Sel Gris" that Dorie suggests. Salt is salt; except for the coarseness of the grain.  I had kosher salt and I had a Himalayan Pink salt, that came with a grinder from Trader Joe's. Ok, I was taken by the pretty pink color…it still tastes like salt!  I opted to use the pink salt. I then added the butter to the processor and processed until it was well blended and started to look like coarse corn meal. Then I added the water. When the dough started to form a ball, I took it out and worked it to form a square.  I then wrapped it and refrigerated it for an hour. It was still a bit soft when I took it out but, I rolled it anyway. Everything was going well until I tried to put the design on it with the fork! The dough was too soft. So I put the rolled dough on the baking pan and put it into the freezer. After 20 minutes, I took it out. I was then able to put the design onto the dough with a fork. It worked really well!  I was not excited about trying this recipe. I think it was the name! Too much salt! But when I awakened this morning, I saw it sitting on my counter and had to break a piece off. I was totally in love with this cookie (that's what it is.. a cookie)!  I will definitely make this again…loved it!

Pretty pink salt

Dry ingredients in food processor

Dough holding together
Ready to refrigerate

Brushed with egg yolk

Ready to go into the oven with pretty design.

Just out of the oven

This recipe can be found in the new Dorie Greenspan book "Around My French Table". You can buy this book at Amazon.  Cooking with the FFWD group we are asked not to publish the recipes but this recipe has been published already and you can find it HERE!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy St. Patricks Day---Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

Pistachio Shortbread
I have already expressed my love for the Irish, when I posted my Irish Soda Bread recipe. Today, I will just tell you about this wonderful pistachio shortbread. Last year I received an e-mail from King Arthur Flour. It was a St. Patricks Day promo and featured this yummy looking green shortbread. I was immediately intrigued and taken in by the pretty green color. I thought of how much my grandkids would love green shortbread! I was a little concerned about the list of ingredients, as it called for a box of pistachio pudding, but I knew I had to give it a try. Shortbread normally calls for flour, sugar, and butter. When my kids were young, I made shortbread weekly. I always had the ingredients on hand. Since I love pistachios and shortbread, what could be better than to combine the two? These are a lovely treat for St. Patrick's Day! They are buttery and delicious. I hope you'll give them a try!

Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter (at cool room temperature)
1 box (3.4 oz.) instant pistachio pudding mix
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly grease two round pie plates. 8 or 9 inch. 
  2. In a medium bowl, beat together the butter, pistachio pudding, sugar, salt; then beat in flour. The mixture may seem a little dry at first; keep beating till it comes together.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Press each half into one of the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with your fingers.
  4. Use  fork to prick the dough all over; this allows any steam to escape. Divide the chopped pistachios between the two pans, spreading evenly and gently pressing them down into the surface of the dough.
  5. Bake the shortbread until it's a deep golden brown around the edges. About 35 to 40 minutes.
  6. Remove pans from oven and immediately turn each shortbread round out onto a clean work surface.
  7. Using pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut each round into 12 wedges. Do this while shortbread is warm; if you let it cool it won't cut easily….I do not do not do mine like this. I score the short bread before I put it into the oven and cut again when I take it out. I cool slightly and remove from pan.
Ready to go into the oven



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No-Knead Harvest Bread

No-Knead Harvest Bread

I love to bake bread! Heck, I like to bake anything! But yeast baking is a passion. There's a process to baking bread that just seems to feed your soul! For the last few years rustic breads have been an obsession.  I have bought many cookbooks and read many articles about them. I have tried several recipes with pretty good results but, my favorite and the least time consuming are the No-Knead breads. I started with Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread. The results were wonderful. The best thing about this bread is that before you go to bed, you mix it up, and leave it to rest overnight. The next day you have a few easy steps to follow for a beautiful loaf of bread. I was hooked! I have made many different flavors using this basic recipe, adding herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and dill. I have even added lemon and orange zests. While  I was visiting my daughter, on Long Island last year, we went to the store to get a loaf of rustic bread to serve with brie. They wanted EIGHT dollars for a loaf of fruit and nut rustic bread. Really? I came home, and did a search for a fruit and nut rustic bread. To my surprise, King Arthur flour has a a nice variety of No-Knead bread recipes; one of which is No-Knead Harvest Bread. The following recipe is adapted from the King Arthur version.

No Knead Harvest Bread
adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 3/4 cups cool water
3/4 cup dried cranberries  
1/2 cup golden raisins (I used chopped apricots instead)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

  1. Mix the flours, salt, yeast and water in a large bowl. Stir, then use your hands to mix and form a sticky dough.
  2. Work the dough just enough to incorporate all the flour, then work in the fruit and nuts.
  3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature overnight, or at least 8 hours. It will be bubbly and rise quite a bit.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a log or round loaf, to fit a 14 inch lidded stone ware baker or a 4 or 5 qt. covered casserole (such as a le Creuset enameled pot with lid).
  5. Place the dough into a lightly greased pan, smooth side up.
  6. Cover and let rise at room temperature till it becomes puffy, about 2 hours. It will rise, but this is not a real high riser. 
  7. Place the pot or baker in the cold oven. Set oven to 450°F.
  8. Bake bread for 45 to 50 minutes, then remove lid and continue to bake for another 5 to 15 minutes until deep brown. I brushed mine with a little milk just before I took it out of the oven to give it a nice sheen. Cool before slicing.
The flours 

The rest of the ingredients
Whisk together the dry ingredients and add water.
Mix together with hands to incorporate.
Add the nuts and fruit.
Everything mixed, cover and let rest overnight.
I missed the picture of the risen dough. Here it is shaped and ready to be placed into greased baking pan.
Let Rise.
Ready for oven.